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EFT: A fusion of ancient wisdom and modern cognitive therapy

EFT, or Emotional Freedom Techniques, is regarded as a psychological form of acupuncture, which was developed in the late 1990s by Gary Craig who took an interest in energy healing work and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).

According to EFT International, it combines “gentle touch together with mindful and vocal attention to thoughts and feelings.” Here we’ll provide a brief overview of EFT, its history, the process and, crucially, its effectiveness.

The roots of EFT: Qii and exposure

The first tenet of EFT, tapping, stems from the principles of traditional Chinese medicine which date back to between 1BC and 1AD. Similar to acupuncture, EFT builds on the ancient wisdom that energy, or Qii meaning ‘breath’, runs through specific channels in the body called meridians. This vital life force can be disturbed or blocked due to various factors, such as a stressful job or a traumatic experience, which leads to emotional, physical, and mental issues. The goal of tapping therefore is to restore the balance and create harmony within the individual.

The second aspect incorporates cognitive therapy and exposure techniques. Specifically, EFT involves concentrating on a problem by repeating a phrase which summarises the issue, such as a fear, or even a phobia, a bad memory, a worrying thought or a physical pain. The theory is that exposure to the problem whilst calming the nervous system leads to a reduction of negative symptoms and improvement in wellbeing. This combination gives us distance from the issue, so we learn that it is not bigger than us; a common feeling in times of distress.

The ‘how-to’ of EFT: tap and focus

A significant advantage of EFT is that it’s easily learnt and can be practised without a therapist. Here is a summary of EFT, but an in-depth introductory guide can be found on the EFT International website.

  1. Identify the issue: Be as specific and detailed as possible because a vague problem can reduce the effectiveness of EFT. A good example is: “I am stressed about a deadline at work”.
  2. Rate the intensity: State how intense the issue is on a scale of 0-10 where 10 is the worst.
  3. Do the setup (on either hand): Tap with 4 fingers on the outside of your hand between the little finger and wrist and repeat your own version of the following phrase 3 times: “Even though [I am stressed about a deadline at work], I deeply and completely accept myself”.
  4. Tap through the sequence: Create a reminder phrase that keeps your focus on the problem, such as “this stress about a deadline at work”. Gently tap 7-10 times on the following acupoints whilst saying your reminder phrase: top of the head, beginning of eyebrow, outer edge of the eye, underneath the eye, under the nose, between the lower lip and chin, just below the collar bone, under the arm.

Take a deep breath and evaluate the results by rerating the intensity. Note, if the intensity has increased, this means you are tuning into the problem! You can then perform the setup again, refocus the issue and repeat the process. This time, use the word “remaining” in your reminder phrase, for example, “this remaining stress about work”.

The effectiveness of EFT: placebo or proven?

Whether it’s beating a sugar addiction or curing agoraphobia, there is no shortage of success stories for EFT. Research also attests to EFT’s effectiveness in promoting wellbeing. For example, one study found that symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, pain, and cravings all decreased after a 4-day EFT training workshop, and heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels all improved.

Nonetheless, it should be noted that the authors of many EFT studies often perform EFT treatments and teach courses on it, which indicates that there may be a conflict of interest. Additionally, concerns have been expressed that the science behind EFT is not clear, leading people to suggest it is merely a placebo. As a branch of alternative medicine, this scepticism is perhaps not surprising in the Western world given there is less tolerance for therapies that do not subscribe to the traditional evidence-based model.

Interestingly, however, EFT expert Lindsay Kenny warns that people can also experience a negative reaction to EFT, but this is not due to the EFT per se. Two possibilities for this include:

  1. We are creatures of habit and crave familiarity. When EFT starts to work, we are freed from our issues, but this may create anxiety about living life from a new perspective, even if this is more positive.
  2. We feel there are useful functions for our issues, such as attention or sympathy, which make us reluctant to let go of them. We do not choose to suffer, but have a deep-rooted attachment to the secondary benefits of our issues.

EFT has had a profound impact on wellbeing from an anecdotal perspective, but as a relatively new therapy, the precise effects and mechanisms remain unclear. At Kamwell, we’re always curious about new therapies and are eager to see how the EFT landscape develops. Watch this space!


Published: 16 November 2021