'Thought field' is out in left field:
The latest therapy leaves much to be desired"

August 3, 1999


  As I read in a newspaper or journal of some new psychotherapy that's come on the market, I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln's oft quoted words "You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time.''

Take for instance, Thought Field Therapy, popularly referred to as TFT. In the mid 1990s, it began to be promoted as a treatment that could revolutionize psychotherapy. Psychologist Charles R. Figley, professor at Florida State University, claims it is extraordinarily powerful and efficient, producing nearly immediate and permanent relief from suffering without clients having to talk about their troubles.

While some of the procedures, as Figley points out, "can be taught to nearly anyone so that they can not only treat themselves, but treat others affected," more advanced procedures are restricted to "trained" professionals and protected under copyright. A confidentiality agreement must be signed and anyone violating it could face a sizeable financial penalty.

What I can safely tell you is that TFT practitioners are trained at up to three levels. The first involves learning a set of places on the body where a patient is instructed to tap to cure specific symptoms.

This is how it goes and, since Prof. Figley assures people that the procedure is harmless, you may want to give it a try.

Think of a distressing event and "work up as much discomfort as you can" (though one is cautioned not to spend more than a few moments at this). Then rate your level of discomfort from one to 10, with 10 being the highest and one being the lowest.

Now, tap yourself with two fingers five times (but not so hard, they warn, as to cause a bruise) just above the bridge of your nose, approximately where either eyebrow begins. Next, tap yourself five times under either eye. Then tap yourself five times just below the collarbone.

Now take a deep breath and measure your anxiety again. If you're not at least two numbers below where you started on your scale of one to 10, gently "karate chop" (Figley's words, not mine) one hand with the other while reciting the following mantra "I accept myself, even though I still have this kind of anxiety."

Now, spend a while tapping the back of your hand with your eyes open, then closed, then while looking in each direction, while rolling your eyes, while humming a tune (any tune will apparently do), while counting to five.

While reportedly this procedure alone can effect amazing cures, TFT practitioners are trained, for a fee of course, at two advanced levels .The second, called the diagnostic level, supposedly uses "muscle testing" to diagnose the origin of a patient's symptoms and to map a tailored set of points to be tapped by the patient. The third level uses "voice technology," in which a therapeutic appliance is used to listen to the patient's voice over the phone while the therapist and patient discuss the symptoms.

The operator of the machine then proclaims the specific points to be tapped in order to treat the patient's symptoms.

Some TFT practitioners, including Figley, claim a 95-per-cent success or cure rate. Others consider it to be an unproven alternative therapy promoted with misleading claims. In June, the Arizona Board of Psychologist Examiners sanctioned a psychologist for excessive use of Thought Field Therapy and declared that "TFT, as presented by this psychologist, was not the practice of psychology by current standards of practice." The psychologist can still do TFT but must keep it separate from his psychology practice, thus blocking him from billing insurance companies.

No other psychologist in the U.S. or anywhere in Canada has, to my knowledge, been told to stop practising TFT or promoting it as a legitimate treatment.

In Ontario, the College of Veterinarians requires that before an unproven procedure is tried, owners of animals sign a consent for non-conventional treatment. In it they indicate that the technique lacks scientific validation and that the veterinarian has described "any existing conventional care."

Does such a requirement exist for psychologists and psychotherapists? Of course not! While it might be suggested that psychologists and their patients will be smart enough to question flaky theories such as TFT, many therapists are buying them and banking that their clients will too. Psychologists, it seems, can as readily be fooled by exaggerated claims as can their patients.

Mahatma Gandhi said that "the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated." Maybe he was right; we seem to expect more from our "vets" than from our "shrinks."

Perhaps the boards that license psychologists need some sense knocked (excuse me, tapped) into their heads.

See also: Feeling a little anxious



@ Dr.Tana Dineen

by Dr. Tana Dineen, special columnist,