Dr. Stephen Kaufman
on How Neural Facilitation Technique (NFT) ™
works: the elimination of conditioned responses
(technical stuff- enter at your own risk)
(technical stuff- enter at your own risk)c.2003 Stephen J. Kaufman, D.C.
You have probably heard of the conditioned response (or conditioned reflex). It was discovered by Pavlov, a Russian scientist, a hundred years ago. Much of modern psychotherapy and learning theory is based on this discovery. Pavlov’s dogs naturally salivated when they smelled food. (don’t we all?) Pavlov rang a bell every time they smelled food. They associated the bell with the food. Soon they would salivate when they heard the bell, even when there was no food. This is a conditioned response.
Let’s imagine a circumstance. A young child is walking down a street and she sees a dog (not one of Pavlov’s). She has always liked dogs and never had any bad experiences with them. At the same moment , something happens such as a loud noise to startle her. Her nervous system associates the fear response with the dog, and from then on she is afraid of dogs. Every time she thinks of them she has been conditioned to have fear. Often a person can’t remember creating this association, but it may have happened anyway. Most associations are created without our conscious awareness.
A person is in a horrible car accident. They are left with a great deal of pain. Afterward, whenever they think of getting on the road, they feel a tremendous amount of fear and stress. They have been conditioned to associate driving with an enormous amount of stress.
When you first met your boss, you had no particular feeling about him good or bad. Now after a year of working at that stressful, crummy job, the thought of your boss makes you ill and anxious.
A woman breaks up with her boyfriend. She replays the incident in her mind constantly; she can’t get over it for years. Her nervous system has gotten stuck in “reverberating circuit”. Whenever she thinks about her ex boyfriend she feels a tremendous amount of emotional pain. She has been conditioned to associate this very painful experience with the his memory. For some people, this never resolves, and they continue to think about the past almost constantly, even years later. I saw one man who obsessed about his former love 12 years after he had last seen her. Somehow this obsessive thinking gets into a groove in their minds.
In the case of chronic or long term pain, our nervous system gets into the groove of continuously experiencing pain in an area. Pain is meant to be a warning signal in the short term, i.e. “pull your hand away from the fire, it will hurt you.” Sometimes the brain never gets the message that the danger is over, and the pain continues for years. The nervous system is conditioned in such a way that it continues to transmit pain long after the warning is unnecessary.
Neural Facilitation Technique works by tapping or rubbing different acupuncture points while a person is thinking about their fear , anxiety, depression, or pain. It has been established by numerous researchers that stimulating acupuncture points under certain conditions causes an increase of natural pain relievers in the brain and spinal cord. These are known as endogenous opiates ,and include endorphins, enkephalins, and dynorphins.
Other researchers have found an increase in the levels of serotonin or noradrenaline from acupuncture point stimulation. Serotonin is known to have a great effect on mood (in depression and anxiety), insomnia, pain reduction, and appetite suppression. Most prescribed anti depressant drugs (such as Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, Efexor, etc. ) work by increasing serotonin in the brain. Because the results I see with NFT are often instantaneous, I believe it also works by increasing the levels of serotonin and/or noradrenaline in the brain. However, it must do it much more quickly than drugs. Prozac etc. usually takes several weeks to take effect. NFT often (but not always) instantly produces the following changes:
Relief of the fear of things (phobias) (e.g. dogs, cats, people, birds, driving, heights, etc.)
Relief from depression.
Relief from anxiety.
Often produces a state of contentment, peace, or euphoria.
Pain relief of all kinds, often marked and lasting.
I believe what happens is the following. A person thinks about the thing that causes them pain (fear, anxiety, depression, trauma, etc. ) As they think about this , their usual reaction has been to suffer, due to their past association and conditioning. However, during NFT™, we tap, rub or stimulate various acupuncture points (without any needles.) This stimulation treatment causes a spurt of serotonin, adrenalin, or natural pain killers to be produced in their brains, which are “feel good chemicals”. (Again, this has been established by research.) As they think about the fear or grief, they now are neurally retrained. They now form a new association of the thought with the production of serotonin, etc. , which breaks the previous bad association. In other words, once the treatment is over, they no longer suffer when they remember the dog, cat, auto accident, past breakup or trauma, etc. It becomes just a neutral thought.
If they think about their physical pain during the treatment, that pain also becomes associated with the production of serotonin, etc. in their nervous system. This often (but not always) causes an immediate reduction in their pain levels. Presumably the “reverberating circuit ” in their brain which is maintaining the pain is eliminated. Sometimes one or two NFT™ treatments can get rid of pain permanently, even pain that’s been present for years. Pain that has an emotional component is especially responsive; for example, the headache, low back pain, stomach ache, knee pain, etc. either came on after an emotional trauma or it is aggravated by emotional stress.
Most kinds of physical treatment, such as acupressure, chiropractic, massage, etc. work by treating the pain locally. Orthodox medicine, on the other hand, usually prescribes “pain killing” drugs which work by treating the brain and dulling pain sensation. This does not usually work locally but is called centrally mediated pain control. NFT™ is also a form of centrally mediated pain control, but there are no side effects, as drugs have. It works by normalizing nerve function, by raising the levels of endogenous opiates and serotonin.
In summary, here is an example of how NFT™ might work:
A woman gets in a severe car accident. The pain and trauma become associated with cars, driving, going out, etc. She fears all these things, and also relives the trauma many times each day, even a year after the accident ( the ‘reverberating circuit”.) She suffers from severe, constant neck pain, migraines, low back pain, and headaches.
In two or three NFT™ treatments, points on her head and hands are stimulated while she remembers the fear she feels, and also thinks briefly about the trauma. The production of serotonin during the treatment causes a rapid elimination of the conditioned response; she now no longer has fears related to driving, and she feels at peace about the accident. Much of the emotional component of the pain is now gone. A further few treatments has her think of her neck and back pain while the points are treated. This associates endorphin production with these painful areas, rapidly reducing her overall level of pain.
Although this sounds complicated, the treatment is extremely simple, and usually works very quickly . Therapy is almost always short term. The success rate is very high, although not everyone responds.
(Dedicated to Dr. Tom Giles, Ph.D.)
To read more on the application of NFT, click here
To read "Stress Reduction" article, click this one.