Keynote Speaker Dr. Sakai Talks About “Tapping” Trauma Away
Jodie Chiemi Ching
This past September, I attended the Sunrise Foundation Hawaii’s annual “Journeys To Wellness VIII” — “A gathering offering thoughtful reflections and spiritual practices toward achieving a healthy and harmonious body, mind, spirit and community.” Our editor here at The Herald, Karleen Chinen, knew about my experience with Guillain Barré syndrome, discoid lupus and journey to wellness, and asked if I would like to cover the event and write the story you are reading right now.
And since the Sunrise Foundation was started by Rev. Dr. Wally Fukunaga — who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007, and turned to self-awareness, nutrition, meditation, exercise, and energy and light healing to reclaim his health — I felt a connection to him and the event.
This year’s keynote speaker was Caroline Sakai, Ph. D., who runs a private practice in downtown Honolulu. She previously served as the chief clinical therapist at Kaiser Behavioral Health Services, Hawai‘i. She is an authorized trainer of thought field (or “tapping”) therapy. The keynote speech was followed by two breakout sessions. Each attendee could choose two out of seven workshops being offered by wellness experts of various modalities of healing. Types of workshops included learning more from Dr. Sakai; a presentation from the Blue Zones Project; medicine; acupuncture; Tao calligraphy and meditative movement; centering prayer meditation; and equipping youth, cultivating land and preserving culture.
I was impressed by Sakai’s story about how she helped thousands of people around the world with TFT, including 400 orphan survivors from the 1994 Rwandan genocide. And I could relate to her personal story of overcoming systemic lupus after a doctor told her she wouldn’t live beyond five years after her diagnosis. Although I wasn’t considered to be terminal, being diagnosed with lupus myself, I felt we had something in common, and I was excited about learning more about her work.
Anticipating this event, I recalled my own struggle with illness, for which I am grateful. That’s right, grateful. And let me tell you why.
It happened in 2011, a few days after Thanksgiving. My arms and legs felt tingly, so I decided to take a late afternoon walk to shake off the “yucky” feeling. I felt a little better and decided to take it easy the rest of the day. The next day, I woke up feeling weak all over and made an appointment to see my doctor. He concluded that it was just a virus and that I should rest and let it run its course.
The next morning was even worse. I opened my eyes and looked at my digital alarm clock and saw the time — twice. My vision was double and my heart sank, my body felt even weaker. I ended up in the emergency room and after an MRI, an EKG and giving the lab 10 vials of blood, I left with three possible autoimmune related culprits: Gullain-Barré syndrome, myasthenia gravis or multiple sclerosis. I was to follow-up with a neurologist to pinpoint a diagnosis. I felt scared and confused mostly about how this would affect my family, especially my two boys, who were in elementary school at the time.
In the months to follow, I gave more vials of blood, about a dozen vials each time, and had a spinal tap. My husband took off from work to take me to other doctors: another neurologist, an ophthalmologist and a rheumatologist. At that point, I became more dependent on him and my mother. In addition to my double vision, I was often in a wheelchair because my limbs were so weak they felt like big noodles hanging from my body. Medications didn’t help, and so I decided to turn to an energy healer and a meditation practice. Eventually the doctors agreed that it was probably GBS.
Through a more holistic approach I paid close attention to what made me feel healed (warm showers, soup, naps, meditation, knitting and journaling) and the things that stole my energy (stress, television and being in crowds). Slowly, my limbs felt stronger. My vision became the gauge for my progress. In February of 2012, I noticed the time on the digital clock get closer and closer when I got up in the morning. “Closer and closer” turned into an overlap, which, one day, finally, became one image — just as it should be.
I continued my meditation practice, paid attention to my diet and started exercising. My husband and I started to attend Egan’s Bootcamp, a gym owned by Egan Inoue. I felt healthier than I had ever been. I was also studying to take exams to become a certified public accountant, while working at my family’s accounting firm.
