Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), aka tapping, is a type of energy psychology intervention which unites Western clinical methods (exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring) with Eastern healing practices of acupressure to improve emotional and physical health.
Tapping is one of the most popular forms of energy psychology. The modality was developed in 1995 by Gary Craig, a Stanford engineer graduate. Gary worked extensively with war veterans, finding EFT highly effective in healing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the soldiers he worked with. The Veterans Stress Project substantiated these claims in an award-winning documentary entitled Operation: Emotional Freedom, directed by Eric Huurre, showing the life stories of veterans and their families who recovered from PTSD using EFT.
HOW DOES TAPPING WORK?
Tapping has been effective in treating several conditions such as depression, anxiety and phobias. There is an array of randomised controlled trials revealing the powerful effects of tapping, but the mechanism by which it works is still being explored.
A good working hypothesis has been proposed by David Feinstein, PhD, co-author of Energy Medicine for Women and a clinical psychologist who served on the faculties of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Antioch College, and the California School of Professional Psychology. Feinstein says tapping works by ‘bringing to mind an emotional trigger, problematic scene, or unresolved traumatic memory [that] activates the amygdala, arousing a threat response.’
Stimulating selected acupoints, according to the Harvard studies, simultaneously sends deactivating signals to the amygdala. In other words, when you expose yourself to a negative belief or traumatic memory (exposure therapy) and then practise self-acceptance (cognitive restructuring) while simultaneously tapping on acupressure points, a calming signal is sent to the brain. In the end, your brain creates new positive associations with the memory that no longer trigger the stress or anxiety response.
An interesting randomised controlled trial (RCT)1 with 83 subjects, conducted by Dawson Church, PhD, a health writer and researcher, demonstrated that an hour-long tapping session can significantly reduce cortisol levels (a stress hormone). Church and colleagues measured cortisol levels in a group that received traditional talk therapy, in another group that participated in a tapping session and in people who didn’t receive any intervention. They found an average of 24% reduction in cortisol levels using EFT and some participants experienced as much as 50% reduction after a single session of tapping. Conversely, the participants who received traditional talk therapy didn’t show improvements in cortisol levels and the same happened for the group that didn’t receive any therapy at all. In other words, these people were just as stressed at the end of the session while those who tried tapping walked out significantly less stressed.
One of the questions asked by critics of EFT is about its lasting results. They often argue that healing of deep traumas and complex psychological and emotional issues cannot be achieved in a few sessions. Research conducted by Church2 points to a different answer. In a recent study Church followed up with 59 PTSD veterans after three and six months of the initial intervention. The researcher found that the PTSD symptoms had not returned. Additionally, he surprisingly discovered that the patients had also experienced improvement in depression and anxiety symptoms. This research also opened up new possibilities to the energy psychology discussion, as tapping has been shown to simultaneously improve other conditions, even if those were not the primary focus of the treatment.
General safety and efficacy
Another advantage of EFT is the fact that it is considered a very safe option in the treatment of many physical and psychological conditions. For instance, Schulz3 demonstrated that survivors of childhood sexual abuse felt considerably better after EFT intervention with complete absence of abreaction (reliving the traumatic experience) during the treatment.
As substantiated in studies mentioned above, there is much evidence on the efficacy of tapping in treating severe conditions, such as PTSD, depression and childhood abuse trauma. EFT has also helped clients to manage food cravings and lose weight.4 Additionally, it can be used in pain management of fibromyalgia5 and other conditions.6 Furthermore, tapping can also be applied to enhance sports performance7 and to improve professional performance (e.g. public speaking anxiety and test anxiety).8,9
In theory, EFT can be used in any condition or situation, as it aims to clear any emotional blocks clients may have in relation to any issue that they have experienced in the past or are experiencing in their current life situation. In practice, the technique is being used to unblock limiting beliefs in relation to abundance, relationships and physical health. It has also helped heal physical ailments such as back and neck pains, chronic fatigue and many other conditions.
One of my clients, after consulting many specialist doctors over the years, came to me to try and resolve issues with an overactive bladder and urinary incontinence. The client was also experiencing high levels of anxiety due to the condition. The sessions were first focused around the anxiety, which was overwhelming at the beginning of the treatment. Once the anxiety was resolved the work shifted towards a number of issues the patient was experiencing during the treatment. Then it was finally possible to focus on specific episodes when the client had negative experiences, thus emotional blocks, with the incontinence issue. After the treatment the patient experienced complete healing from the urinary incontinence and is now enjoying an anxiety-free life.
