Editorial Essay – Touching Your Brain: How Energy Therapies Use the Brain’s Innate Reprocessing Systems to Heal Psychological Trauma

Dawson Church

You can touch your own brain with your fingers.

“How is that possible?” you might wonder. The brain is encased in a thick bony skull designed to protect its delicate tissues from harm. How can you touch it with a finger?

The answer is that you can touch your eyes, and your eyes are an extension of your brain. The optic nerve extends from the visual cortex to the backs of the eyeballs.

While other senses are linked to the brain through intermediary neural networks, only the organ of sight operates as an extension of the brain itself. This makes eyes and the way they operate of great interest to science. How, when, and why the eyes move when we are awake is driven by the evolutionary need to search for threats and opportunities in the environment. Our eyes are moving constantly when we are awake, focusing in response to everything going on around us.

When we are asleep, however, with our eyelids closed and no information entering the brain through the optic portal, we’re not processing sensory input from the environment in the same way. For most of the time we’re asleep, our eyes do not move.

But during brief periods throughout the night, our eyes move much the same way they do when we’re awake, even though no information is entering them from the outside. This is called the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep. Our sleep cycles are divided into REM and non-REM (NREM) segments. During the latter, our eyes move little. The dominant brain wave during REM sleep is theta, 3-8 cycles per second, whereas during NREM sleep the primary wave is delta, less than 3 cycles per second. In studies of energy healers, theta and delta are the two dominant brain frequencies of the healing state, and normal waking frequencies such as alpha and beta diminish or even disappear (Shealy & Church, 2008).

REM sleep comprises about 20% of an adult’s sleep. Most dreams occur during the REM phase. The way we move our eyes during dreams corresponds to the actions occurring in the dream, such as an ex-smoker imagining smoking in a dream, and turning his eyes in the same direction he would move them to watch his hand stubbing out a cigarette in an ashtray (Leclair-Visonneau, Oudiette, Gaymard, Leu-Semenescu, & Arnulf, 2010).

A great deal is going on in the sleeping brain. Sleep is crucial to the process of memory formation. Certain specialized groups of neurons in the hippocampus, part of the limbic system responsible for learning, are active during REM sleep but not during NREM sleep (Boyce, Glasgow, Williams, & Adamantidis, 2016). During this phase, memories are consolidated into long-term learning. During sleep, the brain reinforces neural pathways and culls others. This process involves both the growth of new synapses and the pruning of those no longer being utilized (Maret, Faraguna, Nelson, Cirelli, & Tononi, 2011).

The brain is also in problem-solving mode while we sleep. While the brain’s visual cortex is inactive, due to the absence of input from the optic nerve, the visual association cortex, immediately above it, is very active during REM sleep. One function of this part of the brain is to make associations between objects, experiences, and emotions (Hoss & Hoss, 2013). When emotions such as fear are experienced in dreams, the brain’s emotional network is activated. Structures such as the amygdala and hippocampus show heightened arousal, just as though an objective waking threat had been perceived (Hoss & Hoss, 2013). REM sleep facilitates the processing of negative emotions such as fear and stress (MacNamara, 2011), while groups of neurons in the hippocampus involved in memory retrieval and storage in waking states are reactivated when dreaming. In the dream state, the brain recalls and rehearses events in an attempt to resolve their emotional content (Hoss & Hoss, 2013). In this way, dreams can be the brain’s way of coping with psychological dilemmas. Consider the following case from the book Dream to Freedom (Hoss & Hoss, 2013):

Bill was a corporate executive whose company was restructuring and eliminating top executives. He was holding out for the possibility that some position would open internally because he feared that if he looked elsewhere he would never find a good job at his age and would also lose his retirement package. The positions open to him internally, however, were uncertain and not well suited to his career, but he considered it too risky to look outside. He had the following dream: “I am a passenger in a boat on a dark underground river trying to find a way out and a position in the windows where I can see daylight. A tour guide appears behind me and points out an opening in the front of the boat that I had not seen before and says, “You can walk out that door.” I didn’t understand what he was saying at first and was reluctant since it didn’t make sense, but finally at his constant urging I walked out the door and found myself out in front. At that point the boat emerged from the cave and into a bright beautiful sunlit setting of calm water.” In a follow up, actual learning appears to have taken place. After the dream the executive decided to try looking outside and accepted what turned out to be a fantastic position in another company and he indeed walked out the door of his old company.

