CJ Puotinen
EFT Coach and Trainer


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Case Histories

Three-week incapacitating back pain relieved in one phone session

by CJ Puotinen

One day in February 2006, while confirming registrations for an upcoming EFT workshop, I left a phone message for Holly Anne Shelowitz, a nutrition counselor in Kingston, NY.

Holly gave me permission to tell her story and requested that her real name be used in this report, which Gary Craig published in his online newsletter June 6, 2006.

Holly understood that EFT is an acupressure tapping technique, but she was otherwise new to the subject. Because we were working by phone, I relied on her voice, breathing, and answers to my many questions for feedback. Her sighs, deep or shallow breathing, the quality of her laugh, and her tone of voice were important clues to her energy flow. I explained that I would be making guesses, some of which would land and some which wouldn’t (Gary Craig’s “garbage or gold” analogy), and she should let me know what was working and what wasn’t. She should also feel free to substitute her own words for anything that didn’t sound or feel right.

Holly was a pleasure to work with because she was highly motivated, had no trouble focusing on the problem, and gave clear, concise answers to all of my questions. Gary Craig and Carol Look are exceptionally skilled at listening, hearing the client’s language, feeding that language back to the client, and checking to be sure the descriptions are accurate, make sense, and feel comfortable. They are my role models in shaping EFT setup phrases.

When Holly called back, she explained that she hadn’t replied to my emails because she hadn’t been able to access her computer for three weeks. She had injured her back and had been in bed that whole time. Friends were staying with her in shifts because she needed help doing everything. Every movement was excruciatingly painful.

“I don’t know anything about EFT,” she said, “but I was wondering if there is some way I can get started now, before the workshop, in case it would help with the pain.”

It wasn’t really necessary to ask Holly where her pain was on the 0-to-10 scale because it was obviously incapacitating, but I introduced the scale for comparison purposes. She agreed that her pain was at a 10.

I asked her to describe the pain, beginning with its size, shape, and location. She said it had at first covered her entire back, but it was now in the small of her back. In response to my questions (is it bigger than a breadbox, is it square or round, what is its three-dimensional shape, is it soft or hard, is it smooth or rough, what color is it, does it make a sound, does it move or pulse) she described it as the size and shape of a slightly squashed grapefruit, red-orange in color, with a hard spiky, thorny surface, not making any noise, and not moving or pulsing.

These questions present a non-threatening, global approach to physical symptoms. They give the person something to focus on without jumping into potentially painful memories or emotions. Of course, not everyone feels comfortable responding to child-like questions with answers that are obviously not literally true, but Holly was an eager participant and had no trouble assigning shape, color, and other attributes to her pain. One-on-one sessions are always experiments – we try one approach and if it works, we’re home free. If it doesn’t, we approach the problem from a different direction.  

Holly also has a sense of humor and used exaggeration to describe her situation, so I fed all of that back to her. It’s usually easy to verify rapport with the person’s responses, including laughter, deep breathing, a relaxed voice, and spontaneous comments.

We slowly went through the EFT tapping points. This took a few minutes because Holly was new to EFT, but she quickly caught on to the points’ location and how to tap on them. I tapped on myself at the same time, saying “Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap” in rhythm with my tapping to demonstrate. I explained that after our first round, she could set her own tapping pace, plus she could tell me to slow down if needed as we moved from point to point. She used a phone headset, which freed her hands, and soon she was tapping along at a good clip, saying,

Even though there’s a pain in the small of my back that’s the size and shape of a slightly squashed hard red-orange grapefruit, and it’s covered with thorns and spikes, and it’s just stuck there and it won’t move except to cause a lot of pain whenever I move, and it has turned me into an invalid, in fact I’m a total mess, I deeply and completely accept myself.

Even though this pain is overwhelming and it’s kept me flat on my back for three weeks and my back is a mess and my life is a mess, I deeply and completely accept myself, I love and forgive myself, I forgive this pain, and I forgive my back.

Even though this tapping business is very strange, I’m desperate enough to try anything, and who knows, maybe it will unblock some blocked energy and let my meridians flow the way they’re supposed to, and maybe I’ll feel a little better in a few minutes.

These setups included Holly’s descriptions (“my life is a mess”) and my own guesses (“this tapping business is very strange, I’m desperate”).

Reminder statements were interspersed with the EFT point tapping, starting at the top of her head, inside eyebrow, outside eye, under the eye, under the nose, under the lip, collar bone, under the arm, and  the liver point.

Gary Craig calls the liver point the Below Nipple point, but as I complained to him once, that’s a guy thing. For most ladies over the age of 12, that point is definitely not below the nipple! While explaining its location to a phone client who was new to EFT, I tried different descriptions until she said, “Oh, like where the underwire is in my underwire bra.” Perfect! Now I call it the underwire point, a description that Gary agrees works better for ladies.