A self-healing tool
Tapping is a client-centered approach that aims to alleviate the most pressing issues first, after which the focus can be shifted to more specific issues. Another advantage of this technique is that it can be taught to the clients, thus becoming a self-healing tool. This way clients can feel more empowered. The approach can be used in everyday life, for example, when feeling anxious before a job interview, clients can tap on themselves to ease the anxiety.
Releasing emotions trapped in the body
It is also interesting to note that the emotions that are blocked are often held in the body, thus causing discomfort and in many cases chronic pain. For instance, one of my patients came to me to resolve emotional issues around different subjects. At one of the sessions the focus was on the patient’s difficult relationship with a close relative. After that specific session the patient reported having no more back pains. A few months later the client revealed that there was no need to seek monthly physiotherapy sessions, as the chronic back pain had subsided completely. He had blocks around the relationship with that family member and these emotions were being held in his back, causing chronic back pain that required monthly physiotherapy treatment. Although the client wasn’t looking to alleviate his back pain, it was a pleasant surprise to find himself free from a long-term physical discomfort.
EFT AND EPIGENETICS
There is a growing field of research linking EFT’s efficacy in influencing gene expression. Epigenetics is the science that studies modification of gene expression and how environment influences these changes. There is an array of studies10,11,12,13 showing the effects EFT can have on genes linked to overall health. According to Dr Bruce Lipton, a quantum biologist and proponent of EFT, thoughts and beliefs are the biggest environment for our cells. Lipton suggests that emotions can turn genes on and off (can send a signal to the genes, thus determining if these genes will be read or not). Therefore, it’s imperative to clear emotional scars, traumas and limiting beliefs. EFT can correct these limitations, which will in turn regulate genetic expression.
As Lipton succinctly puts it: ‘The moment you change your perception is the moment you rewrite the chemistry of your body.’
- Church D., Yount, G. et al. The effect of emotional freedom technique (EFT) on stress biochemistry: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 2012; (200): 891-896.
- Church, D. Reductions in pain, depression and anxiety symptoms after PTSD remediation in veterans. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing. 2014; 10(3): 162-169.
- Schulz, P. Integrating energy psychology into treatment for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Energy Psychology: Theory, research and treatment. 2009; 1: 15-22.
- Stapleton, P., Sheldon, T. et al. A randomised clinical trial of meridian-based intervention for food cravings with six-month follow-up. Behaviour Change. 2011; 28(1): 1-16.
- Brattberg, G. Self-administered EFT (emotional freedom technique) in individuals with fibromyalgia: A randomized trial. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal. 2008; 7: 30-35.
- Bougea, A.M., Spandideas, N. et al. Effect of emotional freedom technique on perceived stress, quality of life and cortisol salivary levels in tension-type headache sufferers: A randomized controlled trial. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing. 2013; 9: 91-99.
- Llewellyn-Edwards, T., and Llewellyn-Edwards, M. The effect of emotional freedom technique (EFT) on soccer performance. Fidelity: Journal for National Council of Psychotherapy. 2012; 47: 14-21.
- Jones, S., Thornton, J., et al. Efficacy of EFT in reducing public speaking anxiety: A randomized controlled trial. Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and treatment. 2011; 3: 19-32.
- Boath, E., Stewart, A., et al. Tapping for success: A pilot study to explore if emotional freedom technique (EFT) can reduce anxiety and enhance academic performance in university students. Innovative Practice in Higher Education. 2013; 1(3): 1-12.
- Maharaj, M.E. Differential gene expression after emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) treatment: A novel pilot protocol for salivary mRNA assessment. Energy Psychology: Theory, Research and Treatment. 2016; 8(1): 17-32.
- Church, D., Yount, G., et al. Epigenetic effects of PTSD remediation in Veterans using Clinical Emotional Freedom Techniques: A randomized controlled pilot study. American Journal of Health Promotion. 2016 (in press).
- Church, D. Your DNA is not your destiny: Behavioural epigenetics and the role of emotions in health. Anti-Aging Medical Therapeutics. 2011; 13: 35-42.
- Feinstein, D., and Church, D. Modulating gene expression through psychotherapy: The contribution of non-invasive somatic interventions. Review of General Psychology. 2010; 14: 283-295.