In such ways, the dreaming brain takes psychological dilemmas that are difficult to resolve using rational cognitive decision-making, endows them with rich emotional imagery, and presents us with intuitive nudges that may lead to concrete solutions. During the dreaming process, our brains are in delta (NREM) and theta (REM), the frequencies associated with healing, rather than beta, the frequency of the awake conscious mind. While resolving our dilemmas in dreams, the brain is operating in the same bandwidth found in the healing states of master energy healers.

Energy Psychology (EP) therapies bring the research on eye movements out of the laboratory and into the clinic. Several EP protocols make use of eye movements as a way to process psychological trauma. Therapists using Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR; Shapiro, 1989) have a client think about a traumatic event while performing a series of lateral eye movements. This results in a rapid reduction in emotional intensity around the memory.

The 9 Gamut Procedure is the eye movement component of Thought Field Therapy (Callahan, 1985). It was adopted as the middle part of the Full Basic Recipe in Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT; Craig & Fowlie, 1995; Church, 2013). The 9 Gamut Procedure is believed to engage parts of the brain involved in the nonverbal resolution of trauma. Besides eye movements, it involves fingertip percussion on the skin, or “tapping”, humming, and counting. It includes behaviors designed to engage both the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The 9 Gamut Procedure is composed of nine actions performed while tapping a point called the “Gamut” point located on the Triple Warmer acupuncture meridian on the back of the hand (Church, 2013).

The Evidence Base

Research shows that eye movements such as those prescribed in the 9 Gamut Procedure are instrumental in reprocessing old traumatic memories. The University of South Florida (USF) conducted a study of people with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, using a novel psychotherapeutic method called ART or Accelerated Resolution Therapy (Kip et al., 2012). ART uses eye movements and has a client perform these while thinking about an emotionally triggering event. Researchers using ART found that eye movements rapidly reduced the emotional charge held in such memories of traumatic events. ART concludes by having clients pair the eye movements with the imagination of a desired outcome. According to the descriptions of the study, “the patient fluctuates between talking about a traumatic scene and using the eye movements to help process that information to integrate the memories from traumatic events. The two major components of ART include minimizing or eliminating physiological response associated traumatic memories, and re-envisioning painful or disturbing experiences.” (Hudak, 2012). Participants in the study experienced dramatic drops in PTSD and depression symptoms, as well as improved sleep.

Other studies have shown that ART is effective within one to five sessions (International Society of Accelerated Resolution Therapy, 2016). In common with EFT’s silent “Movie Technique”, ART does not require that a client describe a traumatic event verbally. Silent nonverbal processing is found to be effective.

Other Clinical EFT Techniques such as the floor to ceiling eye roll (Feldenkrais, 1984) also use eye movements to reduce emotional distress. The developers of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), Bandler and Grinder (1979), believed that lateral eye movements correlate with aspects of experience such as internal dialogue, kinesthetic sensations, and imagery.

A study confirming the link between eye movements and PTSD involved collaboration between a psychiatrist and an ophthalmologist (Tym, Beaumont, & Lioulios, 2009). They studied 100 patients, and found that those with PTSD had persistent difficulty maintaining the stability of their peripheral vision while contemplating a traumatic event. After successful psychiatric treatment, however, the eye fluttering disappeared and they were able to recall the event without emotional distress or visual impairment. According to another published report, 90% of psychiatric patients have these visual anomalies (Tym, Dyck, & McGrath, 2000). After World War II, an ophthalmologist described visual disturbances in soldiers suffering from what we now call PTSD (Traquair, 1946, p. 282).

Neuroscientists don’t know exactly why this association between traumatic memories and eye movements occurs. It may be linked to the ability of the brain to process a disturbing event. The limbic system structures involved in the fear response, such as the hippocampus, are also those responsible for turning short-term memories into long-term ones. This memory-processing function is impaired in patients suffering from PTSD. In discussing this theory, an article in Scientific American (Rodriguez, 2013) summarized how research demonstrates that the eye movements are central to EMDR’s efficacy. A meta-analysis of EMDR studies asked the question: “Do eye movements contribute to the large treatments effects of EMDR, or are they no more than an inert placebo, with the effects due to the non-specific benefits of any therapy.” It found that eye movements had an additive effect, and that EMDR’s efficacy could not be explained solely by methods it uses that are common to other therapies (Lee & Cuijpers, 2014).

