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Are You The Marrying Kind of Acupuncturist?

By Peter Lambrou, PhD and George Pratt, PhD

What is a marriage? Two people joining together to be more than either one alone. Of course, that’s just one aspect of a marriage. In addition to the union of two people, we use the term “marriage” to describe other types of joining, such as a marriage of form and function, marriage of words and art, or the provocative William Blake title of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. This article discusses the marriage of acupuncture and psychology.

A relatively new branch of psychology has emerged in the past few decades, generically known as Energy Psychology. This specific psychology utilizes some of the understandings and principles of acupuncture married to some concepts and processes of psychology. As psychologists and authors of this article, we are certainly limited in our understanding and application of the processes and nuances of acupuncture, yet sufficiently versed in psychological processes to utilize certain aspects of acupoints and meridians to boost the effects of psychological interventions.

Three Main Waves in Psychology

Clinical psychology is primarily focused on understanding and treating patterns of thought, emotions, and behaviors that are either maladaptive or limiting a person’s life. Over more than a century, the field of psychology has experienced the flow and ebb of different approaches to helping people overcome problems in those areas. There have been three main evolutions in the field of psychology as well as many subsets and offshoots, but below is a brief description of the three great movements.

What is Psychoanalysis?

Psychoanalysis, one of the earliest forms of psychotherapy, aims to bring basic human drives into conscious awareness and to resolve conflicts between conscious and unconscious, or repressed material in the form of mental or emotional disturbances, such as anxiety and depression. Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies seek to help patients understand their defense mechanisms such as repression, denial, and projection. In addition to fostering insight, they use therapeutic interventions such as dream analysis and free association to words and images.

What is Behavioral Therapy?

Another evolution of psychology is the Behavioral Therapy movement which is based on the belief that behaviors can be measured, trained, and changed. Behavioral Therapy considers that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning. Conditioning develops through a person’s interaction with their environment, including observing the behavior of others. One of the key interventions of behavioral therapists is Operant Conditioning, which is a method of learning or changing behaviors which uses rewards and punishments for targeted behaviors.    

What is Cognitive Therapy?

Cognitive psychology is concerned primarily with a person's thought processes. Cognitive therapists examine how thought processes influence how a person understands, interprets, and interacts with the world around them and the future. It’s in sharp contrast with behavioral theory, yet many psychologists merge the two theories to form what is called cognitive-behavioral theory or CBT. CBT has become a standard of practice for many psychological conditions including anxiety and depression and posits that behaviors are the direct result of internal thoughts and core beliefs, which can be controlled and changed. For example, a person who perceives a small setback in an exaggerated way may see the loss of a job as catastrophic, and will feel and behave according that perception. They may shut down and not even look for another job, believing that their prospects are dismal. A shift in thought about that job loss to being a minor life event will allow the person to recognize their own strengths and resources and act accordingly (such as search for a new job).

While this is not a comprehensive overview of the evolution of modern psychology, we offer this “fly-by” to set the stage for another evolution that is Energy Psychology.

A New Wave has Formed: Energy Psychology

Around the mid 1980’s, a prominent psychologist, Roger Callahan, had contact with several colleagues including chiropractor, George Goodheart and psychiatrist, John Diamond as well as acupuncturists whose names are lost to this history. Over the course of a decade, these innovators discovered a process that incorporated elements from kinesiology, acupuncture, and psychology that provided a remarkable method for rapidly resolving fears and phobias.  

Dr. Callahan had an employee, Mary, who worked at his home in the desert town of Indian Wells, California. Mary was visibly frightened of water and gave wide berth to the swimming pool in Callahan’s back yard. One day, as an experiment, Callahan asked Mary to tap on an acupuncture point directly beneath her eye on the high cheekbone while she viewed the pool from a distance. This point was Stomach 1 and Callahan theorized that because her symptom of fear was largely experienced as distress in the gastrointestinal area that it might provide some relief.

In fact, it did provide Mary with some relief. Gradually, self-applying pressure to that specific acupoint by way of continual tapping, Mary was able to move closer and closer to the pool, something she’d never done before. Finally, after many days and many applications of this process, she was able to touch the water and thus functionally overcome her morbid fears of water. This led Callahan to further explore the possibilities of combining self-applied acupressure with a psychological process of exposure, either directly or in imagination.

Psychology and Traditional Chinese Medicine Meet

Psychiatrist John Diamond, who authored several books including, Life Energy, and Your Body Doesn’t Lie, described his exploration of the connection between the meridians and specific emotions. He posits that the stomach meridian is associated with contentment and calm on one end of a continuum and disappointment and disgust on the other. Diamond does not address medical issues with the meridians and focuses primarily on emotions, temperaments, and personality factors associated with specific meridians. For example, he associates the kidney meridian with sexual indecision and the large intestine meridian with guilt and self-worth. He used processes of testing muscle strength while pressing or touching certain acupoints to determine, in his words; “…the effects of nearly all stimuli, physical or psychological, internal or external, on the human body…most importantly for our purposes, each meridian is also associated with a specific negative and a specific positive emotional state.”

