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HomeHealthThe 'Sedona Method' Aims to Help You Release Painful Emotions—Here's How It...

The ‘Sedona Method’ Aims to Help You Release Painful Emotions—Here’s How It Works

Lauren Mazzo

You’ve likely heard that bottling up your emotions or sweeping them under the rug isn’t a healthy way to cope. But you’ve probably also been taught that “big girls don’t cry,” or to “tough it out,” or “get over it.” So what are you supposed to do with your emotions, exactly? Enter the Sedona Method, a New Age, self-help process for releasing negative emotions so you can shake them off and step lighter into your life.

The Sedona Method sounds like a big promise—you can just let go of anger?!—and it is. Like many other healing methods or mental health tools, it’s not for everyone. But skim some of the Amazon reviews for the method’s book, and you’ll see that for some people, it’s been transformational.

The Sedona Method is predicated on the idea that, although happiness and calm are our inherent states, emotional baggage frequently obscures them. Using a series of questions, the procedure enables people to recognize and release these feelings. —Marcus Smith, LCPC, LPC, LCADC

Gary Tucker, LMFT, licensed psychotherapist and chief clinical officer at D’Amore Mental Health, has used the Sedona Method himself and with clients. “On a personal level, it has been helpful for me as an effective approach to stress management and letting go of emotional baggage,” he says. “As a professional counselor, I usually introduce this technique to clients who are willing to try different methods of emotional control.” When used together with other therapeutic interventions, it can help people gain skills in releasing negative feelings and enhance their mental well-being, he says.

Experts In This Article

What does the Sedona Method entail, exactly, and who can benefit? Here’s what you should know.

What is the Sedona Method?

“The Sedona Method is a self-help technique designed to help individuals release negative emotions, stress, and limiting beliefs,” explains Marcus Smith, LCPC, LPC, LCADC, licensed clinical professional counselor and executive director at Alpas Wellness. (If the Sedona Method had a theme song, it’d be Frozen’s “Let It Go.”)

Essentially, most of us have been taught to suppress our emotions for one reason or another. The Sedona Method seeks to teach you how to feel your feelings and move on—without getting attached. “This approach is predicated on the idea that, although happiness and calm are our inherent states, emotional baggage frequently obscures them,” Smith says. “Using a series of questions, the procedure enables people to recognize and release these feelings.”

The method was developed in the 1970s by Lester Levenson, an American physicist and entrepreneur. It was later made famous by Hale Dwoskin, a mentee of Levenson. In 2003, Dwoskin authored The Sedona Method, a book about the practice.

In essence, the method offers a simple process for acknowledging and releasing your emotions. It also gives you tools to aid that process and experience further personal growth, including a breakdown of what it calls the nine emotional states (to help you ID your feelings), an option to dive deeper into your emotions, and more guidance on how to use these tools for goal-setting, breaking attachments and habits, and more.

The principal way to try the method is by reading Dwoskin’s book. Beyond that, Sedona Training Associates (the company behind the technique, owned by Dwoskin) offers online courses, events, retreats, and instructor training to help people become Sedona Method-certified coaches. The book takes you through several different thinking processes and models that will help with letting go, including the steps, wants, and emotional states outlined below.

Tucker says the Sedona Method has the potential to be helpful for a lot of people, including those who suffer from chronic stress or anxiety, struggle with emotional regulation, desire personal growth and emotional development, have low self-esteem or depressive symptoms, and are open-minded towards mindfulness coupled with self-help strategies. However, there are no studies on The Sedona Method published in any scientific journals. It’s also important to note that “the Sedona Method cannot replace professional therapy when dealing with severe mental illnesses, since such cases require more comprehensive interventions designed specifically around each person’s needs,” Tucker says.

How does the Sedona Method work?

At the very heart of the Sedona Method is a selection of three techniques for dealing with any unwanted emotion you encounter: 1) choose to let go of the emotion, 2) welcome the emotion, or 3) dive deeper into the emotion. No matter which you choose, the ultimate goal is to liberate yourself from the emotion and whatever hold it has on you.

Here’s what working through those techniques looks like.

Option 1: Choose to let go of the feeling

The technique of letting go is arguably the hallmark of the Sedona Method.

Step one is to focus on something you’d like to feel better about, and identify the emotion you’re feeling. This is a (seemingly) simple but essential step. Studies1 have found that labeling intense emotions2 can help decrease their severity, and subsequent research3 has found that recognizing emotions is critical to reframe them and manage their impact. Tools like the feelings wheel can help you with this step, as well as the Sedona Method’s “nine emotional states” (more on the latter in a bit).

