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Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT)


Energy Psychology and Emotional Freedom Techniques

By Jan Warner LISWS, PhD

            Many investigations have arisen on the success of Energy Psychology (EP). For example, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP, nd) displays on its webpage approximately three dozen Random Control Trials (RCT) which show strong findings from studies conducted on large sample populations, along with meta-analysis (compilations of data from multiple studies) spanning several decades. Early in 1991, a clinician Jerry Craig studied a meridian-based healing system with Dr. Roger Callahan that came to be considered a form of Energy Psychology. Meridian healing systems are based on pathways of energy and blood flow being disrupted which leaves the body vulnerable to disease. This became known as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). In summary, EFT is a simple system of tapping on a series of meridian points on the face and upper body. The technique begins with having the participant imagine an emotionally distressing view or memory and then given a “subjective units of distress” (SUD) rating. These units are measured 0-10, 0 being the lowest intensity of distress while 10 being the highest. After that, the therapist and the participant tap on themselves while mentally envisioning the scene and commenting and/or evoking emotionally difficult feelings or ideas that are prolonging the distress. Sometimes this may include additional methods of releasing anxiety, stress, fear, and other negative emotions, called the “Nine-Gamut procedure.” This method involves tapping on certain meridian points on the back of the hand.

            Further results from single-study research on EFT were addressed by Church “Studies of EFT for physical symptoms include a range of experimental designs” (2013a, p. 647).  Indeed, EFT has focused on a wide variety of mental health problems such as phobias (Lambrou, Pratt, Chevalier, 2003; Salas, Brooks, Rowe, 2011; Wells, Polglase, Andrews, Carrington, Baker, 2003); anxiety (Andrade & Feinstein, 2003; Benor et al., 2009; Boath, Stewart, & Carryer, 2013), trauma and stress (Church, 2010b; Church et al., 2012; Swingle, Pulos & Swingle, 2005; Feinstein, 2010;  Feinstein, 2008a); depression (Church, & Brooks, 2010); Church, 2013e;  Chatwin, Stapleton, Porter, Devine, et al., 2016;  Stapleton, Devine, Chatwin, Porter, et al, 2014;), depression in college students (Church, De Asis, & Brooks, 2012), food cravings (Stapleton, 2010; Stapleton, Sheldon, Porter, & Whitty, 2011; Stapleton, Sheldon, & Porter, 2012; Church et al., 2009) as  well as chronic health conditions (Kalla, Simmons, Robinson, & Stapleton, 2017).

            Furthermore, the most recent meta-analysis published works show much promise for EFT for a variety of psychological and physiological issues. For example, the Sebastien and Nelms (2017) meta-analysis reviewed 7 studies and all demonstrated that, with a variety of populations, EFT is effective in relieving symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with 10 or fewer sessions, while considered to be safe (Sebastian & Nelms, 2017). One of the comparison studies they reviewed compared EFT to CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) where results were considered vague (Sebastian & Nelms, 2017). Consequently, Sebastian and Nelms (2017) suggested that more comparison studies between EFT and CBT should be led.

            Clond (2016) also completed a systematic review (the method which collects data and presents results from research studies) with meta-analysis where she reviewed 14 EFT studies for anxiety and depression. She found that EFT treatment showed a significant reduction in patient anxiety. However, she suggested that more data are needed including comparing EFT to standard treatments such as CBT. Nelms and Castel (2016) conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 20 studies of EFT and depression which were published between 2005 and 2015 (8 were outcome studies and 12 were random control trials). EFT was found to be effective in reducing depressive symptoms in a variety of procedures and populations.

            Metcalf, Varker, Forbes, Phelps, Dell, DiBarrista, O’Donnell (2016) conducted a meta-analysis including many healing techniques which contained four interventions corresponding to what the authors categorized as “mind-body philosophy” which included acupuncture and EFT.  Mind-body philosophy is a term used to describe the relationship between physical wellness and mental wellbeing. If one if effected, so is the other. Likewise, they reported promising evidence that these interventions reduce the symptoms of PTSD but concluded there remains an inadequate level of evidence.