Then, suddenly I broke out in a skin rash. It was on my face, neck, arms and hips. In 2015, I was diagnosed with discoid lupus. I was told to manage my stress levels. As much as I loved working with my family, studying for the CPA exam and tax season were not in alignment with who I was as a person. I became familiar with my “flare-ups” which mostly consisted of rash breakouts and fatigue. I was once again in familiar territory and knew what to do — focus on healing.
I was told that sometimes, discoid lupus could turn into systemic lupus erythematosus, the kind that causes your immune system to attack your own tissue and organs. This was the second time my body was sending me a warning.
I took a long look inward and decided that studying for the CPA exam and working at the family firm were expressions of gratitude for my parents and what the family business had given me so far — a private school education and a comfortable life. But all my effort in trying to be a noble daughter always made me feel like I was fighting to survive rather than thriving. My happiness started to depend more upon their approval, while I ignored my own.
Writing was something joyful I did to help others. Journaling, poetry and writing articles for friends filled me up. So, I made the difficult decision to leave the family firm and write full-time as a freelancer. I also began expressive writing workshops based on the research of James Pennebaker, Ph. D., that I conducted independently at first, and then through the Sjögren’s and Lupus Foundation of Hawaii. Helping people with what I loved to do made me feel even more healed. In Japanese this is called finding your ikigai, or life’s purpose. And in the last three years, my rheumatologist said that my blood test showed that I was healthy, and with no signs of flare-ups, I no longer needed to see him unless symptoms begin to show up again.
I am grateful because my illnesses have guided me here to the Herald connecting with even more inspiring people and stories. And when I listened to Sakai’s stories, it validated that: 1) healing is an inside job; 2) illness is a teacher; and 3) we can all find gratitude in our hardships.
Sakai is a psychologist with a private practice in downtown Honolulu. She came across TFT treatment by accident, and for the last 20 years she has been an authorized TFT trainer. According to her book entitled, “Overcoming Adversity, How Energy Tapping Transforms Your Life’s Worst Experiences,” in her 31-year career (at Kaiser Behavioral Health Services, Hawai‘i and a few years in California), she was able to work with a broad spectrum of symptoms and disorders. She wrote, “As chief psychologist, I was privileged to supervise other therapists, confer with psychiatrists and medical doctors, innovate and develop needed programs, and treat the most complex and challenging clients.”
She saw that all therapists of various orientations faced some challenging situations “that were not appreciably improved by the traditional psycho-therapy modalities.” So Sakai searched for tools to help her develop integrated behavioral medicine programs that were more accessible and rapid in treating the mind and body.
Sakai came across an article about promising new approaches and became particularly interested in TFT. “I discovered that there was a family of similar Energy Psychology modalities that had branched out from TFT. I elected to learn from the originator of these Energy Psychology approaches, Dr. Roger Callahan,” wrote Sakai.
She personally experienced surprising improvements in her physical health. In a workshop at the Journeys to Wellness event, Sakai said she was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus when she was 25 years old. Her doctor told her that her SLE symptoms were so bad that she would not live for more than five years. She used the TFT to improve her immune function by reducing symptoms and eliminating physical pain, and even ran her first marathon at the age of 35. She mailed her marathon completion certificate to her doctor who did not reply.
Pleased with the ease of utilizing TFT and its rapid results, Sakai continued her studies with Callahan. She found that many people who implemented the therapy needed no additional treatment, and those who did, found that TFT enhanced conventional approaches.
What is TFT?
According to Sakai’s website, www.tftcenter.com, “TFT is a mind-body self-treatment developed by clinical psychologist, Dr. Roger Callahan. His work is at the foundation of the growing field of Energy Psychology. TFT utilizes the meridian points and bilateral stimulation with a gentle tapping procedure, which is believed to facilitate the information processing needed for healing a particular problem. While the explanations for how the therapy works are still being researched, the results of this therapy have led Dr. Sakai and countless others to practice TFT and to teach and continue researching one of the quickest and most effective therapeutic treatments they have found to date.”
