Have you ever had a nagging sinus or chest condition that wouldn't go away following a significant loss? After getting divorced and remarried I went out with my second wife to the movies in a drafty theater. When we got home I felt like I was coming down with a cold, so I used all the holistic remedies I know to nip it in the bud including Echinacea tincture, hot ginger tea and a hot bath to sweat it out. I woke up feeling fine the next morning, but later that evening I developed a mild cough due to postnasal drip.

I looked the symptom up in Louise Hay's Heal Your Body and found the suggested metaphysical cause to be "inner crying." That didn't resonate with me at all, so I said, "No, not me."

The coughing kept me from sleeping, so I did some EFT for the annoying postnasal drip without success. In my HuffPost blog, "The Tipping Point for Tapping," I described the evidence for the use of EFT in variety of psychosomatic health conditions, but it had no demonstrable effect on my frustrating cough. I got very little sleep that night or the next despite the lack of any other cold symptoms. By the third night I was getting pretty desperate and was coughing so hard that I got chest pain in my ribcage. In the wee hours of the night, I started tapping on the fact that I had no @#$% idea why these symptoms wouldn't go away. Surrendering to prayer seemed to be my only option.

A few minutes later I had a flashback to the movie we had watched, Shall We Dance, featuring Richard Gere going through a midlife crisis and taking ballroom dancing lessons from Jennifer Lopez. He keeps the lessons a secret from his family, but his teenage daughter can see right through his façade. I suddenly realized that his daughter reminded me of my two teenage daughters who I hadn't been seeing as frequently as I had been used to since the divorce. I began tapping on the fact that I was sad about missing my daughters and started to cry. After shedding a lot of "outer tears" my postnasal drip went away and my cough magically vanished, never to return as I slept soundly the rest of the night.

The symbolic meaning from Heal Your Body that I had denied had been spot on. I had used the book quite a few times previously, but always felt somewhat skeptical that the metaphysical explanations for a whole host of symptoms were way too simplistic.

However, as in this example, there often seemed to be a nugget of truth in the intuitive insights offered there. As a medical acupuncture practitioner I also looked at such symptoms from the perspective of the Chinese five elements. The lungs and sinuses correspond to the metal element which is connected to the emotion of grief. It seemed that Louise Hay and the ancient Chinese sages were in agreement as to the symbolism of my symptoms.

Such claims appeared to have no basis in Western medical science until I made the fortunate discovery of a January 2012 Explore article, "Symbolic Diseases and Mind-Body Co-Emergence. A Challenge for Psychoneuroimmunology," by New Zealand clinical immunologist-turned-psychiatrist Brian Broom.  In his original clinical practice he found that many of his patients, including asthmatics, had psychosomatic illnesses, so he decided to become a psychiatrist. Dr. Broom has observed that many of his patients manifest somatic metaphors where the traumas and resulting beliefs that are part of their life stories produce symbolic symptoms and physical diseases in their bodies.

In Somatic Illness and the Patient's Other Story: A Practical Integrative Mind/Body Approach to Disease for Doctors and Psychotherapists, Dr. Broom explores the psychiatric literature to review the history of psychosomatic disease. He does not use EFT in his clinic, but has other effective psychotherapeutic approaches that he describes in Meaning-Full Disease: How Personal Experience and Meanings Initiate and Maintain Physical Illness. He notes that "the meaning-fullness of all kinds of disease is relevant at a very practical level, because attention to meanings aspects leads to significant new therapeutic options for health professionals, and to a horizon of hereto unimagined healing possibilities for the patient."

Dr. Broom also observes that symbolic diseases are essentially "invisible diseases" to most conventionally-trained physicians. This was the case for a recent client of mine, a psychotherapist who had experienced multiple episodes of pneumonia and sinusitis since the death her husband nine months earlier. Several courses of antibiotics failed to resolve her sinus condition, so she was scheduled for sinus surgery. Our first tapping session focused on unresolved grief, and her sinuses began to clear. She called the surgeon, who couldn't see the symbolic disease, to cancel. After a couple more EFT sessions and some acupuncture she expressed her gratitude for having avoided the surgery.

Now that I know what to look for the connection between meaning and illness is rather common in the cases that I see in my practice running through the entire cycle of the five elements. Water illnesses relate to the kidney and fear. Wood illnesses relate to the liver and anger. Fire illnesses relate to the heart and lack of joy. Earth illnesses relate to the stomach and worry. 

I will be exploring all these issues along with EFT in a preconference workshop at the annual Toronto Energy Psychology Conference, "Symptoms as Metaphors: Every Illness Tells a Story" on October 24, 2013, based on my HuffPost blog, "Symptoms: A Choice Between Suppression and a Search for Meaning?"

 

Image by procristination, courtesy of Creative Commons license.