Terror in an MRI machine is not uncommon. The scanner is large and cylindrical, and a patient needs to lie still while enclosed inside it for quite some time. In such a situation, some people feel trapped and can panic.
My new client Julia had claustrophobia. She was so nervous during her first MRI experience that the staff had to pull her out twice, and the procedure did not get done.
(An MRI scanner uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create pictures of the soft tissue inside the body for medical purposes.)
What was going on for Julia?
Well – here’s a thought that proved relevant in Julia’s case. What does lying ‘imprisoned’ in a cylindrical MRI machine have to do with getting born?
The answer is — in both instances you are trapped in a narrow tunnel.
Maybe the first time that you found yourself trapped in a narrow tunnel (birth canal), you went through some particular birth trauma and so claustrophobia was seeded; subsequent experiences may have reinforced this for you…
When Julia felt herself trapped in the MRI tunnel, this present-day experience did trigger deep memories of her terror in the birth canal, although she did not realise that. Not surprisingly, she’d panicked in the machine.
A second MRI visit
For a second MRI experience, Julia said she had taken medication to stay calm. This time the procedure was successful. But she decided that she didn’t want to keep medicating herself for any subsequent MRI visits.
A week before her third MRI appointment she decided to try EFT tapping to see if she could get rid of her terror. EFT is an acupressure-and-mindfulness technique which calms the brain’s fear centre via tapping on acupuncture points.
How did tapping on herself help?
Julia and I met online for two EFT tapping sessions. She told me that her lifelong claustrophobia history included panic if her arms were ever pinned to her side, as had happened in children’s games.
Her mother had made a connection between this terror and Julia’s birth experience. She had told Julia about a delivery trauma they had both shared. A nurse had manually prevented the baby from coming out of her mother because a doctor was supposed to be present at every birth and he had not arrived.
EFT’s stress-releasing tapping techniques are designed to minimize emotional distress even with traumatic memories. When we started applying a specialized trauma process to de-fuse her frightening MRI experience, Julia’s fear intensity measured 10/10. Within minutes it dropped to 7/10, and continued to drop throughout the session to reach zero.
During this journey of relief she experienced some spontaneous mental imagery and varied emotions — and at one point reported a quick flash of actually wanting to get into the MRI machine!
However, as time was short and I knew there was deeper stress involved, I recommended another session before her appointment.
‘In a giant, peaceful cave’
At the start of this session she reported feeling ‘a lot more chilled out’. She was calmly envisaging the machine with herself lying inside it, and she remembered a short pleasant experience among the terrors in the machine, of imagining she was in a giant peaceful cave.
This time we began tapping to clear trauma from her previous MRI experiences, starting with when she had to be pulled out twice because of terror triggered by sensations of pressure on her head.
Remembering her panic in the machine when she felt constriction on her arms, her present stress reached 6/10, then reduced to 2/10. (These reductions of stress through tapping are typically permanent.)
Then she said that, unaccountably, she was remembering becoming anxious about ‘getting out in time.’ ‘What time?’ she said. ‘That doesn’t make sense.’
By now I was aware that Julia was briefly going through a spontaneous rebirth. (In hindsight, her ‘giant peaceful cave’ seemed to represent life in the womb before birthing contractions began.) A nurse had seriously interfered with the timing of her birth by holding the baby back.
At that point Julia became distressed. She was waving her hand above her head, saying, ‘There’s something holding my head… pressure… something above my head…’
I asked, ’Do you know what that is?’
‘No,’ she said.
I said, ‘Could it be a nurse’s hand? Just breathe.’
For a minute or two Julia breathed steadily and was silent. Then she relaxed, saying she now felt strange, drugged. I told her that if her mother had received pain medication or gas, she as a newborn would have had it too.
Soon she said wonderingly, ‘That was massive. There’s sweat pouring off my back. But even when I was going through it, I felt calm underneath. What an experience!’
She chose to continue the session. We briefly focused on memories of moments of fear and body sensations she had felt in the machine. Tapping quickly dissolved their stress intensities so that they would not help trigger panic next time.
Third MRI experience
After her third MRI experience Julia later reported:
‘I was a little anxious before arriving at the imaging centre, so I did take half a tablet. I ‘m not beating myself up about that though, as I took one and a half tablets before, so that is an improvement in itself.
‘I actually felt quite calm and was pleased to see that the scanner was only two-thirds the length of the last ones! However, I had to have a type of box, rather like a welder’s helmet, over my face. Yikes! I wasn’t expecting that!
‘However, I lay back and closed my eyes, just asking that the young man keep talking to me regularly throughout the session, which he did.
‘I must say I did not experience the crippling terror, nor did I have any thoughts of the head pressure. In fact, I was just thinking normal thoughts, not even having to stay focused on being in a giant cave!
‘The whole session lasted around twenty-five minutes. I had no panicky thoughts on having to get out ‘in time’.
‘Thank you so much for your help in getting me through what used to be a huge ordeal!’
After experiencing EFT tapping over two sessions – including recall of her spontaneous rebirthing experience, which is rare with EFT — Julia has begun to apply tapping herself when she is feeling uncomfortable.
Travelling from her home to a medical appointment by a familiar bus, she found she was ‘getting in a state’ about the bus driver (’he is not my favorite person’). She tapped about her agitation. She said, ‘Thankfully, those feelings subsided!’
She is now exploring what else she might heal through tapping away stress.
‘HOW CAN I LEARN EFT TAPPING?”
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