Step two is to ask yourself these three questions: Could I let this feeling go? Could I allow this feeling to be here? Could I welcome this feeling? As Dwoskin explains in the book, both “yes” and “no” are acceptable answers here.

Step three is to ask yourself: Would I let this feeling go? The goal of this question is to judge your willingness to do so. “Willingness is key here,” Tucker says. If the answer is “no,” ask yourself, “would I rather have this feeling, or would I rather be free?” No matter what your final answer is, move on to step four.

Step four is to ask yourself: When? The implied answer is “now.” The question is designed to help you realize that there’s no benefit to holding onto an unwanted emotion for any longer than you already have.

According to Dwoskin’s book, once you decide to release the emotion, you’ll likely start to feel the difference immediately. To truly let go, you’ll want to nix any attachment towards that particular emotion, Tucker says. You can do so by visualizing the emotion leaving your body, physically shaking off the negativity, or simply making up your mind to drop everything associated with the feeling, he says.

You can repeat the steps from here if necessary, says Michelle English, LCSW, co-founder and executive clinical manager at Healthy Life Recovery in San Diego. It might take several rounds of running through these questions to feel relief, she says. “If new emotions or layers of the original emotion come up, apply this process again,” she says. For example, you may start with letting go of grief only to find that anger is underneath.

Option 2: Welcome the emotion

Welcoming an emotion and letting it be is sometimes all you need to do to release it, Dwoskin writes. To do this, you need to stop resisting the feeling. Fully experience the emotion in question without trying to change anything about yourself or your external environment, Tucker says. Imagine it as one of the characters in Inside Out, and let it hang out with you for a minute. Research4 suggests that people who accept rather than judge their thoughts and emotions tend to have better psychological health, including fewer depressive symptoms and feelings of emotional distress5.

In practice, welcoming your emotion could be as straightforward as naming the feeling and just sitting with it, not trying to do anything about it. “Concentrate on your breaths. If there is any emotional feeling coming, observe it, recognize it, and then shift back your focus on the way you breathe to create a space between you and the emotion,” Tucker says.

Option 3: Dive deeper into the emotion

In some cases (especially when it’s a strong emotion), you may need to go deeper. Take a moment to sit down and close your eyes to give this process your full attention, Dwoskin writes. Relax into the feeling. Then ask yourself questions like:

  • What story am I telling myself about this emotion?
  • What is really at the core of this feeling?
  • Could I allow myself to dive into this feeling?

With this option, it can be helpful to explore the nine emotional states or see if any of the four basic wants are beneath the surface of your emotion (more on both of those, below).

According to Dwoskin, when you’ve reached the real heart of an emotion, you may feel like a bubble has burst, leaving you feeling calm and peaceful. If you get stuck, he recommends switching to one of the other techniques for releasing.

What are the 4 basic wants of the Sedona Method?

Underpinning the Sedona Method is the concept of four basic wants. “According to the Sedona Method, there exist four primary wants that underlie most human acts and reactions,” Tucker explains. The four wants (as outlined in Dwoskin’s book) are as follows: wanting approval or disapproval, wanting to control or be controlled, wanting security or insecurity, and wanting separation or oneness.

These wants are part of the process because they usually serve as foundations for our emotions, Tucker says. “By recognizing these deep-seated longings, people can identify why they feel bad about themselves or others, thus leading them to find ways of dealing with such feelings,” he continues. When you’re releasing an emotion with any of the techniques outlined above, you have the option to reflect on whether this feeling is actually a mask for one of these deeper wants. (For example, are you fearful of getting married because you want more independence?) Then, you have the option to explore, then let go of that want along with the emotion.

Below, read more about each of the wants and how they might show up.

1. Approval or disapproval

“Wanting approval is the need for others’ recognition, love, and acceptance,” Tucker says. If you want it, it’s likely because you feel like you don’t have it. Disapproval, on the other hand, is a bit trickier to conceptualize. (After all, most of us don’t go around trying to piss people off.) As an example, think of the way a teen might intentionally act out, knowing their parents or superiors will punish their behavior, and what might be behind that desire.

2. To control or be controlled

If you want control, you probably feel like you don’t have any. This may manifest in resistance to what’s happening to you or the person or thing that’s controlling you. On the flip side, if you want to be controlled, you may feel like you don’t trust yourself or need someone else to give you permission to act, speak, etc.

