As you probably know in film-making a stunt double is someone who looks like the star and stands in for them in anything that looks remotely dangerous. The stunt double takes the risk while the star remains untouched. In a session with a client whom I’ll call Katie, we developed a way of using an ’emotional stunt double’ to do the difficult work of resolving a traumatic experience that happened more than 40 years ago.
Katie had been driving home late at night on a remote country road in bad weather. To avoid an oncoming driver she swerved off the road running into a stone wall. Recounting this story provoked a lot of emotion for her. Originally we were using the Movie Technique to resolve the trauma.
Since her experience was very intense I suggested that we might think of ourselves as onlookers to that traumatic experience and watch what had happened to that ‘younger Katie’.
There are two ways of recalling a memory, we can remember it as if seeing it through our own eyes – from an associated, first person, perspective, or we can see it as if we are looking at ourselves from an external point of view, almost as if we were someone else having this experience – this is a dissociated, third person, perspective.
One of the important differences between associated and dissociated memories is that dissociated memories are usually far less emotionally intense than the associated version. This seems to be an inbuilt protective mechanism that many people use to distance themselves from unpleasant experiences.
Using words that acknowledged this third person perspective we tapped for that ‘younger Katie’ who was having that traumatic experience.
Katie said: “She thinks she’s about to die – Rather than using the standard setup “Even though I think I’m about to die” which would associate her into a very unpleasant experience we used a third person setup statement for the ’emotional stunt double’.
“Even though she thinks she is about to die, I deeply and completely accept her.”
As Katie tapped using these words, the distress of the ‘younger Katie’ began to reduce. We continued tapping using this form of setup phrase as successive waves of emotion in her stunt double were dissipated.
“Even though she’s scared, I deeply and completely accept her.”
Watching the scene from this perspective Katie recalled that although she had been unconscious for at least 20 minutes, no one had bothered to open the door to see whether she had survived; they had just assumed that she was dead.
“Even though nobody cared whether she lived or died I deeply and completely accept her.”
Each successive aspect of the memory was dealt with using the ’emotional stunt double’ as a stand in to handle emotion that would be very painful as a fully first person present tense memory.
As we worked through each emotion Katie began to switch from the third person perspective – “She’s really angry” – to the first person perspective – “I am really angry” during the rounds of tapping. This gradual re-association into the memory suggested to me that the strength of the trauma was diminishing because as the emotional charge was dropping it was more comfortable for her to be in the memory rather than just an observer. Eventually Katie was able to talk about the event quite calmly.
The original memory had been the cause of a lot of self-recrimination. Now Katie was able to look at that younger version of herself with much more compassion than she had at the start of the session.
I asked her if she would like to bring in the image of that younger self into her present self, to reintegrate the part that had been ‘split off’ by that experience. She readily agreed and extended her arms. The moment she brought that image of the younger Katie into herself she sighed and visibly relaxed. I waited, giving her time to reconnect with this part of herself that had been held at a safe distance. She then reported feeling very calm and at peace over the whole incident.
Since this session more than a year ago I have used this approach many times with clients to work with memories that would be difficult to experience in the first person. In this respect it has the same function as the Tearless Trauma Technique, a standard method for helping keep the trauma sufferer out of painful experiences.
How to use the stunt double process
If the client is already talking about the memory as if it was happening to a third person using phrases such as
‘That other me’, or ‘She is ….’, or ‘That me over there’, or ‘That me back then’. Then you can use this process immediately.
If the client is very associated into the memory then you can suggest to them that they might like to imagine that there is a stunt double of themselves somewhere ‘out there’. The therapist can gesture to some space in the room where that ‘other me’ is located to indicate that the stunt double is over there in a different space to the client. The therapist may need to do some coaching of the client if they find this part difficult.
Then ask ‘How is that other you feeling?’, ‘What is going on for them?’, ‘What are they thinking?’ and ‘How intense are those feelings for them?’ The answers to these questions supply the setup phrases.
