EFT for a Child’s Plane Sickness

By Dr. Patricia Carrington

AirplaneA colleague of mine, Stephani Fried, whom many people on Gary Craig’s previous email list probably recognize because of her insightful postings to it, joins me here in reporting a recent successful EFT treatment in which we were both centrally involved — she as the mother of the little girl who was being treated, I as her therapist.

The family had decided to have me work with Miriam around her lifelong motion sickness on airplanes and while riding in cars. Although young Miriam is a seasoned plane traveler, having flown back and forth from the east coast to California or Arizona at least four times a year since she was 3½ weeks old, ever since she was less than a year old she has regularly become motion sick to the point of vomiting frequently during her plane trips and feeling ill the rest of the time. Judicious use of homeopathic remedies and/or Dramamine had not provided any solution to this, although Dramamine did retard the vomiting somewhat.

Since Miriam’s most recent trip to California before seeing me, which was an especially difficult one for her, she had been expressing much distress about an upcoming plane trip which was to take place at the end of May. Some of her concern about this had started after a close friend of hers, traveling with her mother, had had an unfortunate landing on a recent plane trip with minor injuries sustained by the mother.

Although Miriam is a seasoned EFTer — Stephani uses EFT liberally with her own family and herself as well as with her clients in psychotherapy — this time Miriam refused to use EFT for her anxiety, telling her mother that she didn’t “feel like doing it”. Not wanting to create any negative feelings toward the practice of EFT which has been so beneficial to her daughter, she honored Miriam’s refusal and suggested instead that maybe she would like to go to a therapist who specialized in EFT to get “someone else’s slant” on all this.

Miriam’s response to this suggestion was “Oh yeah! Great idea! But do you really think it might help?” She apparently liked the idea of a therapist of her own, especially since an older relative whom she looked up to had consulted a few times with a therapist when this child had been troubled by a death in the family.

Another reason Stephani felt inclined to bring Miriam to an outsider for help with this particular problem was that she herself had suffered from motion sickness and felt she might not be objective enough to select the correct issues for Miriam to tap on – a hunch which, in fact, turned out to be correct. In retrospect, Stephani thinks she would not have identified the specific issue that I did: the one which worked.

The day of the appointment arrived and the family’s request that I see Miriam for one session which could (hopefully) “fix” her lifelong plane phobia before an upcoming cross-continental flight scheduled for four days later, was a bit of a challenge. Here was her mother, a sensitive and experienced Energy therapist who had used EFT successfully with both of her children on numerous occasions — and she was bringing her child Miriam whom (although I hadn’t met her) was a member of the upcoming “EFT Generation” of children, sophisticated in its use at 8 years of age — and they wanted ME to help solve this child’s problem using EFT?

I accepted the challenge, but when mother and child arrived for their appointment my first reaction was that I hadn’t expected Stephani to remain in the room during the entire session, which she was happily doing, although I felt immediately that doing so was a right decision on her part and didn’t question it. Later Stephani told me that she has always called Miriam her “Velcro child” because she tends to snuggle up and sort of cling to her mother in unfamiliar situations, and that she had thought this might happen in the therapy session.

Although, I knew about her indirectly through her parents, I hadn’t expected the absolutely unique little being who sat across from me on the couch, cuddling next to her mother, looking at me with shining eyes with a shy but wonderfully sincere (although somewhat tentative) smile on her little face. There was no need to tell Miriam about EFT, she could have told me about it, so we got right to the point. We began to talk about her upcoming trip, her really “great” cousins in Arizona whom she just couldn’t wait to see, and then (I brought it up of course) — the upcoming “Plane Trip”.

In answer to my questions she quickly told me “how” she got upset on planes. Looking seriously right at me with that open look of hers, she made it clear that it wasn’t, as my questioning had suggested, the takeoff that bothered her at all. It was when the captain told them to unbuckle their seat belts! At that point she said she began to feel sick at her stomach and “funny” and the rest of the trip would be a lost cause for her.