At each tapping point, I had Holly say a different reminder phrase: pain, hurts, red-orange, hard, spiky, thorns, rough, hard, difficult, squashed grapefruit, etc.

After a few quick rounds of head-to-torso tapping, Holly sounded more relaxed. I assumed that her pain was diminishing, but I wanted to give her a good foundation for future reference, so instead of asking how she felt, I taught her the finger points, explaining that she might not need them but it’s good to know how to use them just in case.

In workshops and with clients, I follow Gary Craig’s advice to emphasize the shortcut basic recipe but to teach the entire sequence, just in case it’s needed and to provide a more comprehensive toolbox of EFT techniques.

After a few rounds that incorporated the finger points, we did the 9-Gamut treatment. I called it the brain-balancer and explain that it brings the left and right brains into balance, and Holly was happy to learn this simple procedure.

I did not ask Holly for a measurement of her pain because she was caught up in learning the EFT protocol and seemed to be getting good results. There would be plenty of time for measuring and testing later.

Now it was time for a new aspect (emotions).

Then I asked Holly how she felt emotionally about the pain. Soon she was saying, while tapping on her karate chop point,

Even though I’m furious with this pain, totally angry and upset, here I am stuck in bed, not able to work, not able to go anywhere, not able to do anything by myself, dependent on everyone, it’s so frustrating, my body betrayed me, I have no control over my body or anything, it’s so upsetting! Even though I hate all this, I deeply and completely accept myself, I love and forgive myself, I forgive myself for hurting my back, I forgive my back for being hurt, and I forgive anyone and anything that had anything to do with my being in this condition. I would like to let go of this hard, thorny, excruciating red-orange spiky pain, to let it go, to release it and everything that has contributed to it in any way, and be completely well, let my body heal itself from the inside, and relax and be happy.

This extended setup incorporates both problem and solution statements with an emphasis on problem statements, in keeping with Gary Craig’s advice to tap problems out before we tap solutions in. Judging by Holly’s voice, breathing, descriptions, and comments, she was making great progress, so I incorporated forgiveness statements and descriptions of her goal, which was to heal naturally and feel completely well. The setup also includes forgiveness reframes.

Tap tap tap tap tap with appropriate reminder phrases: angry, frustrated, body betrayed me, upset, etc., followed in the next round by positive reminder phrases: let go, release, forgive, love, good back, strong back, happy back.

Judging by Holly’s voice and responses, it seemed that we had cleared much of her original discomfort, so we added positive reminder phrases. As Gary Craig says, positive phrases or affirmations that are introduced too soon won’t work, but once the original problem has been cleared away, affirmations and positive statements are more likely to be effective.

Just to be sure we were clearing everything that might be a factor, I started Holly on a new setup phrase, saying, “Here I am stuck in bed, I’ve been here for three weeks, life is passing me by while I stare at the ceiling, I may be here forever, and I find, as I lie here thinking about everything, that this reminds me of -----“

This setup invites the client to remember a specific event that is in some way linked to the current problem and which might be a core issue.

Holly stopped, then realized that I was waiting for her to fill in the blank. “This reminds me of when I had an infected tooth,” she said, “and I was lying in the dentist’s chair with all that cotton and stuff in my mouth, totally helpless, not in control of anything, not able to move because of a condition I could do nothing to fix. It was the most awful feeling. I was afraid and upset and helpless, and I think feeling helpless is what bothered me the most.”

So we tapped on how

Even though I feel helpless, just as helpless as when I was stuck in the dentist’s chair, and even though I have to rely on friends for help to do everything because I’m helpless, and even though I can’t do anything for myself, can’t work, can’t walk, can’t sit up, can’t do anything by myself or for myself, I’m as helpless as a baby, I’m paralyzed, I’m stuck, I’m helpless, nevertheless I deeply and completely accept myself, I love myself, I love my back, and I forgive myself and my back and everything and everyone for anything and everything.

Describing her pain as necessary or natural may help her accept what has already happened, let go of it, and move on, as shown in the following reframe:

Pain is a necessary nerve response, it protects the body from harm, and I know that in some way this pain that has kept me in bed for three weeks was my body’s attempt to keep me safe, so with gratitude I thank the part of me that controls this pain, I love and bless it, I acknowledge its excellent work, it has done its job very well, and now it realizes that the useful purpose it served is now complete, it can let go now, it can know how much I appreciate its good work. It can come back when it’s needed and necessary, and for now it can let the pain subside, it can release the pain, it can let go while I thank it for doing such a good job. I thank this pain, I bless this pain, and I release this pain now.

Holly said that looking at pain this way (cognitive shift) helped her stop blaming herself for being incapacitated.

At the end of all this, which took about 15 minutes, Holly sighed a deep, deep sigh, a good sign that her energy was shifting. Now when she laughed, it wasn’t a nervous pain-filled laugh, it was a relaxed laugh, a laugh with relief and a spark of hope and joy in it.

