When I began coaching and using EFT with clients, I had a strong hunger to know why my clients felt the way they did. Probably because my background was in environmental science, and not psychology, I didn't look to explanations like "chemical imbalance" - I wouldn't have been able to diagnose that anyway. Instead, I wondered, like any good biologist, how is this adaptive to the environment that my client grew up in?
As a result, an interesting thing happened as I worked with my clients. We didn't seem to need the DSM (the diagnostic manual for mental disorders) in order to get them insight into the nature of their problems, or to find solutions. More often than not, I found that my clients’ own perplexing behaviour was completely understandable when I learned about their life.
I never thought of anyone as "crazy" - and I found that when I could reach my clients and share this belief, they also started to feel a lot better.
I believe, like the article I’m linking below, that many times our negative moods and stressed-out thinking are useful adaptations to things that happened to us in the past. We’re not a generation of nutcases. Our suffering is often a visible indication that we suffered some sort of psychological injury, and we have changed our thinking or behaviour to survive it.
And just like a physical wound, a psychological wound causes us pain and needs some care in order to heal.
Injury or illness?
But there is a huge difference between a psychological wound and a mental illness.
Wounds are caused by injuries. Receiving a wound is a normal response to being injured. And if it’s not life-threatening, that wound will heal even if it leaves a scar or some loss of function.
Illnesses, on the other hand, are caused by genetics, bacteria, viruses and exposure to various toxins cause illnesses. They may require a lifetime on medication to manage.
A mental wound is a normal and relatable event that occurs many times over in everyone’s life. Getting embarrassed in front of your class by a teacher. Breaking up with a romantic partner. Discovering your parent has cancer. These all create psychological wounds, even in people who seem to have it all together.
On the other hand, a mental illness is a highly stigmatized diagnosis that tends to label the individual for life. You’re bipolar. You’ve got major depression. You are OCD. These labels also make people the target of a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry that says the cause of mental distress is a chemical imbalance in the brain over which we have zero self-control. You can add in complementary and alternative medicine, like meditation, to help you manage your illness, but according to this model, you won’t cure it because it’s who you are.
In my coaching practice, I like to keep an open mind that someone’s worry, fear or stress are caused by events, not illnesses. (And I’ll keep an open mind the other way too – and refer when necessary.)
Perhaps we are perfectionists because we were raised in an environment that valued what we produce over our innate worth as children. What if we’re depressed because we’ve encountered prolonged emotional isolation within our families and community? Maybe we’re anxious because we have learned that we will be judged, rejected, or punished by others for being ourselves.
This is important. Perhaps we’re hurting not because we have faulty wiring in our brains, or unlucky genes. What if it’s not who we are?
You feel this way for a good reason
What if we worry about the things we do because at some point they actually happened? The things we struggle with today, like overanalyzing everything, were yesterday’s coping strategies when it paid to be afraid. It is valuable to have eyes on the back of your head when people are actually putting you down!
Most of us get to a point where our fears and worries are no longer appropriate for the grownup environment we live in, and that’s when we notice ourselves feeling limited and frustrated with these ingrained patterns. But at some point, those strategies served us extremely well and were necessary for us to survive.
I believe that when the cause of our suffering is an event – a wound – not an illness, that we can 100% reverse the problem. And still get to keep the wisdom that we got from going through it.
I’ve seen it happen over and over in my practice. When I treat people as rational, relatable beings who are feeling the way they feel for a damn good reason, all of a sudden people start to get better fast. But when my clients believe they suffer from an incurable, lifelong disorder, they are almost always unwilling to actually look at what might be causing their stress, and leave the door closed to the possibility that it may be something that can be fixed.
Difficult life events can affect us across our lifetime
And as a trauma-informed EFT practitioner, I am more than happy to suggest that my clients explore if they have PTSD, or complex trauma when I hear stories of traumatic events. It’s good to know either way.
And I’d like to suggest that those two diagnoses offer more support of the psychological injury model. You can’t catch PTSD! An event took place that caused a set of reactions that anyone can experience. Research is showing that it’s a treatable condition – not who you are.
When we respectfully explore the past, we find out how brilliant we are at surviving the impossible, and how absolutely normal, whole and complete we still are today. Using EFT, I’m able to help my clients release the negative charge of the past so that they are no longer victims of automatic reactions like worry, insomnia or self-doubt.
When unhooked from the past, you get to choose today how to respond. When that happens, you get to be who you really are.
Read more about the Psychological Injury Model.