What’s a belt got to do with it, I wondered? I’d already inquired about several possibly unsettling stimuli — being up so high above the earth, a fear that the plane might crash (nothing came from this question at this point, although later on another aspect did emerge which was related to this), the loud sound of the motors, etc. Nothing had clicked. I wondered what could possibly be unsettling about a belt being unbuckled. Could it be an issue to do with security? It didn’t seem appropriate to introduce such an abstract concept to even this bright a youngster because she was still wonderfully childlike.

And then, for some reason I thought of testing this out with a SIMULATED seat belt. I have no idea why I thought of this, I just had the feeling that it might lead us toward where we should go, get us a little closer to the meat of the matter. I also had a sense that this action would bring Miriam even more fully into the therapy session, make it more interesting and real for her and maybe even make it kind of fun.

I asked if she’d like to try on a “pretend” seat belt and she nodded, bright eyed. Since she liked the idea, I went to find one. I had a vague idea that in some closet in my house (my office is in my home) there was a wide leather belt from an old discarded coat of mine that might be just right. I really wasn’t surprised when I was able to instantly lay my hands on it when I opened the first closet— sometimes when I really get “into” my work with a client (or anyone else for that matter) I seem to become part of some flow and things seem and often are possible that might not be otherwise.

Miriam buckled the belt that I handed her, and then unbuckled it as the “captain” told her to, but when she reported the SUDS level (her distress level) on a rung of the imaginary ladder I have children or mentally handicapped persons imagine for this purpose, she discouragingly reported “Nope, it’s only about between one and a half and two, so that’s not it.” (Miriam is wonderfully precise!)

But the search was interesting to her and to me, and by now my heart was melting as I worked with this lovely child. I was no longer even aware of her mother sitting and watching except as Stephani was now becoming part of the process herself. I mention my reaction to Miriam here because I think the fact that I really loved this child as we worked together undoubtedly facilitated the therapy for both of us. It put us into a kind of a special rhythm together. Everybody’s reactions — those of clients and therapists alike — all our feelings, and all our love (or lack of it as the case may be) go toward creating the result that we get in any therapy session.

Now we did some more detective work. I kept asking questions, and step by step we got to the part where I asked Miriam if, when she unbuckled the seat belt, she was more apt to walk around in the plane, to go to the back of the plane to the bathroom for instance. She said “yes” but explained that she didn’t walk much in planes (Dummy me! I might have guessed that!) and that when she did she didn’t like to do it because of the “vibration” (her word).

Vibration? We seemed to be on to something! What happened when she felt a vibration like that? Well, she said, her stomach would feel “kind of sick and sort of yucky”. I wanted to know what she would do then — would she walk back to the bathroom when she felt real sick and thought she’d have to throw up, and then feel the vibration on the floor of the plane? “No,” she explained. “I didn’t walk anywhere on the last trip. I just stayed in my seat and threw up on my parents” (Oh well, you never know what information will come up in therapy!)

Since “vibration” was the first concrete stimulus we’d identified, I asked her to imagine the vibration on the plane. Could she do this? She didn’t look like she was very sure that she could, and so I had an idea. “How would it be if I lent you a little electric face stimulator that we use to hold on EFT points sometimes? It makes a vibration sort of like a plane when you turn it on?” I asked. There was the nicest smile in response and I leapt to go find the mini-face stimulator wherever it might be – I certainly hadn’t planned for this.

I found myself immediately going to a box of these instruments in the next office which I had bought to experiment with. They have small points like pencil erasers which can stimulate acupoints in a precise manner. I found one immediately and when I handed it to Miriam she tightened her “seat belt” again and turned on the little vibrator. As we worked on this issue, sometimes I had her sit on the machine so that she could “feel the seat of the plane vibrating”, or put it under her feet so she could feel the floor of the plane vibrating, or at the back of her head so she could feel the back of the seat vibrating. And NOW her SUDS level shot up to “maybe a seven and half — “Oooh, I don’t like that feeling!” she said.

Miriam was now able to tap away on this problem with only minimal guidance from me. She knew the set-up by heart and all the spots in sequence and how to use the reminder phrase, I had only to help her formulate the original sentence (“Even though I DON’T LIKE that vibration . . . .!” said with plenty of STRONG emphasis!)