            Gilomen and Lee (2015) attempted to find a connected between using acupoint stimulation during the treatment of psychological distress. This method of treatment typically involves acupuncture or cupping therapy. They found 18 Random Control Trials (RCT) of EFT published in peer reviewed journals. However, they were not able to determine if the positive results were caused by acupoint stimulation or other therapeutic procedures within EFT.

            One last review of studies will be mentioned as it is one of the reasons this study is designed in this manner. Feinstein (2012) found 17 randomized controlled trials in his sample to be evaluated for quality of statistical results using the evidence-based criteria presented in Division 12 of the APA (American Psychological Association).  Feinstein (2012) reported that Division 12 criteria could be found in numerous EP studies, especially those involving PTSD.


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Boath, E., Stewart, A., & Carryer, A. (2013) Tapping for success: A pilot study to explore if emotional freedom techniques (EFT) can reduce anxiety and enhance academic performance in university students. Innovative Practice in Higher Education, 1(3), 1-13.

Chatwin, H., Stapleton, P., Porter, B., Devine, S., & Sheldon, T. (2016). The effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy and emotional freedom techniques in reducing depression and anxiety among adults: A pilot study. Integrative Medicine, 15(2), 27-34.

Church, D. (2010b). The treatment of combat trauma in veterans using EFT (emotional freedom techniques): A pilot protocol. Traumatology, 16(1), 55-65. doi:10.1177/1534765609347549

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Clond, M. (2016). Emotional freedom techniques for anxiety: A systematic review with meta-analysis. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 204(5), 388-395.

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 Feinstein, D. (2012). Acupoint stimulation in treating psychological disorders: Evidence of   efficacy. Review of General Psychology, 16, 364-380. doi:0.1037/a0028602

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Kalla, M., Simmons, M., Robinson, A., & Stapleton, P. (2017). Emotional freedom techniques (EFT) as a practice for supporting chronic disease healthcare: A practitioners’ perspective. Disability and Rehabilitation, 1-9. Advance online publication. doi:10.1080/09638288.2017.1306125

  Lambrou, P. T., Pratt, G. J., & Chevalier, G. (2003). Physiological and   psychological effects of a mind/body therapy on claustrophobia. Subtle   Energies & Energy Medicine, 14, 239-251.

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Nelms, J., & Castel, D. (2016). A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized and non-randomized trials of emotional freedom techniques (EFT) for the treatment of depression. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 12(6), 416-26. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.e-xplore.2016.08.001.

Salas, M., Brooks, A., & Rowe, J. (2011). The immediate effect of a brief energy psychology intervention (emotional freedom techniques) on specific phobias: A pilot study. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 7, 255-260.

Sebastian, B., & Nelms, J. (2017). The effectiveness of emotional freedom techniques in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder: A meta-analysis. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 13(1), 16-25.  doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2016.10.001.

Stapleton, P., Devine, S., Chatwin, H., Porter, B., & Sheldon, T. (2014). A feasibility study: Emotional freedom techniques for depression in Australian adults. Current Research in Psychology, 5(1), 19-33. doi:10.3844/crpsp.2014.19.33.

Stapleton, P., Sheldon, T., & Porter, B. (2012). Clinical benefits of emotional freedom techniques on food cravings at 12-months follow-up: A randomized controlled trial.  Energy Psychology Journal, 4(1), 13-24. doi: 10.9769.EPJ.2012.4.1.PS.

Stapleton, P., Sheldon, T., Porter, B., & Whitty, J. (2011). A randomised clinical trial of a meridian-based intervention for food cravings with six-month follow-up. Behaviour Change, 28(1), 1-16.

Swingle, P., Pulos, L., & Swingle, M. (2004). Neurophysiological indicators of EFT treatment of post-traumatic stress. Journal of Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine, 15, 75-86.

Wells, S., Polglase, K., Andrews, H. B., Carrington, P., & Baker, A. H. (2003). Evaluation of a meridian-based intervention, emotional freedom techniques (EFT), for reducing specific phobias of small animals. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 59(9), 943-966. doi:10.1002/jclp.10189.



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