Disaster Trauma: Emotional First Aid

©Liz Hart 2010, EFT Beyond Relief,

When disaster strikes, its impact is far and wide. Those caught up in the immediate area can be flooded by strong emotions as they cope with the dangers and losses which can reduce their ability to take appropriate action. First line responders – the police, fire brigade, army, civil defense etc – are faced with some horrific scenes and desperate need, long hours and often limited resources to deal with the problems. Knowing they are needed to remain functional, their feelings can be buried only to re-appear at a later time as Post Traumatic Stress. Even those away from the disaster zone can be strongly impacted by the sights and reports through the media, and their concern for those who are in danger. We become glued to our TV as we watch the disaster unfolds – think 9/11 – and our thoughts become preoccupied by the disaster. A sense of helplessness to be of service can take hold. We may develop survivor guilt - relief it’s not you and guilt for feeling that way. So what can we do to help ourselves and each other?

EFT: Emotional Freedom Technique
EFT is a fast and easy way to safely relieve and release some of the fear and distress so we can get on with the practical steps we need to take to rebuild our lives. It's normal when something like this happens to go into the fight, flight and freeze responses, and we often forget to think; the survival part of our brain takes over. EFT helps bring us back quickly into a sense of safety and our ability to act consciously and thoughtfully. A brief intervention using EFT with Hurricane Katrina survivors helped drop their distress levels from 8.14 to 0.76 on a 0-10 scale. As a very simple and safe* self help technique, EFT might be able to help you and your loved ones regain some equanimity and survive.

Have You Been Traumatized?
Being scared while a disaster is occurring doesn’t mean you’re traumatized. It’s when that fear becomes locked in, when you become emotional whenever the event comes back into your awareness, or when you think about it, experience physical symptoms such as shaking, muscle tension etc. So take a moment now and think about the disaster: notice if you get any uncomfortable feeling at the memory of it – a flutter in your tummy or tense muscles, or maybe your response is more emotional - tears. If your response is anything but just another thought (like “the bus is yellow”) then EFT can help you let those feelings go so you can be more comfortable. If you find yourself not wanting to think about the event that can often be a sign of trauma too.

Self Help with EFT
Our first priority is to calm and settle ourselves down, so we can respond more usefully. EFT involves gently tapping on certain acupuncture “energy points” on your face and body while you focus on the internal reactions you are experiencing.
Follow these simple steps:

  1. Keeping your eyes open, guess at your level of distress when you recall the disaster, on a 0 (no distress) to 10 (extremely distressed) scale, what number would you give yourself?
  2. Tap quickly on the side of either hand just below the pinky and above the wrist, the Karate chop point, and say “Even though I feel distressed by the disaster, I accept myself.”
  3. Tapping pointsNow tap on each of the following points with your bunched up fingers, while saying this  “Reminder phrase” at each point “this distress”tapping points
    1. Top of your head
    2. Between eyebrows
    3. Outside edge of your eye
    4. Under your eye
    5. Under your nose
    6. Under your lips
    7. Top of your chest bone (sternum)
    8. 4” below your armpit

If you feel very upset and it’s difficult to talk, just keep tapping anyway (about 7 taps per point. Tap until you feel calm enough to say the words again.

  1. Take a deep breath in and let it go
  2. Now guess at your distress level again. Repeat this process from step 2 till it is zero.
  3. Close your eyes and this time recall the disaster and rate your distress level again. Repeat the tapping sequence until you can recall the event without distress.

You may notice that, as you recall the disaster, each time you focus on it in different ways; your response might change from fear of being hurt, fear for your family and friends, isolation, loss, panic, disorientation, etc. You can use words that describe your new focus or reaction each time you repeat step 2 (e.g. “Even though I feel isolated by the disaster, I accept myself”). Change the words at step 3 to match (e.g. “feeling isolated”). With each new focus (aspect) your intensity will rise and fall. This is normal and a sign you are being successful in letting go more and more of the elements that have contributed to your distress.**
You can use this process alone or together with family and friends. When tapping together everyone says the same words and takes turns to say how they are feeling. Many people find this very comforting and reassuring and can relieve feelings of isolation. Parents may wish to monitor their children’s participation in any group process.

Helping Others
EFT can be used to help not only ourselves but others, even those not actually with us by surrogate tapping. This is a simple process whereby we tap on the karate chop as above and simply describe the upsetting thoughts and feelings of the person we are intending to help e.g.
"Even though Sarah is really scared of the aftershocks, she loves and accepts herself" or
"Even though Jack's afraid to go to sleep in case the building falls on him, he loves and accepts himself."
Use the underlined phrase as the reminder phrase while you tap around the points listed in 3 above. Focus on one thought / feeling at a time and do a few rounds of tapping for each thought / emotion as we can't readily assess the recipient’s intensity. Any relief will be welcome.

When tapping for someone you’re not with will mean you have to use a bit of guesswork, but most of us can make fairly good guesses at what our family and friends might be experiencing. The good news is that you cannot do any harm to yourself or others trying surrogate EFT and you may well bring a lot of relief. You can also use surrogate EFT for anyone you see on TV - police, rescue workers, repair men, staff and residents at relief centers and so on. Just listen to their reports and use that information - you don't need to know their name - "that policeman" is sufficient. No effort is wasted.

We are most fortunate to have this amazing technology available to us to assist when these things happen. So let's take care of ourselves and each other for the best outcome and speedy recovery from these challenging events. Feel free to contact me if you need help using these suggestions.
Yours in spirit

Liz Hart MA
EFT Beyond Relief
Phone: 064 (9) 410 5200
Mobile: 064-21-147-0543

*While EFT is very safe to use it is still an experimental process. If you have a serious mental illness please seek professional supervision before attempting to use these procedures.

** If you are unable to relieve your distress alone, please contact an EFT Practitioner via

<< Article Index