Preliminary test:

I asked Holly whether her pain was still the size and shape of a slightly squashed grapefruit.

“No!” she exclaimed. “It’s a little cube, like a small box, and it isn’t red-orange any more, it’s a deep velvet blue, and it isn’t rough and spiny any more, it has a smooth velvet surface. It’s almost gone!”

Now we tapped on how

Even though I have this small velvet blue box of pain in the small of my back, I deeply and completely love and accept myself. Even though there is still a little box of blue velvet pain in the small of my back, the pain is disappearing, it is going away, my body is healing itself from the inside out, I feel better already, I feel so much better, I really feel completely well.

Tap tap tap with appropriate reminder phrases.

At the end of two or three rounds of tapping, Holly couldn’t find the pain at all. It had disappeared.  

Time for a real test, which is easy when it comes to pain or physical discomfort. No matter what the person’s situation, there’s usually a safe way to measure symptoms.

“OK,” I said, “let’s see if we can find it again. Do you feel like sitting up?”

Holly realized that she probably could, and she did. I asked her to bend to the left, right, forward, and back to see if she could find the pain, and she couldn’t. It was gone.

“Feel like standing up?” I asked.

“Oh, gosh,” said Holly. “Do you think I should? I mean, do you think I can?”

“Well,” I said, “your friend is there to help.”

Her friend had in fact been rolling his eyes as he watched Holly tap and talk, but now he had something useful to do, so he stood beside her as she took a tentative move toward standing.

“I can’t!” she cried and sat back. I asked, “Are you afraid?” and she answered, “Yes!!”

 New aspect.

So we tapped (karate chop point) on how

I’m afraid to stand, I feel dizzy, I’m afraid I’ll fall, I think I’ll faint, I’m afraid I’ll injure myself all over again and I’ll be right back where I started. I’m afraid this won’t work. I’m afraid to try. I’m  too afraid to think straight.

This was not an “Even though....” setup but simply a description of her thoughts and feelings. The words were my guesses, and when I asked, “Is that true?” she agreed with all of them.

I had Holly switch from her karate chop point to the EFT points, which we tapped on while saying reminder phrases like dizzy, afraid, it won’t work, I’m afraid, dizzy, afraid, etc. After tapping through all the points twice or three times, she seemed much more relaxed and comfortable.

This felt like an appropriate time to include Choices phrasing and other affirmations.

Now I had her tap her karate chop point while saying:

On the other hand, I trust my strong, healthy body, which is healing itself from the inside out. I trust my brilliant mind, which is directing all my nerves and muscles to stand me up straight and keep me there. I love and trust my body and mind and nerves and bones and muscles and everything else. I choose to let go of the fear. I’m going to stand up now.

And she did! Holly was amazed. She kept laughing. “I can’t believe it! I’m standing up! It was so easy!” And she couldn’t find the pain, even when she leaned to the left, right, forward, and back, and even when she bent her right leg and pulled it toward her, then did the same with her left leg. She felt a little stiff from all that bed rest, but we tapped on the stiffness and she soon felt more limber.

Then  she said, sounding shy and tentative, like a little girl, “It’s such a beautiful day, it’s so lovely outside, I wonder – do you think that maybe – could I maybe – do you think I could, well, could I go for a walk? Outside? By the lake?”

I burst out laughing. “Tap with me,” I said. “Even though I’ve spent the last half hour lying on my back, tapping on my head, and saying all kinds of ridiculous things with someone I’ve never met in my life, and now I’m asking this total stranger who’s 70 miles away for permission to go for a walk? Do I need my head examined?” We zipped through the tapping points, saying, “Going for a walk! I feel terrific! Going outside! Beautiful day! The end! Goodbye!”

Holly and her friend took a 20-minute walk by the lake, and she felt completely fine. She immediately resumed her work and her normal activities.  

2010 update: Four years have passed since Holly’s introduction to EFT, and during that time she has felt only an occasional twinge of back pain, especially when she’s under stress. Whenever that happens, she taps and the pain disappears.

There are many ways to tap for physical pain. We could have tapped just for the physical symptoms, then I could have asked for her pain level (which would probably have fallen but not disappeared), followed by, “Even though I still have some of this pain…” and reminder phrases, “This remaining pain,” etc.

I could have asked Holly what she was doing when she injured her back, what was going on in her life then, and what were the sources of stress or anger in her life. I could have asked if she had injured herself before and under what circumstances. In other words, we could have spent a lot more time exploring past events and their emotional connections.

But as Gary Craig says, if you tap and it works, you’re done. When I spoke with Holly later, I asked if she was interested in looking for the issue that originally triggered her back pain, if she was curious about reconstructing what happened and why. Like Gary Craig’s clients who were asked the same questions, she said no, she wasn’t interested, didn’t care, and couldn’t be bothered. She was just happy to have found a technique that fixed the problem quickly and with no emotional discomfort.

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