In a study of hospital patients with PTSD, both EMDR and EFT were found to remediate PTST in an average of four sessions (Karatzias et al., 2011). A meta-analysis of EFT for PTSD examined seven randomized controlled trials. It found a very large treatment effect, and no significant difference between EFT and EMDR (Sebastian & Nelms, in press). Treating even the terrifying emotional memories that produce flashbacks and nightmares in PTSD sufferers is fast and efficient using these eye movement based techniques.

Following are three case histories from the story archives on EFT Universe (EFTuniverse.com) showing uses of the 9 Gamut Procedure, which, as noted, involves eye movements.

Case History 1: Fast Pain Relief

By Pete Hawk

I’ve been introducing EFT to a few coworkers during slow periods (mainly during night shift). The other night, one was in terrible pain since she had been doing lots of exercise to a workout video at home. She was walking around the room very slowly, saying it felt like she was learning to use her legs for the first time.

She was saying, “Man, I need a massage, like now!” Finally, after hearing this a few times, I said, “If you are open to it, I can help with a really neat experimental therapy that will just take a few minutes and will most likely work wonders for you.” She said, “Yeah!” So after getting her pain intensity level of 8 out in the open, we started tapping.

I told her to “just do what I do.”

“Even though my legs are in so much pain right now” (x2)

“Even though I may have pushed myself too hard while exercising”

We did three complete rounds including the 9 Gamut, and I then asked her to stand up and walk. Here are her exact words:

“No f’ing way! Oh my God! Oh my God! That’s amazing! It’s like a 2 now! I can’t believe it!”

I asked if she wanted to keep going to get it down to a 0, but she was so happy that a 2 was good enough and easy to live with. I told her it didn’t matter if she believed in it or not, it “just works.” Even while doing the tapping she was so doubtful and skeptical that it wouldn’t work “for her.” The whole thing was over in less than 10 minutes. She didn’t need a massage anymore.

Case History 2: Excessive Emotionality in a Brain-Damaged Child

By Tana Clark

I am an EFT practitioner and have a daughter who is brain damaged from birth. She did not get enough oxygen due to the cord around her neck for a lengthy time. I work with her almost on a daily basis with EFT. She can become very emotional at times, and it seems to take her hours to get over it. I have tapped with her on many occasions for this problem. I noticed that if I did not do the Gamut point, she didn’t seem to settle down.

Finally, I just started doing the Gamut point when she “got stuck in the right brain.” Now when she gets stuck, we immediately do a sequence and the 9 Gamut Procedure, and have 100% success rate to evaporate her emotion. When people get extremely emotional and can’t seem to find a way out, they are stuck in the right brain.

Many people have problems being stuck in the right brain, and many of us have had the experience where we just can’t stop crying. Doing the eye movements keeps our brain moving from right brain to left brain to right brain. It helps the brain work together instead of being stuck in one side.

Not too long ago I met a mother in the grocery store who had a 13-year-old boy with her. He was crying and carrying on much like my daughter does when she is ‘stuck.’ I waited until I could talk to her alone. By this time the boy had settled down, so I explained what I do, and gave her a quick lesson in EFT.

She said that her son has special needs, and the doctor says that when he acts that way, he is stuck in the right brain. I showed her what to do, and she was very excited to try it with him. I also used it for a teenager whose family was moving; she was very upset about it and kept crying and crying. No amount of setup and sequence helped her feel less emotional. We moved to the 9 Gamut Procedure and, like magic, the tears dried up.

Using the shortcut, we often leave out the 9 Gamut Procedure. But if there is a large amount of emotion, it is extremely helpful. I couldn’t do without it.

