What is EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques)?
Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), also referred to as tapping, is a technique used in holistic healing. EFT incorporates the psychological benefits of talk therapy with the physiological benefits of acupuncture to reset your energy and restore your emotional and physical imbalances.EFT can relieve a wide range of emotional and physical maladies and improve your mind-body performance. EFT can also play a role in resolving past traumas, breaking harmful habits, overcoming fears and phobias, and challenging limiting beliefs.
EFT, has its roots in traditional Chinese medicine practice of acupuncture. Like acupuncture, EFT stimulates the meridian system that is located throughout the body. However, EFT employs the use of finger-tip tapping, rather than the needles used in acupuncture. By tapping on meridian endpoints while focusing on a troublesome issue, you can help to process and release energetic blocks, physical and emotional pain, or other stressors.
Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that optimal physical, mental, and emotional health is achieved when vital life force energy, also referred to as “qi” (pronounced chee), flows freely through the body. EFT harnesses this same approach to healing and adapts it into a simple self-administered energy technique. The founder of EFT, Gary Craig, states, “The cause of all negative emotions is a disruption in the body's energy system.” EFT can assist in clearing up those disruptions.
Part of what makes EFT such a useful technique is that you can do it by yourself. While certified EFT professionals can guide you through the process (which can be an especially good idea when working with trauma or other deep-rooted pain), most people practice EFT at home, at work, or really anywhere. Once you know the basic method and the tapping points, you can use it however and whenever you want. Essentially, you state the problem or issue you want to work on, followed by the phrase, “I deeply and completely love and accept myself.”
For example—“Even though I’m scared that I don’t have enough money, I deeply and completely love and accept myself.”
How does EFT work?
EFT tapping is based on the combined principles of ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology. The practice works on targeted meridian endpoints. The meridian system is an energy system that has been mapped throughout the body. Normally, energy circulates through your body along this network of channels. However over time, injury, stress, physical or emotional trauma, or other painful experiences can block the free-flow of energy in the meridian system.
EFT helps to unblock the meridian system by tapping on certain meridian endpoints while speaking aloud about troublesome issues, bringing them to the surface where they can be identified, acknowledged, and released.
Certified EFT practitioner Brad Thompson explains, “Unlike talk therapy, EFT allows you to access the subconscious mind, where 95% of our thoughts, memories, past traumas and limiting beliefs are stored. Much of what’s going on in our lives—our emotional status and our behaviors— are a result of what’s happening beneath the surface of our conscious minds. EFT allows us to identify and shift past traumas so they are no longer triggered.”
Pamela Thompson, also a certified EFT practitioner, adds, “This is why having this access through EFT is so very empowering, allowing us to have more control over our health. Rather than constantly living in a state of fight-or-flight releasing chemicals that cause an imbalance in our bodies, we do the tapping to release those stored negative emotions and change those limiting beliefs. Now our body releases chemicals and hormones that initiate the growth and relaxation response, which allows our body to do what it knows how to do—to heal.”
History and Philosophy
The modern-day practice of EFT has evolved from a series of discoveries. In the early 1960s, an American chiropractor, George Goodheart, Jr, began incorporating ancient acupuncture healing techniques into his medical practice. Specifically, Goodheart began tapping his fingers on his patients’ meridian points, trying to find the root cause of pain.
A student of Goodheart’s, psychologist Dr. Roger Callahan, made a breakthrough in the early 1980s with the development of specific tapping algorithms that allowed people to self-administer tapping without guidance from a trained professional. Dr. Callahan’s practice became known as Thought-Field-Therapy (TFT).
In the early 1990’s, a student of Dr. Callahan’s, Gary Craig, discovered a way to simplify the process even further. He determined that the quickest route to release any disruption in the energy system would be to follow a basic recipe consisting of 9 meridian endpoints while focusing on the physical or emotional feelings in your body. Gary’s process then became known as Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT).