From seeing TFT work on a personal level and a clinic-wide level, Sakai took TFT to an even larger scale. She participated in the Association for TFT Foundation’s trauma relief deployments to New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina and then to work with genocide survivors in Rwanda.
Sakai was warned that because of her past SLE diagnosis, she might not survive the vaccines that were required for her to travel to Rwanda. She was determined to go on the mission and spread the vaccinations out over a longer period of time. After completing the vaccine requirement, she was off to Rwanda.
To start, in 2006, the ATFT Foundation’s mission reached out to 400 orphans in Rwanda who were survivors of the 1994 genocide. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica website (www.britannica.com/event/Rwanda-genocide-of-1994), “Rwanda genocide of 1994, planned campaign of mass murder in Rwanda that occurred over the course of some 100 days in April-July 1994. The genocide was conceived by extremist elements of Rwanda’s majority Hutu population who planned to kill the minority Tutsi population and anyone who opposed the genocidal intentions … More than 800,000 civilians — primarily Tutsi, but also moderate Hutu — were killed during the campaign. As many as 2 million Rwandans fled the country during or immediately after the genocide.”
In her keynote speech at the Journeys to Wellness event, she told success stories from the mission, like one that is posted on Sakai’s website (www.tftcenter.com).
“A 15-year-old girl was one of two survivors from her village. Her family and other villagers had taken refuge in the church, where they hoped to be safe.
“At dusk, men bearing machetes stormed into the church and started the massacre. Her quick-thinking father yelled for her and others to run as fast as they could and not look back for any reason. She was three years old at the time of the genocide, and she started running. However, she heard her father yelling and screaming in a frenzied, frantic way (so unlike him), so she turned to see what was happening. She saw seven men with machetes attacking her father, and the flashbacks and nightmares of this gruesome attack have haunted her daily since then.
“As we (Sakai and her mission team) went through the trauma algorithm, there were tears and sad affect that transformed into smiles. She reported having accessed fond memories of her father and family playing together. After psychological reversal and further trauma treatment, she started laughing as she recalled her father hiding sweet fruits in his pockets and sneaking them to her and her siblings when mother, who thought they should not eat these, was not looking.
“When seen again the next two days, she reported no nightmares, no flashbacks of the traumatic memories which were now faded as if they happened a very long time ago. Instead she was excited and elated at accessing fond memories of her early childhood which were not available earlier with her being frozen in the traumatic memories.”
The mission with the Rwanda orphans was a success. Children were able to integrate into regular schools. When Sakai followed up on the children, she learned that one of the children became a psychologist and two became teachers — all inspired by overcoming their trauma through TFT.
That story barely scratches the surface of how far-reaching Sakai’s work has gone. With the cooperation of the Red Cross, churches and other community organizations in Rwanda, TFT training has helped to transform widows suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression to empowered entrepreneurs. Prisoners have been released into society and are thriving in their lives.
Sakai has presented at national and international conferences on TFT. She also talks to pre-medical students at the University of Hawai‘i’s John A. Burns School of Medicine. “Upcoming doctors need to teach skills,” she said.
Hardships happen for us
Life guide, Alice Inoue, said, “Everything happens for us, not to us.” And when I attended Sunrise Foundation’s Journeys to Wellness, I found a whole community of people who have found a profound sense of wellness via emotional hardships and physical illness. They know that illness is a teacher, if you allow it to be. Whether it’s through a foundation, a practice or even writing, not only can we heal ourselves, we can empower others to heal themselves. The Sunrise Foundation is a healing community made up of individuals whose lives have been touched by hardship.
For more information about the Sunrise Foundation Hawaii and Journeys to Wellness, visit their website at www.sunrisefoundationhawaii.org.
For more information about TFT or to contact Dr. Sakai, visit her website at www.tftcenter.com.