EFT tapping for clearing a phobia

EFT Tapping For Phobias

WHAT’S THE ISSUE: Psychotherapy works well for many things, but can be quite a painful process when working on overcoming phobias due to how long it takes to process this type of problem when you are just talking about it. When facilitating therapeutic EFT Tapping for clearing phobias, skilled EFT Practitioners use therapeutic tapping techniques that can help clear a range of phobias more quickly, gently, and effectively. That’s why more and more psychotherapists worldwide are now learning how to apply tapping for their clients and themselves. In this article, I walk you through how I worked with an 8-year-old boy (4th Grade) as his EFT Practitioner to help him overcome his phobia of fire. 

We did four weekly 30 minute tapping therapy sessions online via Zoom. His mum was present and engaged in the therapy process. This article is published here with consent from both parent and child. All identifying features have been removed.

BEFORE STARTING EFT for phobias

“Niko” (not his real name) had develop a phobia of fire that was affecting his quality of life as well as his self-image. He felt ashamed whenever his phobia got triggered. He had picked up from his friendship group a belief that it was “weak” for a boy to feel fear. 

Niko’s mum knew that therapeutic tapping sessions with a skilled EFT Practitioner are effective for processing emotions. She had worked with a colleague to clear complex personal challenges in just 5-6 months and was waiting to see when her son would be ready to work on his fears and phobias with an EFT Practitioner. He was ready to work on overcoming his phobias with an EFT Practitioner when we started working together. 

Autumn was approaching, and the family would soon need to start switching on a device that worked like a fireplace (it’s called a σόμπα in Greek) in the TV/playroom room. Just the thought of lighting a fire in the σόμπα brought up a lot of fear for him. 

Niko’s mum felt that two frightening fire-related events may have contributed to his fire phobia. The first event occurred two years prior, when he was was 6 years old. He had seen a shed in the village burning after it got hit by lighting. He heard the frighting sound the light had made, and then saw the resulting fire. The second event was even more frightening for him. It occurred a year later, when he was 7. He saw a nearby house go up in flames.

The combination of these two events caused him to develop a phobia of fire. It ranged from intense fear when a match was lit to fearing just thinking about the σόμπα being lit, which was the only way the TV/playroom could be kept warm when the weather got cold. 

After we all met, we agreed to work together on his fire phobia. We agreed to test his progress by him going up to the σόμπα in the TV/living room and noticing what he felt from just thinking about it being lit. I told him he could bring any furry friends, teddy bears, toys, or even books – whatever gave him comfort – to the sessions if it would help him ground and feel comfortable during the session. His mum agreed to be present as well.

EFT TAPPING FOR A PHOBIA OF FIRE

SESSION 1

At the start of the first therapeutic tapping session, I asked Niko if he had brought any stuffed animals or toys that gave him comfort. He had. He showed me one of his favorite exotic stuffed animals, a lama, with a big smile on his face. I reminded him that if he ever needed to touch his lama during the session, it was there for him to help him ground and feel safe.

I then led Niko and his mum through a round of silent tapping using the Clinical EFT Tapping for grounding and relaxation. Next, I asked Niko if he felt ready to test what came up for him when we went up to the σόμπα and thought about helping to turn it on. There was no wood in there. We were just starting with testing the impact that going up to it and imagining lighting it up had on his nervous system. He said he was ready, went up to it, and came back saying “I don’t want to” («Δεν θέλω»).

In tapping we start with whatever aspect of a problem is coming up for a client. In this case, it was a cognitive aspect rather than emotional one or a physical sensation. So we started by doing one round of tapping just on that first aspect (“Even though I don’t want to, I love and accept myself anyway”). I then asked if he wanted to go up to the σόμπα again to notice what came up for him now when he thought about it being on.

This time he reported somatic sensations – stomach pain combined with trembling. Both were at a 5/10 level of intensity. We did a round of tapping acknowledging these physical sensations (“Even though my stomach hurts and I’m trembling, I am safe”). After the first round, the intensity of both these sensations went up to a 7.5/10. 