In 2013, 22 years after Gary Craig developed EFT, the technique achieved both an academic foothold and professional accreditation. Two landmark articles were published—one, a review article by David Feinstein of 18 randomized controlled trials in the Review of General Psychology; and a second, an RCT entitled “Psychological Trauma Symptom Improvement in Veterans using EFT” by Dawson Church in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, a major psychiatric journal (see “Learn More” below for links to both). In addition, the American Psychological Association (APA) granted continuing education credits for psychologists to study tapping. EFT had arrived.
“So far, modern science’s investigations into just why EFT works have been astounding. The results reveal why EFT Tapping is the perfect bridge between cutting-edge Western medicine and ancient healing practices from the East.”
— Dr. David Feinstein, Energy Psychologist.
While EFT was inspired by Chinese acupuncture techniques that are thousands of years old, from a contemporary scientific perspective, EFT’s impact on the body’s stress response is what makes it so effective. Chronic unmanaged stress wreaks havoc on the body and plays a pivotal role in all health conditions and ailments. Indeed, part of why chronic disease is so prevalent today is that most people are overstressed, and don’t know how to do anything about it. EFT provides relief by simultaneously intervening on both your physical and emotional stress levels.
Years of scientific studies show that EFT is able to directly access the almond-shaped part of your brain called the amygdala. When our ancestors confronted a life-threatening situation — say the sudden appearance of a saber-toothed tiger — the amygdala ignited the fight, flight or freeze response. The modern brain reacts the same way, and far more frequently, to stressors including everyday worries and concerns along with more powerful phobias, fears and traumatic experiences.
This initiates a cascade of responses. The amygdala sends a distress signal to the part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which then activates the sympathetic nervous system by sending signals through the autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands in turn flood the body with the stress hormones such as epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol.
While meant to be acute, or short-acting, the stress response is often left switched “on” for long periods in our 24/7 modern world. Chronic overproduction of stress hormone levels in the body can lead to serious complications including high blood pressure, immune system suppression, gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular disease, hormonal imbalances, fertility problems, obesity, insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, thyroid disorders, chronic pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, headaches, and brain changes that contribute to anxiety, depression, dementia and addiction.
EFT has the ability to intervene and put the breaks on the stress response of the body. By tapping on the acupressure points while thinking about and verbalizing how we feel, an electrochemical message is sent to the brain to deactivate the heightened amygdala, shut down the sympathetic nervous system’s response and switch on the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system. Studies have shown that EFT can also stimulate the rapid absorption of cortisol while releasing serotonin — a chemical that regulates mood and provides feelings of well-being.
EFT is a self-administered technique that can effectively address the underlying causes of stress by calming the amygdala or fear center of the brain; reducing stress hormone levels in the bloodstream; and activating the growth and relaxation response.
To perform EFT, you tap gently on a specific series of meridian points while focusing on the thought, physical pain, or emotion that is causing stress, sending a message to the brain that it’s safe to relax, and helping the body clear blocks to healing.
Somewhat counter-intuitively, and very differently from repeating affirmations, you generally want to focus on the negative. Bringing up the negative stressors allows your body to release them through tapping. Remember all those thoughts, memories and past traumas abiding in our subconscious we referred to earlier? This is how you can potentially identify and release them.
A simple script is spoken aloud to focus truthfully and specifically on a stressor while tapping, initially naming the specific problem and following up with acceptance and love for yourself.
The process involves the following steps:
- Identify what’s disturbing you. It could be a memory, physical pain, or difficult emotion. Choose one thing, not a cluster of things, and be specific. For instance: Instead of “I am feeling so unhappy…” clarify the issue by saying, “I’m not happy because my boss yelled at me…”
- Identify the emotion, and where you feel it in your body (i.e. sadness in my heart).
- On a scale of 1-10, how strongly are you feeling that emotion (ie unhappy/sad are you?)
- Create your set-up statement, including acceptance of yourself. For example, “Even though I am unhappy because my boss yelled at me, I deeply and completely love and accept myself.”
- Gently tap through the sequence of meridian endpoints while saying your set-up statement aloud while tapping on each point. Don’t rush!
