Are six sessions enough for radical change?

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Freud first developed talk therapy in 19th century. Today the phrase describes a wide range of psychotherapeutic approaches, almost all of which involve the client talking about themselves, revealing their deepest fears, thoughts, and recounting difficult experiences. A 2001 study published in the Journal of Counselling Psychology found that patients improved most dramatically between their seventh and tenth sessions, yet there are many therapists who believe long term therapy is required for successful treatment.

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Energy Psychology

Radical change can happen in as few as 6 sessions. Energy Psychology (EP) is a family of mind/body therapies that integrates established psychotherapeutic principles with concepts and philosophies borrowed from Eastern systems for healing. EP practitioners believe that psychological and physiological distress is linked with disruptions and blocks in the energy system of the body, or what traditional Chinese medicine identifies as the acupuncture points and meridians. Releasing these blocks leads to a sharp reduction in distress and facilitates change in positive ways.

Like acupuncture, EP techniques use stimulation of the energy system to reduce psychological distress. The client is shown which points to stimulate and taps or holds the points while focusing on a distressing memory or symptom. Once the client is attuned to the issue, the practitioner shows the client which energy centers to stimulate, and the client taps or holds these points while maintaining a connection with the issue. The practitioner only touches the client if the client is unable to follow the protocol due to disability or age. Some approaches rely on manual stimulation alone, while others combine cognitive interventions with manual stimulation.

In the last ten years early reports of the effectiveness of EP have been confirmed by research. There have been a number of randomized, controlled trials showing the effectiveness of EP for anxiety, depression, phobias, fibromyalgia, and food cravings. The most compelling research has focused on trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The effectiveness of EP for PTSD has been studied in a variety of populations, including war veterans, victims of genocide, disaster sites, and sexual abuse.

Psychological Distress

One of the key findings across all the research is the speed with which EP reduces psychological distress. While a number of the trials use a 6 session protocol for PTSD, statistically significant improvements have been found after just one session. These outcomes are important in the context of anxiety disorders like PTSD, panic disorder, social phobia, and generalized anxiety disorder, which American statistics estimate affect 18% of the adult population in any given year. They are also considered difficult to treat, and sufferers often try a variety of approaches before finding relief. Many Vietnam veterans are still living with PTSD 30 years after combat ended.

One client attended my practice for panic attacks that restricted her daily life. The symptoms of panic attacks mimic the symptoms of heart attack, and she ended up in hospital twice due to the severity of the panic attacks. Tests showed that there was nothing wrong physically. She tried a variety of approaches before she came to me. She says, “I despaired as I couldn’t find any help and I feared I was losing my mind. I was often terrified when I left the safety of my own home, and going new places or meeting unfamiliar people were really stressful occasions. I had tried a number of treatments over the years but never felt that these efforts successfully freed me from my prison of fear.”

Over a course of six sessions we worked directly with her symptoms of anxiety. As the treatment unfolded a number of earlier traumas and losses came to light. Most of these had always been in her awareness, but it was as though her mind/body had not been able to completely process them. The cumulative impact of these traumas resulted in her unconscious mind perceiving danger everywhere. Her system had gone into overdrive in an effort to protect her.

EP does not involve an investigation of the past, and only works with what the client presents. It often involves the release of traumatic experiences that have not been fully processed and remain active in the body, contributing to the symptoms of anxiety. The treatment does not require, and in fact does not encourage, clients to relive or talk about their traumatic experiences. This is one of the reasons it works so well for people who have experienced trauma where talking about the traumatic events is difficult and often exacerbates symptoms. As my client said at the end of her treatment “I feel freer than I have felt in 10 years and the cycle or habit of being in a panic state is well and truly in the past. I was a prisoner of fear and panic and now I am free”. In six sessions she experienced a radical improvement in her quality of life.

About the author 

Iseult White MA, MSc, BA(Mod), MICP is a psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher.  She specialises in working with individuals who are dealing with anxiety, PTSD, and chronic health conditions.