What’s this “Emotional Freedom Technique” all about? Maybe you’ve heard of EFT by now. Even though it’s founder, Gary Craig, came up with EFT back in the early 1990’s, it has quickly gained considerably more traction in the past few years. Sometimes people aren’t familiar with it when I say “Emotional Freedom Technique” but then as I begin to explain it, they say “oh, you mean ‘Tapping’?” Yes. Emotional Freedom Technique is sometimes more casually referred to as “tapping” because of how you actually perform it. Allow me to explain what EFT is, how and why it works, and how to go about using it!
What is Emotional Freedom Technique?
EFT is a mind-body technique that is based on an understanding of Traditional Chinese Medicine and modern psychology, blended into a practical technique that falls under a newer category of healing officially termed, Energy Psychology. EFT has been explained in the shortest of terms as “psychological acupressure” or briefly described as “like emotional acupuncture without the needles.” These common comparisons are drawn because the technique involves applying gentle rhythmic stimulation (tapping) with your fingertips on a specific sequence of points on the body that correspond with the meridian system.
While various early cultures recognized the presence of energy in the body, the ancient Chinese are credited with accurately mapping out the specific channels in the body in which the energy travels. Thousands of years later, the existence of these pathways called “meridians” have been validated by an array of scientific research. According to Chinese Medicine, each meridian is associated with an organ system, and each organ system relates to physiological functions as well as having a relationship to specific emotions. For example, excessive anger relates to the liver and would be indicative of a disturbance of energy flow within that organ system.
“What is a negative emotion? An emotion that is toxic to the body and interferes with its balance and harmonious functioning. Fear, anxiety, anger, bearing a grudge, sadness, hatred or intense dislike, jealousy, envy—all disrupt the energy flow through the body, affect the heart, the immune system, digestion, production of hormones, and so on.” —Eckhart Tolle
Gary Craig designed EFT which derived from Thought Field Therapy, a technique developed by clinical psychologist, Dr. Roger Callahan. After training with Callahan, Craig put together an algorithm based on TFT to form EFT as a more simple recipe that can be used effectively without the detailed knowledge of the meridian systems nor the diagnostic methods necessary in TFT. In this way, an EFT practitioner could use a basic sequence of points regardless of the different types of health complaints presented by the client, whereas in TFT there are many variations depending on the diagnosis.
During an EFT session, the practitioner will guide the client where and when to tap on a specific sequence of points and to simultaneously bring their awareness to the problem (negative emotion, belief, traumatic memory, or even a physical symptom), speaking specific phrases aloud about the problem. The psychological ingredients of the EFT process is akin to aspects of the well-established exposure and cognitive therapies from the field of clinical psychology.
The premise of EFT is that all negative emotions involve a disruption of the client’s energy flow, and that the combination of the meridian tapping with the psychological process resolves that imbalance in the energy system and consequently the emotional discontent. The progress is measured by the individual’s subjective rating of distress, before and after each round of EFT, thus helping to determine when the issue or each aspect of the issue has been fully resolved.
How “Tapping” Became Even More Widespread
The casual reference to EFT as “Tapping” became more popular after Nick Ortner’s bestseller named “The Tapping Solution” published by Hay House was released in fall of 2014. This release was synchronistic as just a couple months later the unimaginable school shooting tragedy occurred in Sandy Hook, CT which just so happened to be Nick Ortner’s neck of the woods. Ortner launched into action, creating the Tapping Solution Foundation which supported bringing in top notch trainers to teach therapists, social workers, and holistic practitioners like myself, how to apply EFT for trauma to help spread this healing technique in the communities in and surrounding Sandy Hook, CT.
Emotional Freedom Technique is also very popular in the UK, and there are practitioners all over the world. Over the years, the empirical data has mounted with a tremendous amount of documented case stories detailing the effectiveness of EFT. While there are thousands of pieces of empirical evidence for EFT’s success rate for a wide range of various physical and mental health challenges, the gold standard of research is by use of Randomized Controlled Trials. RCTs are typically what the American Psychological Association requires as part of their essential criteria for validating efficacy of a modality.