The point is that Diamond, who influenced Callahan,along with others, began to codify a system of using meridians and their beginning and end acupoints for treating emotional distresses across a wide spectrum, from anger and anxiety to regret and shame. This system represents a significant departure from CBT. A variety of treatment protocols emerged from Diamond and Callahan’s explorations and formulations, including our own which we call Emotional Self-Management (ESM). ESM is detailed in our book, Instant Emotional Healing: Acupressure for the Emotions, published by Random House.

An Alphabet Soup of Techniques

Over the past 20 years, a number of clinical studies and anecdotal evidence has accumulated for the effectiveness of a number of what has come to be broadly called Energy Psychology (EP) methods. These appear as an alphabet soup of acronyms such as TFT, EFT, ESM, TAT, HBLU, and many others. Thought Field Therapy (TFT), Callahan’s iteration, was one of the first to gain clinical traction and was streamlined by a non-clinician, Gary Craig, who first used TFT for himself then modified the system Callahan developed so as to be more user-friendly. Craig disseminated his method dubbed, Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) and made it available to clinicians as well as the general public at low or no cost. Thus, EFT became the most widely recognized version of EP. Over the past two decades, refinements have been made in some cases, as with our ESM, to include energy corrective processes called Reversal Corrections.

Acupunturists Enter Energy Psychology

Tapas Fleming, one of the earliest acupuncturists to enter the EP arena, developed her own version called Tapas Acupressure Technique (TAT). The Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology (ACEP) currently has about half a dozen acupuncturists as members. ACEP has become the trade group for therapists, coaches, and clinicians of all disciplines who are interested in or currently using one or another EP method.

All of the various forms of Energy Psychology (EP) methods and their taxonomy are to vast to explain here, but the research has largely been on Emotional Freedom Technique in one or another form.   Psychologist, David Feinstein, has been the most prolific published writer on the theory and mechanisms of action of all EP methods. In his 2012 article in the Review of General Psychology, a peer-reviewed American Psychological Association journal, he found 51 published articles on some aspect that would qualify as EP with 36 of those studies systematically measuring outcomes of multiple treatments while using some form of tapping on acupoints. We conducted one of those published studies, which focused on claustrophobia. In our study, we measured psychological factors of state vs. trait anxiety, physiological measures of EEG, EMG, heart and respiration rates, and a measure of electro-conductance within the meridians using Motoyama’s Apparatus for Meridian Identification (AMI). We compared a treatment group of claustrophobic individuals with a group of non-claustrophobic individuals and found both clinical improvement (less fear) as well as changes in several physiological measures after a single 30-minute treatment (Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine, Vol. 14, No.3).

How Do Energy Psychology Methods Work?

The marriage of psychology and acupuncture continues to evolve and one of the most likely explanations for the mechanism of action for the reduction of emotional distress has been put forth by Feinstein. He offers that “Imaging studies showed that the stimulation of certain points with needles reliably produced prominent decreases of activity in the amygdala, hippocampus, and other brain areas associated with fear. In almost all EP acupoint stimulation protocols, the physical procedure is done simultaneously with the mental activation of a psychological problem or desired state. In this sense, energy psychology with PTSD and other anxiety disorders is an exposure technique” (Review of General Psychology, Vol. 16).

What Does the EP Future Look Like?

In a not too distant future, we envision that more acupuncturists will blend their skill-sets with psychological principles to address uncomplicated cases of phobias, anxiety, and depressive disorders, just as they already assist patients in quitting smoking, weight loss, and other quasi-psychological problems. Some licensed acupuncturists have already pursued counseling and advanced psychology degrees to marry what they know about the body with what they’ve learned about the mind to create elegant mind-body healings. This is a trend that we hope will continue.

Peter T. Lambrou, PhD is in private practice as a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in anxiety, work stress, and emotional management. He is the author Self-Hypnosis: The Complete Manual for Health and Self-Change, which has been translated into 14 languages, and Stop Your Panic Attacks Now.He is also co-author along with Dr. George Pratt, of the books Hyper-Performance: The A.I.M. Strategy for Improving Your Business Potential, the award-winning book, Instant Emotional Healing: Acupressure for the Emotions, published by Random House and their most recent book, Code to Joy: The 4-Step Solution to Unlocking Your Natural State of Happiness, from Harper Collins. Dr. Lambrou is past Chairman of Psychology at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla California, where he continues on the Psychology Executive Committee. Dr. Lambrou is a clinical member of the Association for Psychological Science, and he is Diplomate in Behavioral Medicine.

George J.Pratt, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist with a private practice in La Jolla, California where he specializes in psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, behavioral medicine, performance enhancement, and corporate consulting. In addition to co-authoring books with Dr. Lambrou, he is also co-author of A Clinical hypnosis Primer, Expanded and updated. Dr. Pratt is past Chairman of Psychology at Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, a Diplomate of the American Board of Medical Psychotherapists; the American Academy of Pain Management; and the American College of Forensic Examiners. He is also a member of numerous professional organizations including the American Psychological Association and is in Who's Who in America.

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