Have you ever developed an unusual allergy or immune disease of mysterious cause that seemed to symbolize some issue in your life?

My very first Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) patient in 2002 was a Duke student who came down with a severe case of hives after a car accident.  Her car spun around several times before the crash, but her airbag saved her from serious injury. She couldn't study due to itching relieved only by taking antihistamines from the student health clinic. Then she still couldn't study due to drowsiness, and she mentioned her frustration in my stress management class.

I had just learned EFT as described in my May 2013 blog, and suggested that it might provide some relief for her.

We picked the tapping phrase, "Scary thought-I-was-going-to-die car accident." She tapped through the acupoints in the basic EFT protocol while repeating the phrase and quickly became much more relaxed. She then tapped on feeling "Guilty about totaling my dad's car" and got even more relief. The hives never came back after that first session, and she was able to stop taking the medication. The fear and guilt "stuck under her skin" after the accident was released from her body through the acupuncture meridians. It seems that sometimes the body takes these emotional issues quite literally and manifests symbolic symptoms, as described in my Let Magic Happen newsletter, "Symptoms as Metaphors."

This concept has been given solid academic grounding by New Zealand clinical immunologist-turned-psychiatrist Brian Broom in his January 2012 Explore article, "Symbolic Diseases and Mind-Body Co-Emergence. A Challenge for Psychoneuroimmunology."

In his original immunology practice he discovered many of his patients, even those with autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, had psychosomatic origins to their illnesses, so he decided to retrain as a psychotherapist. Dr. Broom, who now trains other clinicians to think symbolically, has observed that about 25% of his patients have frank somatic metaphors where the symptoms are obvious physical manifestations of their life stories.

In his first book, Somatic Illness and the Patient's Other Story: A Practical Integrative Mind/Body Approach to Disease for Doctors and Psychotherapists, Dr. Broom describes this case report of hives:

"A married woman develops both urticaria and an exacerbation of inflammatory bowel disease each year in spring as she becomes aware that yet another year had passed and her husband is going to continue to withhold intimacies–and her frustration rises. Her disappointment and anger cannot be either acknowledged by her (until she enters therapy), or expressed to her husband. She defends against it by expressing it in the body, and bringing her body to doctors."

Dr. Broom does not use tapping, but in Meaning-Full Disease: How Personal Experience and Meanings Initiate and Maintain Physical Illness he describes other effective language-based approaches:

"A woman developed very aggressive rheumatoid arthritis complicated by gold therapy-induced bone marrow failure. The disease arose in a context of a very enmeshed marital relationship and social context, about which she used the following language: "in a bind" "I can't get moving," "captured," "'tethered, enslaved," and, indeed, "crippled" by living in a small back-water town. Therapy addressing these issues has led to an enduring remission (12 years thus far)."

After reading Dr. Broom's work, I wondered whether the most acute and life-threatening form of immune disease, anaphylaxis, might also have a symbolic component that could be addressed with EFT. One of my EFT weight loss patients mentioned that he had a rare allergy to tomatoes causing him to turn red and swollen in the face like a tomato with severe respiratory distress leading to shock. It required carrying an emergency EpiPen. He revealed being bullied as a teenager in the school cafeteria by boys who threw tomato sauce on him, splattering his clothes like blood. After much tapping he went to a party and ate cocktail sauce for the first time in years which freaked out his friends, but caused no symptoms.

I wouldn't recommend doing such an experiment without physician supervision, since the impressive list of scientific evidence for EFT in a variety of conditions such as phobias, anxiety, and PTSD, does not yet include any specific research on allergies.

My first exposure to tapping for allergies came through meeting psychotherapist Sandy Radomski, creator of Allergy Antidotes, at the annual Toronto Energy Psychology Conference. This year in Toronto I'll be presenting a preconference workshop, "Symptoms as Metaphors: Every Illness Tells a Story" on October 24, 2013, based on my September 2012 blog, "Symptoms: A Choice Between Suppression and a Search for Meaning?"


Image by theedlbaker, courtesy of Creative Commons license.