When the intensity of an aspect of the problem temporarily goes up, it means this higher number was the real level of intensity. Sometimes when we have resistance to experiencing the full intensity of our fear, we can’t get an accurate initial reading of the real intensity of an issue until our body is more relaxed. 

After another round of tapping, the trembling had reduced and he now only had a 4.5/10 fear that was concentrated more in the center of his stomach. So we agreed to do one last round of tapping on that remaining fear that was now concentrated in a smaller area in the center of his stomach.  

I then asked if he would like to go up to the σόμπα again to test and see what comes up for him when he thinks of it being on. This time he reported feeling no trembling, and no pain in the stomach. Both of these aspects now felt like a 0/10. The thought that came up for him was «Μαμά να την ανάψω;» (Mum shall I light it up?)

Our session had come to an end. We agreed to let him integrate the work we’d done before re-testing next week to see if there were any other aspects of the problem that may need working on for his phobia to be cleared.

After just one therapeutic tapping session, Niko already reporting feeling “Much better. I feel OK.” («Πολύ καλύτερα. Αισθάνομαι ΟΚ»).

SESSION 2

At the start of Session 2, Niko’s mum reported observing the following progress over the past week:

  1. Niko lit a match for the barbecue that weekend when they’d got together with family and friends. He was OK with doing that.
  2. He went on to help his dad cook on the barbecue. He was relaxed while doing that.
  3. She read Niko a bedtime story his teacher had recommended included a house catching on fire because of a σόμπα. His mum didn’t know that the book contained this. In that moment, Niko froze, his eyes widened («γκουρλόσε τα μάτια») and he then said “I shouldn’t have seen that, should I?” She explained that was back then when σόμπες were not as well-built as they are now. She was worried he wouldn’t be able to sleep after that but he slept really well, so it didn’t affect him much. Just in the moment. 

Niko happily showed me some more of his furry friends (stuffed animals) before we started. We agreed to test if he had any stressful physical sensations when he went up to the σόμπα, just in case there was still anything left we needed to tap on. 

He felt no distressing physical sensations, so it had indeed all cleared. However, the cognitive aspect “I don’t want to light it up” («Δεν θέλω να την ανάψω») remained. It felt like a 2/10 true for him (in tapping we call measuring this type of cognitive block Validity of Cognition).  

We did three rounds of tapping chipping away at this cognitive block. It went from a 2/10, to a 1.5/10, to a 1/10. Each time Niko would consult his stuffed animals to ask them what they thought the number. This is a clever distancing technique  created by his imagination, which brought an element of play and joy to the therapy process. When “I don’t want to light it up” dropped to a 1/10, the next thought that came up for him was “I will tell dad to bring wood” (so that we can light it). 

In EFT Tapping therapy we call this a Client Cognitive shift; it was the child, the client, who’s imagination spontaneously saw that a new reality was possible. It wasn’t me who told him what he should think, or how he should think differently about the situation. His mind did that of it’s own accord after his nervous system was regulated so that he could shift from his emotional brain, his amygdala, into his planning/problem-solving brain, the Prefrontal Cortex. 

However, there was still something keeping it from going to a 0. In that moment, his mum realized that she had the same resistance her son was having to doing something unless she was 100% sure that it was safe, except for extreme sports where that was not an issue for her.

I asked if this resistance could be linked to a fear of feeling fear, and both Niko and his mum felt that to be true for themselves.

Niko reported an “Aha!” moment, “I’m not scared of the σόμπα, I’m scared of the feeling” («Δεν φοβάμαι την σόμπα, φοβάμαι το συναίσθημα»). This felt like a 2/10 true, and after a round of tapping it dropped to a 1.5/10. I noticed that during this round, Niko’s mum was yawning a lot as she tapped on herself, and each time she yawned, Niko would  experience a release himself by yawning as he tapped on himself. 

We ended the session by his mum acknowledging that she was aware that his fear of fear is also her fear of fear. His resistance to let go of his fear was also what she was feeling. She reported realizing that both she and her son were having a hard time completely let go of certain emotions. She also noticed that he was now very relaxed compared to the start of the session. 