We did several rounds during which, to keep her interest and liven things up a bit, I occasionally led her through my “scrambling the code” variation of EFT. This is where I indicate that “this time around we’ll do it a little differently. It won’t be in any particular order and you’ll watch what I’m doing (and listen to where I tell you to tap) because we’re going to jump around from place to place!”

In adults this usually gets a person out of a “stuck” place quickly. I suspect it corrects for reversal, probably because so much concentration is suddenly needed to follow what I’m going to do next in order to get it right that the person is shaken out of any cognitive preoccupations they may have begun to indulge in — in a sense we have “scrambled the code” (the neuronal code, that is) that keeps recreating the fear so the fear (or other troubling response) can’t be re-accessed. This jumping around (I do it entirely intuitively and never in the same way twice so that it creates a sort of “wild” effect by breaking all the rules of sequencing) can be so effective in getting people moving again that it makes me think “so much for sequence in tapping!” This, it seems to me, is one more example of what Gary Craig says about the unimportance of sequence in EFT. In this case I used my “scrambling” variation to jazz up the process and keep a child’s interest over a long series of rounds — and it did speed things up.

Soon Miriam announced that her SUDS level had come down to “somewhere between a half and one” on the vibration bit and that she felt like stopping now. I could see that she really was at a good place and not just saying this to get out of doing any more tapping because as she talked she was running the mini-vibrator over her neck and her arms, smiling as she did so — now she actually liked the vibration! — It had turned from “bad” to “good” (ever know that to happen before with EFT?).

Now, we only had this one session to prepare her for her trip and there was still more to do. As it turned out she had the same sick feeling when riding in cars for long trips (cars cause vibration too) so now we did EFT for the vibration in cars. This time she wanted to use the mini-vibrator on the acupoints instead of tapping with her fingers — this is an interesting strategy that can be very effective by the way, although I doubt it’s superior to tapping or TABing (touching the acupoints and holding your finger there while you breathe slowly), but is probably just one more approach that SOME people prefer. Here, though, the mini-vibrator seemed particularly relevant because of the issue being addressed — vibration.

After we’d cleared up the car problem pretty well I did a final check for other aspects of the plane problem because, after all, she was getting on the plane in four days for a long flight. I had her imagine the whole scenario from start to finish — all the details, from boarding in Newark to disembarking in Arizona. Everything seemed pretty ok and the vibration bit was just fine (she was still playing with the mini-vibrator happily) but I had a feeling that there was still a little something in there, so I asked her if she had ever seen any movies of planes or heard anything about them that made her even the tiniest bit concerned about flying — outside of the vibration problem —and she looked a bit worried although nothing came to mind.

Fortunately her mother volunteered the information at this point that recently Miriam’s friend Karen and her mother had been flying on a plane where there was some difficulty, and Miriam quickly explained: “Oh yes. Their plane crashed!” (I tried not to show surprise at this, but it did seem a bit extreme to have happened!). Stephani then explained that their friends had had a forced landing, it wasn’t a crash, and that Karen and her mother were fine now (here is where it can be particularly usefully to have a parent present to clarify). And then Miriam filled in with these details, “They had to land so quickly that the plane kind of bumped and the TV set fell on Karen’s mother’s head” she said.

“Oh really?” I commented. “Well that’s not such a good thing to have happen.” (I was trying to act nonchalant about this and show therapist “objectivity”). Stephani explained that the jolt had loosened the TV above their heads and the set had fallen on the mother, but she didn’t seem to think it surprising that both mother and daughter were perfectly fine now (I did, but I discreetly said nothing about it). “Is her head ok?” I asked. Miriam said they both were fine, but that she was kind of worried about having to land that way and have things like a TV set fall on her. So we did EFT for being “scared of having that happen” and for “the plane crash”.