The APA has deemed Emotional Freedom Technique as “efficacious” or “probably efficacious” for a variety of health issues including anxiety, depression, PTSD and phobias. EFT has also met the “evidence-based practice” standards set forth by the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices of the US Government.
This ever-growing body of research and governing boards validating the effects of EFT probably also serve as a driving force behind the increase of EFT’s popularity among not only holistic health practitioners and coaches but licensed therapists in the mental health fields as well. If you’re interested in more details on EFT research, check out the Association For Comprehensive Energy Psychology (ACEP) research section which even indexes the studies based on condition, scientific rigor, case studies, and review articles.
How Does EFT Work?
We know EFT affects the amygdala (a part of the limbic system that sort of acts like the switch that sounds the stress alarm) in a way that seems to calm down the stress response even when the client actively focuses on a negative thought or memory. Instead of triggering a cascade of chemical activity typically induced by anxious thoughts or memories, tapping on the EFT points down regulates that response– sending the signal instead that there is no need to “sound the alarm” so to speak.
We also know from from controlled research, that EFT has been shown to significantly reduce cortisol which further points to this part of how EFT works. In a study by Dawson Church PhD, three groups were compared: individuals who received an hour EFT session, individuals who received an hour of talk therapy, and a control group who simply rested for an hour. Cortisol levels measured before and after revealed no significant reduction for the control group nor the talk therapy clients (no major change in stress physiologically) but a significant decrease in cortisol for those who received EFT (significant physiological stress reduction.)
According to clinical psychologist David Feinstein, PhD who has extensively researched Energy Psychology, EFT works because:
“Emotional Freedom Technique tapping on acupuncture points (along with related techniques) while an anxiety-evoking memory or thought is brought to mind sends signals to the brain that turn off the anxious response in the moment and rapidly alters the brain chemistry that maintained that response.”
Ample evidence from the body of research on Energy Psychology points to the fact that Emotional Freedom Technique affects our stress response and somehow helps create a lasting cognitive shift. Explaining the exact mechanism behind this phenomenon can get technical. Instead, I will try to summarize it in the simplest of terms:
By tapping on the EFT points, we are both calming the nervous system and helping facilitate the healthy flow of energy along the meridian system, which allow the body to be in an optimal state to heal itself. Doing this while focusing attention on the issue allows for a shift to take place in the mind and body. Unconscious, unprocessed aspects of physical and emotional issues can be uncovered and shifted safely and relatively quickly through this process.
Again, it is research that validates just how effectively and rapidly these therapeutic changes can take place. Take for example the study “Psychological trauma symptom improvement in veterans using emotional freedom techniques: a randomized controlled trial” in which combat veterans with post traumatic stress disorder who were given six 1-hour EFT coaching sessions showed such significant improvements that 90% of the group who received EFT sessions no longer met the clinical diagnosis for PTSD! And the EFT results proved lasting at follow up months later.
Who Can Benefit from Emotional Freedom Technique?
Honestly this is one of those techniques that can virtually benefit anyone. So if it resonates with you, try it! As I mentioned the how EFT soothes the nervous system, obviously anyone dealing with stress can benefit from tapping. I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t qualify in that regard!
As a mind-body technique, EFT can simultaneously help with physiological and psychological benefits. For example, we might be targeting a physical symptom of yours, and at the conclusion of our session you report not only significant physical symptom relief but also notice decreased anxiety. Or, conversely, we may focus on resolving an anger issue and by the sessions’s end you notice your chronic pain has lessened along with your emotional resentment.
Personally, I have utilized EFT over the years for all sorts of physical and emotional challenges and also to shift limiting cognitive beliefs. My first time doing EFT guided by a practitioner resolved a nail biting habit since childhood. Later, after going through extensive training on EFT myself, I was able to apply it to other issues both acute and chronic. EFT helped me discover and resolve the emotional underpinnings of physical issues such as knee pain and weakness that emerged as a teenager; process intense grief; heal from traumatic events; immediately diffuse anger or anxiety right when it arises; shift limiting beliefs around money and success; fend off shingles outbreaks (yup, it’s not just an elderly person’s issue! I had Shingles 3 times in my 20’s before I discovered this technique!) and improve my immune response by decreasing stress to avoiding getting a full blown cold or flu.