3. Security or insecurity

Wanting security is wanting safety, stability, and comfort, Tucker says. This desire generally means you don’t have it. You may feel like you’re in survival mode. On the other hand, wanting insecurity could mean life feels like too much, and you want to break out of your patterns.

4. Separation or oneness

This want indicates a dual desire for independence (separation) as well as connection (oneness), Tucker says. If you want separation, you may constantly be trying to differentiate yourself from others. When you want oneness, you wish to belong, likely feeling alone or isolated.

What are the 9 emotional states of the Sedona Method?

As part of the Sedona Method, Dwoskin outlines nine distinct emotional states, sometimes referred to as the Chart of Emotions. The Chart of Emotions is designed to help you ID your emotion whenever you’re having a hard time getting in touch with what you’re feeling. (In the book, each emotional state comes with a long list of similar feelings so you can comb through and find the one that matches up with what you’re experiencing.)

Using these emotional states is not a mandatory part of the letting-go process, but rather another tool to help. Imagine a tree. If the four wants are the roots of the tree, the nine emotional states are the leaves on the branches; they’re just the manifestation of what’s going on at a deeper level. They come in handy  as you name and acknowledge what you’re feeling.

9 emotional states of the Sedona Method

  • Apathy: You may feel bored, hopeless, powerless, indifferent, indecisive, lazy, stuck, or overwhelmed, and have little energy to act.
  • Grief: This can include feelings of loss, distress, despondency, rejection, abandonment, and even nostalgia. You likely won’t feel capable of doing or changing anything without help.
  • Fear: In this emotional state, you may want to act, but be afraid of the consequences or risk. You may feel anxious, vulnerable, or cautious.
  • Lust: Lust isn’t always sexual; it’s about wanting possession of something you don’t have. You may feel unsatisfied, compulsive, envious, or like you’re stuck in anticipation. This emotional state has more energy, and you’re feeling compelled to act on your desire.
  • Anger: This emotional state comes with more energy and a clearer mind, but also a hesitation to act. You may feel aggressive, annoyed, resentful, jealous, or impatient.
  • Pride: In this emotional state, you’re likely focused on your personal insecurities or weaknesses, and resisting change. You could feel arrogant, critical, or defensive.
  • Courageousness: This emotional state involves action without hesitation. You may feel decisive, enthusiastic, confident, and motivated.
  • Acceptance: Acceptance is a feeling of contentment—that everything is just fine how it is, and that there’s no need to change anything.
  • Peace: This is acceptance but on another level. Everything isn’t fine — it’s perfect. You feel fulfilled, complete, and free.

Is the Sedona Method effective?

The Sedona Method hasn’t been studied clinically, so it’s hard to say for certain; however, anecdotal evidence and research done on similar emotional release techniques suggest that the answer is yes.

Smith, for example, uses emotional freedom techniques (EFT) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)—two therapeutic methods similar to The Sedona Method—in his work with clients. EFT works by identifying an issue and your feelings about it, recognizing how you’d like to feel instead, and then framing this as a positive statement you say aloud while tapping acupressure points on your face or body. MBSR, meanwhile, is a collection of mental exercises (such as body scanning, breathing exercises, and affirmations) used to help you focus on the present moment.

“These methods, aimed at helping individuals let go of negative emotions, have shown significant benefits for mental health,” he says. “For instance, EFT has been found to significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety6, depression7, and PTSD8 in numerous clinical trials. Mindfulness practices, as supported by extensive research, have been shown to improve emotional regulation and reduce stress9.” It’s very possible that the Sedona Method could help with all of that, too, although more research on the Sedona Method is needed to confirm this theory.

Benefits of the Sedona Method

One of the main draws of the Sedona Method is how simple and practical it is. “Because it’s so straightforward and emphasizes self-awareness, the Sedona Method works,” Smith says, based on his experience and testimonies of other clients. At the very least, it could help you increase your emotional intelligence, emotional stability, and ability to self-reflect. “It’s generally recognized that comparable emotional release methods lower stress, strengthen emotional control, and promote general well-being,” he says. “And depression and anxiety were effectively reduced by emotion-focused treatments, which are comparable to the Sedona Method.” Some people find that it helps them achieve lasting happiness by addressing deep-rooted emotional problems, Tucker adds.

