I saw a video on YouTube that really stuck with me...
It was the rescue of a stray dog. First seen at night, scared eyes reflecting the light of the smartphone documenting its capture, the poor creature was filthy and matted but you could still tell it was white underneath the weeks if not months of neglect. It was some kind of maltese/poodle cross. The kind of dog you see trotting happily on a leash - not living, feral, teeth bared, under a dumpster in the parking lot of an innercity supermarket.
Shelter volunteers had been alerted to the dog's plight by a cashier who had caught a glimpse of it when returning to her car several nights prior. It had taken a number of patient stakeouts before they got the glimpse they needed to confirm the dog was still in the area.
It had become really good at hiding.
The the video began with the excited rescuer capturing the last few seconds of the dog's race ahead to squeeze into the darkness under the dumpster. Explaining into the phone's camera that the dog looked like it had been out here for months, and speculating on what appeared to be signs of physical injury, the rescuers were certain the bigger issue was the psychological injury the dog had suffered. It was rare for them to encounter a dog this determined to avoid any and all human contact.
The dog was going to have to be approached very, very carefully.
The rescuers set up camp in the parking lot, sleeping in a tent for several nights in a row. I marvelled at their commitment but, eventually, their persistence paid off. Hunger drove the dog to venture out of hiding on night three.
I was fascinated, watching the scraggly grey dot as it sniffed trash cans, warily maintaining as much distance as possible between itself and the intruders. I didn't know why the rescuers weren't trying to approach the dog or feed it. They explained, reading my mind, that they had to let it get used to their presence before attempting any kind of interaction, even if the interaction was merely a bowl of food that had their scent on it.
Over the next few nights, the dog gradually got used to having the rescuers in the parking lot at night while it did its rounds in search of scraps.
It was excruciating for a dog lover like me to watch this slowly play out. Why couldn't they get one of those dogcatcher nets and grab it and feed it and bathe the poor creature, for goodness sakes?? The only thing that kept me watching was the happy ending promised in the comments below the video by people who had typed things like "OMG I am crying happy tears" and "This made my week!"
By the time the rescuers progressed to leaving food out, I was at the edge of my seat. Each night, they moved the food closer to their camp so that the dog could get used to their proximity. "We're surrounded by freeways here. If we spook this little guy, he's a goner and besides, going faster risks traumatizing him even more than he already is," whispered the female rescuer to the camera and - I felt - to me specifically sitting there yelling "Get a frickin' net!!" to my computer screen.
When the dog was able at last to furtively nibble on the food placed within an arm's length of the rescuers sitting on their sleeping bags, and allowed itself to be patted just once, I almost fainted with relief. While the guy stroked the matted fur, the girl slipped a lead over the dog's head. Reacting, panicked, the dog jerked to get away but the rescuers spoke in calm, soothing tones, firmly but gently taking hold of it - still going slowly, doing nothing abrupt. They maintained their reassuring presence as the dog gradually relaxed into what I can only call a less vigilant state. At that point, the rescuers wrapped the dog in a blanket and carried it to their vehicle.
What followed was an extremely satisfying 'rehabilitation montage' showing the dog being checked by a vet, getting cemented chunks of matted hair clippered off, being bathed, being fed, being patted, being comforted...being loved. And then, finally, the followup visit with her (it turns out she was a she) new adoptive family six months later. Named something like "Misty" and looking the part all fluffy white and bright eyed and playful, this was a completely new dog.
So, what does all this have to do with EFT? Although, it could be an argument for tapping away the anxiety of watching a video like this, I think there's a stronger message here. This story provides a great metaphor for working on trauma using EFT. We practitioners often find ourselves reminding people that "one minute wonder" Emotional Freedom Techniques is the rare exception rather than the rule - but I don't think we go far enough in getting people to understand how important it is to go as slowly as can sometimes be required.
When working with trauma, you have parts of the unconscious mind that are so frightened and wounded that - like the little dog in that video - they are determined to stay hidden.
Painful experiences have rendered these parts of our being incapable of telling the difference between rescuers and abusers. What it takes to work with them feels a lot like what those rescuers were doing for the first several nights in that parking lot: gaining trust.
Being client led, Tapping allows that trust to be built. The traumatized dimensions of the client's psyche are given space and time to experience that this process will be gentle, and to being able to discern that this feels like help - not hurt.
This is especially crucial since dealing with trauma will eventually involve, once the unconscious has been calmed enough (meaning when the client has voluntarily dissolved their own trauma capsule), a revisiting of the events which, while at that point no longer traumatic to recall, will still deliver a degree of intensity until the events have been completely collapsed and healed.
We can think of this as the moment when those rescuers finally slipped the lead over the dog's head and then gently gathered it up in a blanket. The dog's reaction was many, many times less intense than if it had been 'netted' before the trust had been built. A foundation was created for the healing to come which would have certainly had its challenging moments - from being examined by a vet to being bathed. None of those necessary rehabilitation steps would have been possible if the dog's initial levels of fight-stress hadn't first been brought lower. They might have even further traumatized the dog.
I'm grateful for this video. Not just for the 'feels'. Since seeing it, whenever I notice things seem to be moving rather slowly in some sessions, I am able to reassure the client that progress is being made even if it's not dramatic yet. We're building trust, laying the foundation for powerful work.
So, whether you're a client or a practitioner, the next time you wonder if things should be clearing faster in your sessions since you're apparently doing everything right, remember the little dog from the YouTube video. Be willing to practice the same degree of patience and understanding as those rescuers, know that the psyche will cooperate when it feels safe enough, and keep the faith that a happy ending like Misty's is there waiting to be claimed.