She had a SUDS of five to start with and we’d been working now for over an hour— a long time for a child — so after a round or two of EFTing on this new issue I decided to use Silvia Hartmann-Kent’s method of alternating negative and positive statements at alternate acupoints. I felt it was important for Miriam to realize that “these things happen only very seldom and they don’t need to end in real disaster even then”. To drive this point home, I felt she needed to “collapse” her fear (an NLP term which means, essentially, neutralizing the fear) by coupling it with an awareness that Karen and her mother HAD survived perfectly well. Silvia’s Alternation Technique seemed a natural for doing this.

So, I asked Miriam to use the reminder phrase “Planes sometimes crash” when she was tapping on the first acupoint, and then use the phrase “Karen and her mother are JUST FINE NOW” when tapping on the second acupoint, and after that to alternate the phrases, using one phrase at one point and the opposite one at the next point. I said I would prompt her by repeating the phrases myself each time — this method can be confusing if a person is left on their own at first to remember the alternation, although they usually can pick up the rhythm and go with it after the first few repetitions. By using this technique I felt Miriam would simultaneously be neutralizing the worst fear she had by articulating it and tapping for it, while in the same round she would be repeatedly installing the positive thought that people can survive even disasters or near disasters and be “just fine”.

This did the trick! Miriam’s SUDS level quickly came down to “somewhere between a zero and a half or maybe a zero” and she was now playful and smiling.

As they got ready to leave she was still waving the mini-vibrator around and switching it on and off, and I asked her if she’d like to borrow it and take it on the plane with her so that if by any chance she felt the tiniest bit sick then she could just switch it on and use it to “EFT” with. She seemed very pleased with this idea and marched out of the office clutching her mechanical wonder.

As for me, I was enchanted, and for the zillionth time understood why I chose this type of professional work in the first place. I also felt certain that Miriam would be “just fine” on the plane. That part of the story belongs to her mother though. Here is Stephani with the parent’s perspective.

Stephani reports that her family has made four cross- continental plane trips within the past two months since I saw Miriam, and that during none of them did Miriam have even a trace of motion sickness. She has been in a good mood each time for the entire flight, playing travel games with her brother and reading her books the whole time. Although she has each time kept the mini-vibrator in her back pack “in case I need it”, she has not actually taken it out during any of the flights.

A temporary setback came only when they were taking a long automobile trip. Miriam’s back pack containing her mini-vibrator had been stored in the trunk of the car while they were driving, and when they found themselves caught in a traffic jam on the San Francisco Bay Bridge, she began to get quite nauseous. She was too sick to tap for herself with EFT, and surrogate tapping by another family member was not helping in this instance, so the family could just hope that she wouldn’t vomit before they got off the bridge and could pull over to the side of the road and get the mini-vibrator out of the back.

Fortunately, Miriam did hold out, although with difficulty, and when they finally stopped the car and could get for her the mini-vibrator she immediately switched it on and an interesting thing happened. Her mother reports that within about 30 seconds (it seemed an almost instant reaction to those watching) Miriam dropped off into a quiet sleep holding the mini-vibrator to her chest. She slept peacefully for the rest of the trip and was completely free of symptoms when she awoke at their destination.

To these progress reports Stephani adds her observations of the treatment session and Miriam’s comments to her at that time which illustrate some other features of the rapport that was built up between us at that time and the meaning which the “props” had for this child.

Stephani tells me that during the therapy session, after I had told Miriam I would fetch the first prop, the “seat belt”, and was out of the room getting it, Miriam had enthusiastically exclaimed “Oh Mommy! Pat is really very creative!” Later when I went to fetch the mini-vibrator, she had expressed the opinion, “Mommy, I think Pat is a really good therapist”. Upon arriving home following the therapy session she had informed her family with dignity that “the session went very well” and showed them the mini-vibrator which she demonstrated with delight.

Commenting on the effectiveness of the props, Stephani suggests that they may have demonstrated to Miriam that she was being heard in the session. She also says that she had noticed from the very beginning of our session a “connection” between myself and Miriam (this is what I had so happily felt when I first saw her) and reminds us that a “really good match” between therapist and client is often a major factor in the success of any form of treatment.

I know this has been a long report but maybe you’ve enjoyed reading about little Miriam as much as I enjoyed working with her!

EFT Master, Dr. Patricia Carrington

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