Case History 3: Resolution of Vertigo and a Car Crash Memory in a Phone Session

By Edward Miner

I am a hypnotherapist and am always looking for better ways to help people get over their problems. Last evening, I talked with my sister, who lives in another state, about a condition of severe vertigo. She was in a minor automobile accident 2 weeks ago, experienced whiplash, and several days later started experiencing the vertigo.

I just got off the phone with her and want to report that she was symptom free when I hung up. In all it took about 15 minutes to explain EFT and run through it about four times, testing between each run. I initially started the set up with “Even though I have this vertigo and dizziness I completely love and accept myself,” but didn’t see much movement. I adjusted to “Even though I have this vertigo and dizziness, I completely forgive myself or anyone else who may have contributed to it.” After a run-through and a 9 Gamut Procedure, she was experiencing no symptoms. I had her move around a lot more and she found that when she tipped her head back, she still had a dizzy feeling, but the rotation was slower. When I asked her if the feeling had an emotion, she said “annoyance,” so we tapped on ‘the annoyance emotion.’ Subsequent SUD testing could find no more feelings of dizziness. She was amazed because she said that this was the worst time of day, just before she went to bed, and just prior to taking her medicine.

I told her that I didn’t know if it would last, but that now she has a way to handle the symptoms in less than 5 minutes.

I’ve been sold since I started working on myself. However, this newcomer is elated because I was able to hear the healing happen more than 700 miles from where I was sitting as I talked her through the process.


Experience with tens of thousands of clients has shown the 9 Gamut Procedure to be effective even when the other parts of EFT’s Basic Recipe are unable to provide resolution to a problem. The previous cases histories are typical. In the first one, the client has generalized leg pain without any obvious emotional component. In the second, a mother finds that her brain-damaged daughter’s excessive emotionality is calmed by the 9 Gamut Procedure. In the third, vertigo that has affected a client since an auto accident is resolved in a phone session. It is likely that many different aspects of the car crash, and possibly the leg pain, were addressed at the same time by the 9 Gamut.

For these reasons, during Clinical EFT training and certification, the 9 Gamut Procedure is emphasized; slow eye movements covering every point in the field of peripheral vision are found to be particularly valuable. The following are particular indications to use the 9 Gamut Procedure:

Disturbing emotions that can’t be linked to a specific event.
Traumatic incidents that occurred very early in a person’s life, before memory formation began (age 5 and earlier).
When there are a great many similar traumatic events, such as frequent childhood beatings, many battlefield memories.
Womb trauma. Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline cross the placental barrier; a child may be “learning” stress at the level of molecular conditioning even before birth.
Core beliefs (such as “I’m not lovable” or ‘the world is not a safe place’) that cannot easily be linked to specific events.
Persistent behaviors for which a basis in actual events cannot be found, such as procrastination, lateness, irrational fear and irritation, disproportionate anger, and similar patterns.
When the available time frame for a session is limited.
Clients whose SUD level is not going down using EFT’s shortcut Basic Recipe.

To begin the 9 Gamut Procedure, you first locate the Gamut point. It is on the back of either hand a half inch below the midpoint between the knuckles at the base of the ring finger and the little finger. If you draw an imaginary line between the knuckles at the base of the ring finger and little finger and consider that line to be the base of an equilateral triangle whose other sides converge to a point (apex) in the direction of the wrist, then the Gamut point would be located at the apex of the triangle. With the index finger of your tapping hand, feel for a small indentation on the back of your tapped hand near the base of the little finger and ring finger. There is just enough room there to tap with the tips of your index and middle fingers.

Next, you perform nine different steps while tapping the Gamut point continuously.

These nine steps are:

Eyes closed.
Eyes open.
Eyes down hard right while holding the head steady.
Eyes down hard left while holding the head steady.
Roll the eyes in a circle as though your nose is at the center of a clock and you are trying to see all the numbers in order.
Roll the eyes in a circle in the reverse direction.
Hum 2 seconds of a song (such as “God Save the Queen” or “Happy Birthday”).
Count rapidly from 1 to 5.
Hum 2 seconds of a song again.
The nine actions can be performed in any order, except that the last three, humming, counting, and humming again, should be performed in that sequence. It’s easier for client and practitioner to perform them in the sequence described here since this avoids having to remember which ones have been performed. If a song arouses negative associations (for example, “Happy Birthday” may awaken memories of unhappy birthdays), an emotionally neutral song should be chosen.

Clinical Refinements

As a practitioner, I have found that when administering the 9 Gamut, it is extremely important to observe the client’s eye rotation. Clients can persistently jump over some portion of the visual field. For instance, I worked with a client with a close relationship with her father and a distant relationship with her mother. Her father had died recently, and her core belief, compounded by a recent divorce, was “I’m all alone.” The strength of her cognition around this belief was a 10. Though she had begun the session presenting with a minor issue having to do with a coworker, her more fundamental layers of grief began to surface involuntarily.

When doing the 9 Gamut, this particular client’s eyes persistently skipped over the lower right quadrant of her peripheral vision. She was also crying uncontrollably and unable to tap or follow directions as she began to feel her grief deeply in the safe environment of the EFT session. Complicating matters, we only had 15 minutes in which to complete the session, which is why I emphasized the 9 Gamut in this case.

Observing her inability to view one quadrant, I used my hand to guide her. I asked her to follow my hand with her eyes while I slowly described a large circle with my fingertips. She still skipped over the same quadrant. I slowed down further, and moved my fingers through the part of the arc she had trouble viewing until she was able to complete the entire circle. I had her say, “I’m all alone,” periodically as a Reminder Phrase. I then reversed direction, and spent a minute or two working on only the problematic quadrant, going in both directions. Eventually, she exhibited many physiological signs of stress relief, such as sighing, a relaxation of the trapezius muscles in her shoulders, yawning, and deeper breathing. Her SUD numbers dropped slowly and steadily.

Out of time, I tested her level of intensity on the cognition “I’m all alone.” She smiled and told me she has a great group of friends and two sisters with whom she’s close, and that she feels stronger for having survived divorce.

Some clients are unable to perform the 9 Gamut Procedure without such a visual reference from a practitioner’s fingertips. Because EFT is primarily a self-help technique in which the power of transformation should rest in the client and not the practitioner, my preference is to encourage clients to perform the 9 Gamut on their own as soon as possible. However, clients typically have difficulty in perceiving when their eyes are skipping over a particular area of their peripheral vision. Even when asked to notice and correct for this, many clients are unable to do so.

For this reason, clients usually find the 9 Gamut easier when a practitioner leads them through the procedure. This can be successful even if the session is being conducted over the phone, as in Case History 3. The procedure is straightforward enough that a verbal description by a practitioner is sufficient for a geographically distant client to perform it. Distant sessions with visual contact such as delivered by Skype, Google Plus, or Facetime are easier since the client can follow the practitioner’s eye movements, and the practitioner can see whether the client is following the procedure.

The old model of memory believed that memory was static, like taking a picture out of a photo album, looking at it, and putting it back in the album unchanged. New models of brain function, however, show that when we recall a memory, we might associate the memory with cues from the present. For example, the memory of a rape might be terrifying for a client to remember alone. When told to a sympathetic therapist in a safe setting, elements of the current setting may be incorporated into the emotional content of a memory. This phenomenon, called memory reconsolidation, is well understood (Arden, 2013).

I believe that subsequent research will show that something similar is happening when clients perform the 9 Gamut Procedure. Research tools such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetoencephalograph, which identify the areas of the brain that are active during recall of a memory, show activation of the fear centers of the midbrain during the recollection of a traumatic event. It is likely that these areas will show a reduction or even complete extinction of these neurological patterns after the 9 Gamut Procedure.

The 9 Gamut and other eye-movement protocols used in EP methods may therefore be linked to the brain’s natural problem-solving mechanisms and ability to reprocess traumatic memories. Deliberately invoking eye movements during therapy mimicking the tasks the brain performs to reprocess memories during theta REM sleep is able to remove the emotional triggers associated with painful recollections. Because these techniques can be used without words or recapitulation of the traumatic memory, they reduce the possibility of retraumatizing the client. They are efficient, bypassing the conditioning found in the cognitive parts of the brain, and instead working at the nonverbal level of the limbic system. Therapies that use eye movements harness the brain’s organic problem-solving behaviors for therapeutic effect, rendering them able to remediate even treatment-resistant conditions such as PTSD.


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