In this series, I dig a little deeper into the meaning of psychology-related terms. This week’s term is Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT).
Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) incorporates a number of different alternative healing approaches, including neuro-linguistic programming, acupuncture meridians, and energy medicine. It’s not generally accepted within mainstream psychology, and it’s been described as a pseudoscience, which is something I always love to rant about.
EFT was founded by Gary Craig. He’s not a psychologist, and he reports that when he tried taking psychology courses they puzzled him. His training is as an engineer.
Gary Craig’s EFT manual
Craig’s EFT manual claims that it can treat a wide range of conditions, including mental illnesses, allergies, sexual performance issues, and cancer. EFT involves tapping at certain points to connect with energy meridians, the pathways along which qi (life energy) is said to travel in acupuncture and other Chinese medicine approaches. A key principle in EFT is the discovery statement: “The cause of all negative emotions is a disruption in the body’s energy system.”
The manual is quite nonsense-rich. Consider the following:
“EFT gives you striking evidence that energy flows within your body because it provides the effects that let you know it is there. By simply tapping near the end points of your energy meridians you can experience some profound changes in your emotional and physical health. These changes would not occur if there was no energy system.”
Okay then. If I throw a ball in the air and predict that a purple people eater will knock it back to earth, and then the ball does fall back to earth, that does not in any way prove my purple people eater hypothesis.
The EFT process
The first preparatory step in EFT is to repeat an affirmation three times while rubbing one of the “sore spots” (one is located on either side of the upper chest). This is to address any electrical interference from a “polarity reversal within your energy system.” That may sound fancy, but it’s also not real.
Next is the tapping sequence, which involves tapping each meridian point seven times. Then you do the 9 Gamut procedure – tap the Gamut point on the back of one hand while doing certain eye movements, humming/singing a song, and counting from 1 to 5. Then you repeat the tapping sequence. The idea is to keep going with this sequence until you reach an emotional intensity of zero. Or until you go cross-eyed from the eye movements and your voice gets hoarse from the singing.
Let’s get quacky
A paper by Church and colleagues proposed clinical guidelines for the use of EFT in PTSD. It claims that EFT draws from CBT and exposure therapy. There’s a substantial amount of nonsense (from a scientific perspective), including the central ridiculous feature of surveying EFT practitioners to ask how effective EFT was for their patients. It would be kind of like evaluating the effectiveness of icepick lobotomies by asking Dr. Lobotomy himself how well it worked.
It seems pretty clear to me that EFT is pseudoscientific nonsense. But could tapping still be helpful? Sure, I don’t see why not. It seems logical to think that it could serve as a mindfulness focus and a grounding technique. If you pair an affirmation or positive statement with your tapping, you can probably develop a conditioned response where the act of tapping spontaneously brings up the positive thought. Tapping can also serve as a means of bilateral stimulation in EMDR therapy for PTSD.
So, if tapping is helping you, that’s great; it’s just probably not for the reasons that Gary Craig says it is.
If you’re so inclined, Gary Craig’s website has a Gold Standard (Official) EFT Tapping Tutorial.
- Church, D., et al. (2017). Emotional freedom techniques to treat posttraumatic stress disorder in veterans: Review of the evidence, survey of practitioners, and proposed clinical guidelines. The Permanente Journal, 21(2017), 16-100.
- The EFT Manual, 6th edition
- Wikipedia: Emotional Freedom Techniques
The Psychology Corner has an overview of terms covered in the What Is… series, along with a collection of scientifically validated psychological tests.
Ashley L. Peterson
BScPharm BSN MPN
Ashley is a former mental health nurse and pharmacist and the author of four books.