The Sedona Method can also be an effective way to break out of emotional turmoil and repetitive patterns of thinking, behaving, and dissatisfying results in our lives, says Karyn Klapecki, MD, psychotherapist and global licensed Sedona Method instructor. “It is very helpful with anxiety states, depression, stabilizing the ups and downs of emotions, phobias, addiction, and pain,” she says.

Potential drawbacks of the Sedona Method

Its effectiveness hasn’t been clinically proven, like other psychological treatments including cognitive behavioral therapy10, Tucker notes. “There’s limited scientific research directly supporting its efficacy; therefore, it should be regarded more as an adjunct than the main treatment modality,” he says.

Critics also argue that it can oversimplify complex feelings or offer only temporary relief rather than deep healing, Tucker says. For these reasons, Tucker, Smith, and English are all careful to note that for people with serious emotional or psychological problems, the Sedona Method is not a replacement for professional mental health care. This includes if you have unresolved trauma, for example, or feel like your mental state is interfering with your daily life. “If you’re experiencing serious emotional problems or mental illness, it is best to use the Sedona Method in addition to, not as a substitute for, professional therapy,” English adds.

And you don’t need to be a clinical psychologist to write an empowering self-help book, but it’s worth noting that neither Levenson nor Dwoskin have any formal education in psychology or medicine. Many instructors and coaches in The Sedona Method directory also lack formal education in these fields; their credentials tend more toward alternative healing practices. This doesn’t mean it can’t help, but it’s worth considering before you drink the Kool-Aid.

How long does the Sedona Method take?

The Sedona Method isn’t a one-and-done process. Rather, it’s a tool you add to your toolbox and—if it works for you—is something you can continue to use any time sticky feelings arise. While it might take some time to master, you can start reaping the benefits of the practice from the very first day. (Think of meditating, for example. Your very first session might make you feel calmer or more grounded, and the benefits only have the potential to increase from there.) After a while, it may even become second nature.

“Like most self-help techniques, it works best with frequent repetition over time,” English says.

So if you want to see real results from the method, practice regularly. “Try to do it every day, even if only for five minutes at first, then build up from there until eventually doing longer sessions regularly each week, etc,” English says. And above all, be patient. “Be gentle with yourself,” she adds. “Releasing deep-seated emotions takes time.”

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.

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  2. Levy-Gigi, Einat, and Simone Shamay-Tsoory. “Affect labeling: The role of timing and intensity.” PloS one vol. 17,12 e0279303. 29 Dec. 2022, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0279303

  3. Moyal, Natali et al. “The role of emotion recognition in reappraisal affordances.” Psychological research, 10.1007/s00426-024-01966-5. 16 Apr. 2024, doi:10.1007/s00426-024-01966-5

  4. Ford, Brett Q et al. “The psychological health benefits of accepting negative emotions and thoughts: Laboratory, diary, and longitudinal evidence.” Journal of personality and social psychology vol. 115,6 (2018): 1075-1092. doi:10.1037/pspp0000157

  5. Shallcross, Amanda J et al. “Let it be: Accepting negative emotional experiences predicts decreased negative affect and depressive symptoms.” Behaviour research and therapy vol. 48,9 (2010): 921-9. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2010.05.025

  6. Clond, Morgan. “Emotional Freedom Techniques for Anxiety: A Systematic Review With Meta-analysis.” The Journal of nervous and mental disease vol. 204,5 (2016): 388-95. doi:10.1097/NMD.0000000000000483

  7. Nelms, Jerrod A, and Liana Castel. “A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized and Nonrandomized Trials of Clinical Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) for the Treatment of Depression.” Explore (New York, N.Y.) vol. 12,6 (2016): 416-426. doi:10.1016/j.explore.2016.08.001

  8. Sebastian, Brenda, and Jerrod Nelms. “The Effectiveness of Emotional Freedom Techniques in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Meta-Analysis.” Explore (New York, N.Y.) vol. 13,1 (2017): 16-25. doi:10.1016/j.explore.2016.10.001

  9. Khoury, Bassam et al. “Mindfulness-based stress reduction for healthy individuals: A meta-analysis.” Journal of psychosomatic research vol. 78,6 (2015): 519-28. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2015.03.009

  10. Matsumoto, Kazuki et al. “Effectiveness of Videoconference-Delivered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Adults With Psychiatric Disorders: Systematic and Meta-Analytic Review.” Journal of medical Internet research vol. 23,12 e31293. 13 Dec. 2021, doi:10.2196/31293

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