Tapping away pain?

I’ve blogged in the past about the pain therapy philosophy of Dr. John Sarno. His concept is that a lot of physical pain is the result of the brain attempting to distract the conscious mind from experiencing repressed emotions.

Yesterday, my massage therapist was talking about a similar treatment/philosophy called “emotional freedom technique.” EFT, like Sarno, alleges that some physical pain can be partly or completely induced by emotional stress. And the pain can be removed by having the patient focus on a specific emotional concern, and then having them tap parts of their face and body while performing various confusing actions like moving their eyes in specific patterns.

Sounds pretty fruity, I know. But hearing about it reminded me of some recent discoveries related to memory. It’s now theorized that every time we recall memory, we are “re-creating it” e.g. we are firing up various collections of neurons related to your sensory impressions from the memory. For example, if you’re recalling your 10th birthday, you’re firing up groups of visual neurons related to the red candles on the cake, auditory neurons related to the mariachi band that was playing, taste neurons related to ice cream, olfactory neurons related to the foul smell of your grandmother as she bent down to hug you etc. Activating these neural connections is a chemical process. And apparently, beta blockers can “break” these connections. So, if you recall a negative memory (e.g. activate the chemical process of re-creating the memory) and are then administered a beta blocker, you can “kill” the negative memory. (I’ve heard this process described in two contradictory ways. One states that the memory actually disappears; the other implies that the memory is still there, but the emotional component is diminished or removed. I’m not sure which description is correct.)

How does this relate to emotional freedom technique? I’m wondering whether what’s happening there is that you are activating the negative memory or thought, and then “confusing” the brain while holding the thought. And the resulting confusion essentially decouples the negative sensation (e.g. emotional or physical pain) from the idea/memory, in much the same way beta blockers do.

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