For example, if the client says of the younger version of herself “She’s very hurt” then use that as part of the setup and reminder phrase. Notice the use of the word ‘she’ indicating that the client sees this individual outside of herself; otherwise it would be “I am very hurt” which would put them back in the associated state. Using she, he, that other me, in the setup phrases maintains the safe distance for the client from the traumatic experience.
“Even though ‘she’ is very hurt I deeply and completely accept ‘her’ and how ‘she’ feels. Reminder phrase: ‘She’s very hurt’
Clients may even describe how the ‘stunt double’ looks – “She’s curled up in a ball, rocking back and forth”
Even though ‘she’ is curled up in a ball, rocking back and forth, I deeply and completely accept her and how she feels
After each round ask how things are going for the ‘stunt double’ or ‘her’ – “How is she feeling?” and “How intense is that for her now?” and so on. You can use the answers to these questions to guide the tapping for this ‘stunt double’ just as you would for a client who is fully feeling these feelings.
Continue just as you would for an associated client. At some point the level of distress of that ‘stunt double’ will be significantly reduced. It’s possible that the client’s language will begin to change as the tapping progresses and the intensity of the experience reduces. The client may start saying ‘She feels distressed’ then after a few rounds ‘I feel distressed’ as if they are directly accessing the emotion for themselves.
When the intensity of the trauma has reduced greatly it might be worth asking the client how they feel about that ‘other version of themselves’; often we can judge ourselves very harshly not only for what we ourselves have done, but also for what has happened to us at the hands of others. Now is a good time to tap out any negative opinions we have about our younger selves.
“Even though she should have known better, I deeply and completely accept her.”
“Even though I hate him for having made that mistake, I deeply and completely accept him” etc.
This is very useful in working towards self forgiveness.
If relations between the current client and their previous self is good then it may be worth inviting the client to re-unite with that younger self.
“Would you like to bring that younger you back into yourself so that they can join with the rest of your life?”
The therapist needs to pay close attention to the verbal and non-verbal answer to this question. If there is any doubt about this, then that is an opportunity for further tapping to address any objections. Usually the client instinctively reaches out to welcome back that younger healed part of themselves. When this is done you will probably hear sighs of relief and see a great relaxation. Allow plenty of time for the integration to continue.
Summary of the steps
- Identify the memory to be worked on.
- Explain the idea of a stunt double that can do the hard work for them. Most people are very happy to go along with this metaphor.
- Invite the client to remember that (their) experience from a third person dissociated perspective referring to “that younger you, over there, having that experience back then.”
- Ask them “How intense is that situation to(for) that younger you 0-10?”
- If it’s very intense or they are experiencing some discomfort invite them to move that scene further away or imagine it as if it is being shown on a TV screen.
- If they are not sure about the intensity have them guess.
- Start tapping using the setup statement: “Even though s/he is … I deeply and completely accept him/her and myself” followed by a few rounds of tapping.
- Ask “How intense is that for that younger you now?” Repeat tapping as required until the intensity is greatly reduced.
- As the first part of testing ask clients to “Watch that other you have that experience” – then tap out any remaining negative feelings that are present for that other you.
- When the difficult memory has been resolved ask them: “How do you feel about that other you?” If there are any untoward reactions, guilt, sadness, recriminations etc – tap them out in the usual style.
- Invite your client to thank the stunt double for doing all the hard work and invite that younger part of them back in to their bigger self. The client may just imagine the ‘younger them’ floating back in to themselves, or they may extend their arms to welcome that younger self back in.
- Let them reintegrate (this) the part and give them time to process. (If the client doesn’t want to re-integrate – the reasons (for this) can be the basis for more tapping – at the end of the day it’s the client’s decision whether or not to do that)
- Test the work- invite them to think back to the experience – take care of any residual emotional charges in the usual way.
Photo courtesy of Paul Stevenson