SESSION 3

Seeing as there was a component of Niko’s fire phobia that seemed like it wasn’t actually his fear, it was his mum’s fear, we agreed for the third session to be just his mum and I tapping on the part of the problem that was hers to work on.

One of the things we did during this session was to hold space for his mum to express all of her fears, which she reported experiencing as liberating as she wasn’t aware she had some of these fears. For example, she wasn’t aware that she also had a fear of fire, because there was a memory from childhood that hadn’t been traumatic as nothing bad had happened from the stove going on fire. Her mum had dealt with it, but in her mind as a child, it had registered as a small ‘t’ trauma as it was one of the few times in her life when she’d seen her otherwise composed mum get flustered. The memory had registered as a fear of fire that she hadn’t realized she had been holding on to in her subconscious.

We gave each fear space to express itself, one fear per tapping point as we went through the points, until there were no more fears needing to be given a voice. The process helped her face her fear of fear by giving a voice to her biggest fear for the first time in her life; the tapping helped her keep her nervous system regulated so that she stayed within her window of tolerance and was able to process.

SESSION 4

The mum reported that they’d turned the σόμπα on that week as the weather had turned cold, and Niko didn’t have any big reactions. He was fine («Μια χαρά»).

I then tested to see if there was anything left from the phobia. Niko reported feeling a little bit of fear at the thought of it being on and him being alone in the home. His mum assured him he was too young for her to leave him alone in the home with it on. His fear then shifted to it being on with him being alone in the TV/playroom while his mum was working in the room next door. 

We tapped on that fear remaining, and then tested to see if there were any other remaining aspects of his phobia that we hadn’t cleared yet from when it was on this week. He said “I got a bit scared when it made this ‘voo’ sound” («Λιγώ φοβήθηκα που κάνη αυτό το ‘voo’»).

I then led them through the Choices Technique, a tapping technique for when the intensity of an emotion is between 0-10 where the client chooses how they would like to feel in place of the fear. Niko chose “happy and not a little tense like I am now” («Θα θελα  να νιώθω χαρούμενος και οχι ‘ετσι λίγο σφιγμένος»). The fear then dropped to a 0/10.

I asked if this week he would like to try watching TV and playing in the TV room on his own while his mum was working in the room next door to see if that fear had cleared. He said he’d ask his bunny (stuffed animal) he’d brought with him, replying ‘it says yes’ («Λέει ναι»).  

Finally, I tested one last time, asking him to imagine his mum working for an hour next door, and him being on his own with the tin σόμπα on…feel any fear as you imagine that happening? His reply: No.

All of the aspects that were holding up Niko’s fire phobia were cleared.

EFT FOR CLEARING A PHOBIA RESULTS

That week Niko’s mum reported that he would ask ‘When will we turn on the σόμπα?’ («Πότε θα ανάψουμε την σόμπα;»). He now looks forward to it. He enjoys the warmth. So it’s now shifted from a neutral experience to a positive experience for him.

His mum went on to say she was pleased with how the tapping sessions were going. She hadn’t expected him to make progress this quickly because she didn’t know how he would respond, what with it being his first time tapping. But he had already made such quick progress. She was happy that he was now able to relax while watching cartoons and playing alone. He was no longer getting triggered by the sight, sounds, or presence of the lit σόμπα. 

When I asked Niko what he felt he got out of doing EFT for his phobia of fire, he said “joy and no fear”.

When I followed up with the mum five months later, she reported that these gains had stayed. His phobia hadn’t returned. It had cleared. 

MEET ELENI

Eleni Vardaki - educational articles and collaborations for individuals and schools

Eleni Vardaki is an experienced educator and EFT Tapping Coach who specializes in stress, anxiety, and academic success. She works with both school and university level students who want her assistance on clearing their inner blocks to achieving their personal, career-related, or academic goals. She also leads online and in-person group sessions for psychotherapists, classroom teachers, and other allied professionals who are interesting in learning EFT Tapping skills.