Working with clients, I’ve guided individuals to use EFT with a wide arrange of issues and goals such as: past trauma, anxiety, physical injuries and pain, digestive issues, anger, depression, restrictive breathing, resistance to change, inner child issues, indecision, relationship issues, addiction recovery support, quitting smoking, weight loss support, and more! As EFT founder Gary Craig says “try it on everything!”
EFT for Self-Care – Can you do it on your own?
For many people, their first encounter with EFT may be hearing about it through a friend or health practitioner. A simple internet search reveals an overwhelming endless amount of websites, articles, videos, books, scripts – all sorts of info about EFT now. It can be confusing and you don’t always know what you’re getting.
You can self-administer EFT. In fact, Gary Craig came up with the technique in hopes of making it more accessible and applicable for the masses. Just tapping the sequence of points alone promotes a calming effect to your nervous system and is a healthy daily routine if you go no further than that. Doing EFT on your own can be effective if you know what you’re doing. Regardless, self-administered EFT is certainly not the same as working with a practitioner who guides you and directs the process, which in turn makes it easier for you and likely to be most effective.
When I work with my clients, we do in-depth guided EFT sessions together with the goal of making accelerated progress on the clients’ specific individual goals but also, as a result, the clients get familiar enough with the process that I am able to then instruct them how to best utilize EFT between sessions and then on their own indefinitely for maintenance. This is a priceless self-care tool. While there are countless EFT videos and resources out there, I strongly suggest first receiving customized guidance from an accredited professional before delving in to the self-administered EFT on your own! It’s worth the investment in learning to gain knowledge in properly applying this lifelong tool.
Working with an EFT Practitioner
Choosing the type of EFT practitioner depends on your personal preference and your health challenges or personal goals. Are you looking for someone with a medical background, or a more holistically-oriented background? Do you want guidance around a specific set of issues that would benefit from a specialty area or additional training by the practitioner – for example, addiction recovery specialty or weight loss? A holistic coach with background and training in those areas may be the best fit. Or for example, if you suffer from complex trauma and a mood disorder – that is definitely when a licensed therapist specializing in those conditions is ideal.
When deciding on an EFT practitioner, consider if would you prefer a life coach or health coach, an energy practitioner, or a licensed therapist of some kind. Some people enjoy the professional yet slightly more casual relationship of working with a coach versus a traditional therapist; others like the clinical nature of working with a licensed therapist. I’ve met some clients who prefer not to get involved in the traditional realm due to privacy issues with insurance and not wanting to get labeled formally with a diagnosis in order to receive coverage from their HMO. To each their own– do what’s right for you.
Whether you choose a certified coach or holistic practitioner, or a licensed therapist– a psychologist, counselor or social worker– pick an EFT practitioner who has been formally trained (through advanced levels beyond just the basic level courses), and who is also accredited via a reputable organization such as ACEP or AAMET. The largest international accrediting board for EFT practitioners is AAMET, The Association for the Advancement of Meridian Energy Techniques.
I personally went through AAMET’s advanced trainings and found them top notch. AAMET has ongoing educational requirements to maintain practitioner accreditation, as well as annual hours required for practitioners to receive mentoring from accredited trainers. You can search for practitioners on their site, look for an asterisk next to the practitioner’s name to know they are accredited, and you can look to see if they’ve listed any specialty of particular interest to you. Some EFT practitioners, like me, offer distance appointments via phone or webcam so location is not an issue. Clients who feel more comfortable in their home also tend to prefer this convenient option.
Everyone is unique – do what is best for your individual situation and find the EFT practitioner that resonates best with you. The important thing is that you are taking action toward your own self-care by seeking guidance in utilizing this fantastic holistic technique. Feel free to leave a comment below with any general questions about Emotional Freedom Technique, or if I can be of assistance in helping answer any individual questions you have about EFT, or to request a consultation, please contact me at MaryVonOhlen.com.