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Risks with Using Powerful Therapies
April 3, 2023

Many people assume that explorations of one's psyche using powerful therapies is intrinsically safe. However, this is far from the truth. Even extremely well adjusted people with absolutely no history of psychological problems can uncover sever or even life threatening material in themselves. Common beliefs like "You never get more than you can handle" and similar are simply not true, however comforting they may be. A very important part of professional training (and part of the reason we have a certification process) involves making students aware of the possible dangers in using powerful therapies with themselves or with clients - and to learn how to avoid or handle these problems.

The choice of therapy
In our experience, the most effective therapies are ones that heal trauma. There are a number of basic approaches: body-centered (Hendricks), meridian tapping (TFT, EFT), bilateral stimulation (EMDR), regression (TIR, WHH), and dissociation (VKD) (see Wylie 1996). Unfortunately, there are also a few popular techniques that don't work on trauma, left over from the years before effective treatments for PTSD were discovered. Each has advantages and disadvantages, and some work better or worse for any given client, or for any particular issue. Competent therapists know and use a variety of techniques for just this reason.

There are tradeoffs when using therapies, and your therapist should be both knowledgable of the pros and cons of using them. For example, some client problems are biological in origin, not psychological (although in some cases it is not always obvious which is which). Some disorders are not a good fit for trauma therapy, such as suicide (where the risks of worsening the condition are too great), to disorders like OCD, autism, and so on (where standard trauma therapy won't affect the disease symptoms). Sometimes life issues require couching or counseling techniques, not trauma therapy. Like choosing a car mechanic, you want to work with someone who knows how to fix the problem you have, not someone who, say, only knows how to fix transmissions when you have a tire or engine problem. And there is no telling if your mechanic is even competent at what he's supposed to know how to do. (This latter problem is one reason why the Institute has a 'pay for results' policy.)

Given this, why use a powerful trauma therapy at all? Simply because, for the vast majority of people, it can remove major problems (like severe PTSD) to even minor problems (like relationship issues) that make one's life painful or debilitating. (Trauma therapies are also necessary for psychobiology and psycho-immunology treatments, albeit in very specific and predefined ways.)

Informed consent
Therapists in much of the world are required by law to have a client read and sign an informed consent agreement. In a general way, this document covers the potential risks of doing therapy. A client can then decide if the risks and costs are worth it for their particular problem. Of course, no document can cover every possible problem, but they do cover the ones that are generally seen with typical clients. Here is a copy of a trauma therapy informed consent form that we use with our clients.

Common and uncommon risks:

  1. The therapy might make the existing symptoms worse. Some clients are surprised that they have to face more emotional and/or physical pain, assuming perhaps that they were just going to have a nice chat with a friendly therapist. In some cases, they simply won't get better with a given therapy (as when dealing with 'copies'), or in the time the client is willing to give to the attempt before they quit. Sometimes it is impossible to use standard trauma therapy on a trauma because the trauma will simply come back (time loops). Sometimes the therapy does make the feelings worse before they resolve. These sorts of problems can be dealt with, but require a trauma therapist who is knowledgable about these special case problems.
  2. The therapy can open up other issues. Like pulling a cork from a bottle, other problems can pop up either during or after treatment. For example, the client might suddenly have nightmares (handled by finding and treating the trauma that surfaced). Or new symptoms can appear, like sudden muscle pain (from an old accident). Fortunately, these problems are unlikely, but can occur and should be planned for. Typically, the therapist will schedule two more (usually short) appointments after the therapy is done to make sure the issue is gone, and to be sure nothing else was triggered.
  3. The client becomes suicidal: This problem can sadly be encountered in any setting, but can be more frequent when using therapy. The highest risks are with clients who have been suicidal currently or in the last five years. Given the risks, trauma therapy is not recommended for a suicidal client outside of a facility. However, suicidal feelings can (very rarely) occur in anyone at any time during trauma therapy even in people who have never felt that way before.
  4. The therapy simply didn't work. This can be very disheartening when it occurs. It generally means that the problem you have requires something different than a typical trauma therapy. Finding a therapy or therapist who can help you is by no means guaranteed, and can become a long, costly waste of time.
  5. The therapy worked too well: Suddenly the client's feelings about their work, or their partners, or their home changes, and changes radically once their issue is gone. Similar to the changes that one might experience after going to college, this can happen abruptly. Obviously, this can create issues with partners and employers. If it happens, talk to your therapist. They are experienced in helping clients with this sort of problem. (Generally they tell these clients to wait a few months to settle into the changes before making any rash decisions, along with making sure the person is calm about their situation and not reacting out of trauma.)
  6. The client encounters something outside of their beliefs: This can range from prenatal experiences to spiritual states and experiences. It can precipitate a crisis in some clients.
For a more in-depth coverage on these and other risks using trauma therapy, we refer you to standard training textbooks for trauma therapists. Our own textbooks also cover these issues and are listed in the references section below.

Risks with experimental processes
Your therapist might have a relatively new process (so by definition it is 'experimental') for the particular disease or disorder you have. The unlikely tradeoff here is that the process might actually make the problem worse, not better. Or give you an entirely new problem to deal with. Someone who is considering this should ask themselves if they are ok if things get worse instead of better. There is another choice - simply wait for a while, perhaps another year or two, so that any problems will be encountered before you attempt it. Although not foolproof, this does cut down on potential risks.

