When Your Client Wants to Process a Traumatic Event: The Tell The Story Technique

Increasing your effectiveness with EFT, part 91.

Today, I want to talk about a technique that’s great for when your client wants to work on a traumatic memory that involves a threat (or the perception of a threat) to his or her personal safety, such as a sexual or physical assault, a car accident, a sports injury, a surgical procedure, etc. 

In other words, we aren’t discussing the usual upsetting or distressing events for which we use Basic EFT. Instead, we’re addressing traumatic memories that, one could argue, are recorded differently by the nervous system.

For this technique to work best, your client should have a specific memory in mind, ideally one that lasts just a few minutes and has no more than 4 or 5 “peaks of emotional intensity.” If the traumatic incident lasted an hour or more, you can have them start with a shorter segment within that memory.

Start by asking your client to come up with a title for their memory. It doesn’t need to make sense to you as the practitioner, but it should to them, like “that day in the park”, “last night after dinner”, or “what happened with Jean”.

Next, ask them to guess the emotional intensity they might feel when thinking about that title. For example, when they picture that title on a movie theater’s billboard, how intense might the emotion be? Guessing helps them approach the emotion gently. If they guess it’s more than a 2 out of 10, you can tap on the side of the hand using this setup statement: “Even though there’s this movie title, ‘that day in the park’, right here and right now I’m okay.” You can continue using the reminder phrase “this movie title, ‘that day in the park’” as you tap on other points.

Notice that we aren’t naming any emotion. We do this as a way to bring in some “gentle distancing”, in this case, by only referencing the memory “from afar”. 

Once they guess that the emotion tied to the title is at a 2 or lower, ask them to start narrating the memory out loud, starting from a relatively neutral place before anything bad happens (as in “I was just riding my bike through the park when suddenly…”), and to keep their eyes open. This helps them stay grounded and lessens the risk of becoming emotionally overwhelmed. They should tell you when they hit the first peak of emotional intensity.

Sometimes, due to a phenomenon known as “the trauma pull”, clients may rush their narration. This urge stems from their mind’s attempt to quickly conclude the traumatic recounting, leading them directly to the most distressing parts of the event. This can inadvertently bring up a lot of emotional overwhelm for them. Therefore, they might reach one of those peaks of emotional intensity without pausing to inform you. 

In that case, it’s useful to let them know in advance that if you notice this is happening, you’ll be interrupting them, not to be rude, but to help keep them safe from emotional overwhelm and nervous system dysregulation, and also to best help them gently process every emotionally charged aspect within that memory.

When they reach that first peak of emotional intensity, ask them to guess the emotional intensity they might feel about that part of the memory. Start tapping on the side of the hand just mentioning that part of the story, for example: “Even though suddenly I heard this loud noise, right here right now I’m okay.” For the next points, they can use the reminder phrase “suddenly I heard this loud noise.”

After they guess that the emotional intensity for that part is a 2 or lower, ask them to go back and start narrating the memory again, and to tell you when they get to the next peak of emotional intensity. Do the same tapping as before: “Even though I turned around and saw this other biker rushing towards me, right here right now I’m okay”. And for the next points, they can say “I turned around and saw this other biker rushing towards me”.

Every time you help them diminish the emotional intensity of one of those peaks to a 2 or lower, you ask them to start telling the story again, from the start. Sometimes as they do this, they become aware of other emotionally charged details they hadn’t found before. If this happens, you can tap on them the same way as you tapped on the other peaks.

Once you’ve worked through all the emotional parts of the memory (that’s why it’s good if it’s a short one), have them tell the story one more time. If they feel okay, they can then watch it with their eyes closed to see if there are any parts that still bring up emotional intensity. If there are, it’s a good thing that you helped your client uncover them, and you can tap on them as before. If not, that means the memory was successfully processed.

To sum it up, the Tell The Story Technique lets someone work through a short memory in steps, in a slow but gradual way, so that by the time they reach the worst part, it’s probably going to have a lower intensity than it would have originally, thanks to having tapped on the previous peaks that weren’t quite as intense.

And that’s it for today! I’m Bruno Sade, a compassionate, open-minded clinical psychologist, and certified EFT practitioner. My approach is tailored to your individual needs and preferences, always respecting your experiences, beliefs, and background.

What are your thoughts on today’s topic? Feel free to share questions, comments, or suggestions for future topics. You can either leave a comment below or send a private message.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *