Emotional First Aid with EFT: Orienting EFT

Increasing your effectiveness with EFT, part 10.

In previous articles we’ve talked about the EFT Gentle Techniques as different ways to prevent emotional overwhelm, flooding or abreactions when using EFT. Or, in other words, to prevent “getting our tongues burned by a bowl of soup that is too hot”. But what do you do if you or your client are burning their tongue? What do you do once the intensity has become too much and the nervous system is getting dysregulated? What we can do in this case is apply a technique known as “Orienting EFT”, which I’ve learned from EFT Master Trainer Alina Frank.

“Orienting EFT” basically consists of asking your client to continue tapping silently while bringing their attention to their surrounding environment and/or the “outer surface” of their body, such as feeling their feet on the ground, their back leaned against the chair, etcetera. It’s all about gently shifting the attention away from whatever “stimuli” that were getting too intense, overwhelming and dysregulating, and to instead pay attention to other more neutral or pleasant stimuli. This helps the client’s nervous system come back into the present moment in the room they are in, where they can feel safe again. We could say we are using EFT to help us “orient to the here and now”.

So let’s explore this in a bit more detail.

Our nervous system is constantly assessing whether we are safe or not, through a process known as “neuroception”, that looks at both internal and external stimuli to determine whether they are threatening/dangerous or even if they resemble any threatening, painful or dangerous experiences from the past. When our nervous system determines that we aren’t safe, it becomes dysregulated and goes into “survival mode”, which can be either through the fight, flight or freeze reactions. This takes us away from our “window of tolerance”, which is that “window” of experience where we can deal with life in a relatively calm, flexible, coherent and creative way. 

We could say that in an EFT session, the idea is for the client to stay within their window of tolerance as much as possible and, in any case, we are working near its edges to help it expand. We do this by tapping on those triggers that would send the nervous system into a “dysregulated state” and deactivating that “conditioned response” so that the client can now face those triggers by staying calm and relaxed. 

That is why we want the “temperature” of whatever we are addressing or focusing on while tapping to be neither “too cold” (that it doesn’t bring up any emotional intensity, and doesn’t activate the neural and energetic pathways connected to whatever issue we want to resolve) nor “too hot” (that it becomes too overwhelming and sends us out of our window of tolerance). However, sometimes a memory or a thought can be so triggering for the client that just by thinking about it or by starting to tap on it (because tapping not only has the effect of releasing unpleasant emotions and sensations but it can also “tune us in” at first), it can send the client’s nervous system into “survival mode” and it becomes dysregulated. This is when we might need a “first aid” technique such as Orienting EFT.

Because what Orienting EFT does is it helps us shift our attention away from the dysregulating/triggering memory/thought so as to instead focus on more pleasant or neutral stimuli around us. If we think about it, when the client is focusing on something that is too triggering for them, chances are that their body is experiencing strong unpleasant physical sensations. And because that process we mentioned earlier, “neuroception”, through which the nervous system is trying to assess at all times whether we are safe or not, is also examining internal stimuli from our body, those strong unpleasant sensations are being interpreted as unsafe or dangerous cues, which contribute to sending us even more into “survival mode”. 

This is why with Orienting EFT we want our client’s attention to shift away both from the triggering memory/thought and also from their internal body experience. So what we do is we ask the client to keep tapping silently on all the points, while we say things like: “And just focus on the sensations of your fingertips doing the tapping, and notice the sound of my voice, and any other sounds you might notice around you, perhaps birds chirping outside; and with a soft gaze notice if there’s anything pleasant to look at in the room that you are in; and feel the temperature of the air around you”, etcetera. So, any neutral or pleasant stimuli in the environment around them or in the surface of their skin (as opposed to their inner sensations) can help activate the “neuroception” of safety that helps bring the nervous system back into a grounded and regulated state. 

Something very important to add is that, if we are working with a client and doing Orienting EFT, it really helps if we as EFT practitioners can stay in what is known as a “ventral vagal regulated state”, meaning, inside our window of tolerance. Where we can also, through the prosody of our voice and our gestures and facial expressions, access our social engagement system and send regulating safety cues to the client’s nervous system. In this way we are also helping the client to “co-regulate” by being able to stay present with them. 

What tends to happen then is that after only approximately two or three rounds of Orienting EFT the client comes back to a regulated calm state, where we can then decide with them if we want to go back, as safe and gently as possible, to whatever we were focusing on before so as to continue working on it.   

That’s it for today. I hope this post was helpful to you. My name is Bruno Sade, and I’m a certified EFT practitioner with a mental health background as a clinical psychologist licensed in Argentina. I use EFT as a tool to help people (who speak English or Spanish) release their unpleasant emotional reactions and triggers. I also work with clients who want to overcome procrastination that stems out of a fear of judgment, failure or rejection.

And, I’d love to know: have you ever used Orienting EFT? What other “first aid” techniques do you know? Please share in the comments below.

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