At this point in time, the potential risks (and their solutions) when using trauma therapies for PTSD and emotional issues are fairly well understood. When trauma therapies are used for psychobiology or psycho-immunology applications, or entirely new psychobiology techniques are developed, we look at a number of additional factors when we test for safety. Beyond standard emotional issues, we also look at potential problems from prenatal development, pathogen interactions, and changes in subcellular function and structure. The Institute uses an extensive, multi-year safety testing protocol for all new techniques and treatments before they are released to our certified therapists. For specifics on our testing protocol, see our 'safety testing' webpage.

Other safety concerns: non-Institute techniques
In addition, because the Institute also acts as a clearing house for other's peak states processes, we occasionally encounter problems that occur with these processes that the creators did not realize were problems. Because our students might use these processes in the course of their work, we feel obligated to post any safety concerns that we encounter.

Safety alerts
Over time, we occasionally find that a process that had no problems during in-house testing can have a problem for some individuals when larger groups are tested. To address this, in 2006 we established an email group so that safety announcements could be made. Over the following years, we had three safety alerts issued for processes that were taught to therapist trainees. In 2012 we switched to an online forum format for safety announcements. If you are a past or present student of the ISPS, and are continuing to use the material you were taught, we highly recommend you stay signed up on the Institute's practitioner forum. We also publish the safety alerts online (see below).

Unfortunately, powerful trauma therapies can uncover trauma, especially prenatal trauma, that can activate severe psychological or physical distress, up to and including overwhelming suicidal actions.

    Warning - time jumping: This problem can be unwittingly activated, causing mild to major depression. For most people the problem appears to be permanent if unhealed. We have a way to heal it, and if you have taken our training, you need to be aware of the problem, how to identify it, and our latest technique (Rev 1.1) on how to eliminate it.

    Warning - spiral developmental stage: Accessing the end of the body brain (egg or sperm) spiral developmental event can trigger irreversible multiple sclerosis symptoms in susceptible individuals. This event was used in the Beauty Way Process in Revision 0.6 and 0.7 of the Peak States Therapist Manual. Be sure to remove this process from your copy of the manual if you have it.

    Warning - Suicide: We've found that the cause of suicidal action is triggering of placental death trauma memories from birth. This problem can be activated by life circumstances and accidentally by most therapies.

Practitioner support forum
If you are a graduate of our basic Whole-Hearted Healing® therapy or PeakStates® training, we highly recommend that you sign up for our practitioner-only support discussion forum. It gives us a way to send out any new safety alerts, let you know about updates in technique or process changes, receive new information, ask questions or share experiences, and will help increase your professional skills. (Note, this group is only for people who have taken our courses.) The public forum also contains current information and is searchable on the webpage.

What about 'personal growth'?
First, any personal growth path has potential issues. For example, spiritual practices can sometimes trigger severe spiritual emergencies or other problems (Grof, 1989). Likewise, trauma healing also has potential problems, and we generally tell our students to only heal presenting issues, and not go looking for issues that are forgotten or suppressed. Paula Courteau wrote this letter in response to an student's erroneous beliefs about this issue:

    "My way of thinking about this is that the dangers are intrinsic to the work, and there might be no way to 'make safer processes', short of what we're doing right now: building a better support network, and finding ways to help people zip through the bad stuff quicker. I think we're all on the same side on this. I was happy to see genuine concern coming from each quarter.

    "Here's how I see it: when you start healing yourself, sooner or later you get into your *big one*, your core issue (or one of them! :) ), the one you've spent your whole life protecting against. When you do WHH from current issues, your core issue shows up - sort of - when you're ready for it. (That's when you see people running away from the work. And that's the simple reason why people only use WHH or EFT for a few small issues and then forget about it. So it usually happens quite early on, in the first months after their first workshop; if we're lucky it shows up during the first workshop and there's someone there who can help them through it.)

    "With Gaia commands, if that particular process touches the person's core trauma, the issue will come out whether they're ready or not. With that in mind, a "completely safe" Gaia command process is a myth. No matter how often you apply the process on people, and how much testing you do, it'll still trigger some people into their big issue.

    "Yes, a Gaia command process that regresses people to very early events will be 'riskier' because all the COEX roads lead to Rome, so to speak. The odds of encountering core traumas are magnified.

    "But. Don't we want people to get through their big issues? I'd say yes: and safely too. What we can't do is avoid those issues forever. That's a myth.

    "What happened to Ann, to Arleahnna? To Ismael, around Christmas? Simply that they met their big one. Their first big one. They needed a helping hand to get through it. There was no way around it. For Ann, it blocked Deep Peace, and for Arleahnna it blocked Silent Mind, besides robbing her of sleep every single night for the past five years. We did not make those issues, they were already there, ruining their lives: chronic abandonment, chronic depression, chronic insomnia. Now they've each had the experience of facing those traumas head on, with support, and the next one that comes up won't seem so bad.

    "So I think that's the way it is. We can't protect people from their core issues. Yes, it helps to have them work from current issues until they're comfortable with Whole-Hearted Healing, but sometimes the big one is there anyway, ready to go. Doing more healing circles is a sound idea in this regard. Beginning students, in particular, can gain their sea legs that way. But no, it won't be totally 'safe'. Human consciousness is not safe! :)

    "So the best we can do is what we're doing right now: evolve better support networks and better healers to help people through the snags, and continue being as clear as we can about the risks... even if students really don't believe us until they've been there. That, also, is human nature. It's something we must work with.

    " :-) Or else we restrict training to people with no core issues, no denials... I think my kitchen table might qualify! No pesky human issues there!

    "My best to all of you. Here's to the hope that we can all work together for a long, long time."


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Revision History
Apr 3, 2023: Revised the webpage.
Apr 3, 2006: First draft.