In a normal week, I meet children and teenagers who have been assigned incredible tasks. I’m not talking about homework, which seems to require more and more time and energy.
I’m talking about the emotional aversions that have become endurance tests for these poor souls: things like being bullied, watching parents fight, having to choose sides in an increasing number of parental alienation situations (where a father poisons a son against his ex-spouse). and he decides to hurt his ex-spouse where it hurts most), dealing with complex identity issues and, most recently, a preteen stumbled upon a parent’s suicide.
These events leave emotional wounds that change the trajectory of lives. Being assigned such difficult tasks at a young age is quite unfair. Where are the days when childhood was portrayed as peaceful, safe, calm and innocent as Norman Rockwell portrayed it? Even the adventures of Huckleberry Finn, written by Mark Twain in 1884, seem like a tender story but far from reality.
Many doctors have been accused of trafficking pills. They meet patients, ask questions, draw conclusions and print a prescription sheet, spit out by a printer, connected to computers.
When I’m in the mood to prescribe properly, there are times when I reach into my pocket, unscrew the cap of my fountain pen, and use its deep blue ink to write, by hand, the prescription that can soothe a soul. Our current system doesn’t like that. Digital life is the norm now.
After reading extensively about other ways (non-pharmaceutical treatments) to relieve mental distress, I learned about pioneering work in Boston by Jon Kabbat-Zinn called MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction). I also know CBT Canada, a Toronto-based organization passionate about teaching primary care physicians about CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy).
But what about EFT, also known as tapping?
EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) is defined as a form of psychological acupressure. It is a simple but powerful tool for some that combines Chinese medicine with modern psychology.
Dr. Dawson Church seems to be the go-to expert these days on EFT. Google his name and you will see several Ted Talks and YouTube videos explaining EFT in detail. Given the dynamics of video streaming, one gets free and immediate access to what EFT looks like in real life.
EFT involves tapping on specific meridian points on the body while focusing on a specific problem or issue to manage emotional responses. It has been shown in adult academic literature to reduce anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.
As is so often the case, we cannot assume that if it has been shown to work in adults, it automatically means it will also work in children. Children are unique because they exhibit a very wide range of developmental stages. Treatment must be customized to match the child’s age and stage of neurological development.
With any emotional disorder, the first stage is to identify the emotion. Buddhist teachers have coined the term RAIN. In this acronym, R means recognize, A means allow, I investigates, and N means nurture compassion.
Once an emotion has been identified, the next step is to gently understand the emotion and feel it in the body.
All of this requires tremendous skill and patience and not all patients respond to MBSR or CBT. Therefore, tapping is often promoted as something physical that can be done and the results are more immediate.
But what does the research conclude? It seems to be in its infancy. Many doctors fear that the quest to avoid medications and embark on an exclusively non-pharmaceutical path may be too simplistic. They want more solid data before talking in depth about EFT.
It is not clear how many doctors who care for anxious children are fully aware of what EFT means.
There is a saying that doctors who don’t know are quick to say no. So when a parent asks about EFT and a doctor isn’t very knowledgeable, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the doctor dismisses it completely.
Unlike medications with side effects, EFT does not appear to be harsh. The worst that can probably happen is that you don’t deliver what you promise; Meanwhile, the child is not receiving the best care needed to help him cope with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Those who want to learn more about non-pharmaceutical approaches can Google a YouTube video series (EFT Tapping for Kids) by Brad Yates.
Dr. Nieman has contributed to the Herald monthly since 1999. He sees patients in his private practice and is the author of Sustained: A Life Rewritten After Sudden Misfortune. See www.drnieman.com