- On a scale of 1-10, how do you feel after completing the tapping? Did anything else come to mind? For example. “He yelled at me in front of my peers and I was completely embarrassed.”
- Repeat the process using anything new that comes to mind until the scale is down very low—meaning you are feeling better.
For more details about the tapping sequence and scripts, download an EFT manual or connect with qualified DaoCloud EFT professionals for personal guidance. There are hundreds of EFT videos on YouTube, and Nick Ortner’s 10-day Tapping World Summit takes place annually in late winter.
What are the benefits of EFT?
EFT can be used to work with virtually any health condition. Both the Chinese medicine energy flow perspective and contemporary scientific research on EFT and stress response emphasize that EFT works on a deep level to treat major causes of dis-ease and dis-stress. Stress, emotional pain, trauma and fear all play a role in most chronic health problems, as well as our reaction to more acute situations. EFT can help get at the root of these maladies.
EFT can be a useful complementary practice for dealing with chronic or acute health problems. While tapping can’t heal a broken leg, for example, it can help us deal with our reaction to the broken leg. If confronted with feelings of anger and powerlessness over our sudden loss of mobility, we can tap on those feelings and help to release them.
Likewise, we might be suffering from a chronic health condition such as leaky gut syndrome, which may be the result of a number of factors, including diet, infection and exposure to environmental toxins. However, stress is also a contributor to leaky gut. EFT can work directly with our stress levels, while also helping us get past other roadblocks to healing, such as a resistance to having to change our diet. Trapped emotional pain can also be a major cause of chronic physical ailments. EFT can help unblock that pain and move it along.
EFT can be a useful technique for working with fears, phobias, and other mental-health roadblocks. It can also be helpful in enhancing creativity because the body’s stress response actually shuts down the creative centers in the brain. In other words, if you’re really stressed out, it is difficult to think clearly and creatively! By using EFT to lower your overall stress levels by tapping on whatever is causing you stress, you can actually help your brain to function more effectively overall.
EFT is particularly well-known for being an effective method of shifting emotional suffering. Tapping is a way of getting in touch with the emotional pain that might be buried deep inside you, and setting that pain free to go on its way. Because EFT allows us to get in touch with and acknowledge what we are feeling without judgment, it is also a powerful way of developing compassion and acceptance for oneself and one’s circumstances.
Specific emotion-related issues that EFT can be especially helpful for include:
• Chronic pain
• Fears and phobias
• Panic attacks
• Cravings and addictions
• Weight Loss
• Anger issues
• Sleep issues
• Lack of motivation
And the list continues! We’re always coming in contact with stress in our lives; it’s how we respond that can either exacerbate imbalances or help nourish balance.
Brad Thompson says, “Research is now showing that 99% of all illness and disease are caused by emotional stress. EFT is so important because it can access and provide relief for the very cause — our negative thoughts and limiting beliefs, buried in our subconscious.”
EFT safety and side effects
EFT has no side effects and is safe to do anywhere. However, because tapping can work with emotional trauma and pain, a tapping session can sometimes bring deep-seated suffering to the surface. EFT experts often advise that if you plan on tapping on something truly traumatic, it would be most beneficial for you to do so with an EFT professional, who can help guide you through the experience and keep you from becoming too overwhelmed by the feelings that might come up.
The following experts reviewed and contributed to this article:
Pamela and Brad Thompson, Certified EFT Practitioners
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Tapping Away Trauma: ‘Emotional Freedom’ Techniques
Serina Deen, MD, MPH
Huffington Post, May 23, 2012.
Download a free EFT manual
AAMET International (The Association for the Advancement of Meridian Energy Techniques)
Top Five Mistakes People Make with EFT Tapping and How to Correct Them
The Tapping Solution
The Annual Tapping World Summit
The Tapping Solution
Acupoint Stimulation in Treating Psychological Disorders: Evidence of Efficacy.
David Feinstein, et al.
Review of General Psychology, 2012
Psychological trauma symptom improvement in veterans using emotional freedom techniques: a randomized controlled trial.
Dawson Church, et al.
Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 2013