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The layers of trauma

Important Note: This article was written prior to 2010 and is now outdated. Please use my newest advancement, Optimal EFT. It is more efficient, more powerful and clearly explained in my free e-book, The Unseen Therapist™.  Best wishes, Gary

Hi Everyone,

In emotional healing, things aren't always as they seem.

Deborah Mitnick guides us through a session she had a year ago with "Meredith" who had intense reactions over witnessing a baby's accidental death. Somehow, Meredith felt responsible for this death even though she had no part in it whatsoever. It was an irrational response, of course, and even Meredith recognized it. Fortunately, Deborah was able to find the core issue and provide lasting relief for Meredith.

Hugs, Gary

by Deborah Mitnick

A psychotherapist in the community referred his wife ("Meredith") to me after she witnessed the death of a child at her place of work. Meredith was the manager on duty the day the baby died. The baby's mother wanted to get a good view of a passing parade and opened a window at Meredith's store. She was holding her baby, but lost her balance and dropped the child out of the window. The mother was distraught, of course, but all of the witnesses said it was clearly an accident.

Meredith's reaction was unusually intense and she didn't understand why. It was an accidental death, but Meredith felt responsible and couldn't figure out why. It was out of her control that the mother opened the window and dropped the child, but Meredith felt the need to take full emotional responsibility for the death. She knew this wasn't a rational reaction, but couldn't stop herself. She came to me to explore the "why's" that I mention above.

Although she's not a believer in even conventional psychotherapy, she came to see me on her husband's recommendation. Her husband had described EFT to her and it sounded "too weird." She had no desire to tap, but only wanted to talk with me.

Of course, I agreed to that plan.

Her Subjective Units of Distress (SUDS) was a 10 on the scale of 0 to 10. She hadn't slept for days, cried constantly, and refused to eat. She had flashbacks of the event, experienced increased anxiety, depression and guilt and was angry and irritable with innocent family members and friends. Meredith withdrew from everyone and felt increasingly lost and isolated.

All she wanted to talk about was the death of the baby.

Now, this sounds like an easy EFT case, maybe one of the "five-minute wonders" that Gary talks about.

But something about Meredith's presentation motivated me to ask more about the past than about this present trauma. She was so focused on the baby's death that I thought she might be re-living (and avoiding) a trauma from the past.

So, instead of focusing on this "easy-to-fix" trauma, I asked Meredith what this trauma might be allowing her to avoid from her past. She immediately burst into tears and told me that no one knew that she had been married before (not even her current husband) and that her first husband had died a traumatic death that she had never adequately grieved. Her tears were sudden and intense. She said the grief was as fresh as the day her first husband had died.

Even though she was totally skeptical about EFT, the pain was so severe that Meredith requested that we tap in hopes that it could alleviate some of her distress quickly.

Meredith had felt "inadequate" because she couldn't "save" her husband from dying. She also hadn't wanted him to suffer and she had fantasized about killing him quickly so that he wouldn't feel the pain of the disease that was eating his insides so rapidly that she didn't have time to absorb the shock of the impending loss.

We spent the next 20 minutes applying EFT to the general topic of "guilt" about "Herman's" death. I just wanted to "take the edge off" of the pain, so we tapped for "Herman guilt." I figured we'd get specific later, after she had calmed down a bit.

In only five rounds, the pain and guilt surrounding Herman's death was gone and Meredith was no longer feeling the anguish about the accidental death of the baby at work. She felt total relief. There was now no need to get more specific about Herman.

We were both surprised!

I had spent no time "teaching" the tapping to this skeptical woman. When her pain got intense and she asked me to tap with her, I just jumped in and modeled the tapping spots for her. It was all done matter-of-factly and there was no processing or explaining any of the EFT method either before or after we used it.

Meredith left the session looking years younger than when she had entered my office. She said, "I like your science!"

I'm sure I could have worked only on the presenting trauma and Meredith would have left with a sense of relief. But my intuition guided me to ask about an earlier, but similar trauma and Meredith seemed to handle both for the price of one--and in less than 45 minutes.

It's been a year since that session. I've waited to write about it because I wanted to be sure that the results were permanent. I spoke to Meredith a few weeks ago. She said she's never felt better or in more control. She gets along better with all of her family and with her co-workers. There have been no residual issues from the trauma of the baby's death and she has peace about the death of her first husband.

Meredith tells me that she doesn't understand how EFT works, but that's ok with her. All she wanted was relief and that she has achieved.

Deborah Mitnick, LCSW-C


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