Dear EFT Community,
EFT trainers, Alina Frank, EFT TRN-1-3 and Craig Weiner, DC, EFT TRN-1-3 will be conducting upcoming EFT Level 1 and 2 trainings in July 2015, in Milton Keynes, UK, on July 3-6, 2015 and at the Hollyhock Retreat Center, Cortes Island, BC, Canada, on August 14-19, 2015.
As EFT enthusiasts, there is no doubt that you are passionate about tapping. You have probably have even talked to and tried to explain EFT to a family member, friend, colleague, or prospective client.
In the attempt to communicate what EFT is, it is common to be asked, “Sure, but how could it be that effective?” or “How does it really work?”
You may have learned at an EFT Universe training a “bridge” method of explaining EFT such as: “It’s like an emotional version of acupuncture” or “It’s a self-help stress reduction tool.”
Often, that is more than enough, but perhaps you were speaking to a skeptic that wanted to know if there was any “real science” that supported EFT and you found yourself at a loss. Perhaps a family member read something negative about EFT on Wikipedia and you felt you needed some material to give to them that was scientifically based and yet easy for a layperson to read.
We wrote this article for you, the tapping aficionado that wanted either to better understand the science and research that underlies EFT or to have something to print out and give to that friend, therapist, skeptic, etc.
How many of you (or your skeptical friends or colleagues) have asked,
“How in the world can tapping on my face do anything to help me change my life, heal my body, and even help me heal from painful events in my past?”
Even though tapping can look funny, how it works requires us to go “beneath the surface” and explore the research and theories.
A 2012 paper published in the Review of General Psychology examined 51 peer-reviewed reports or studies on EFT or tapping published in scientific journals (Feinstein, 2012). Eighteen were randomized controlled studies, known as the “gold standard” in research design. In those studies, one group receives tapping and the other receives a different intervention or none at all. Results are then compared. All 51 demonstrated a positive outcome, ranging from slightly to vastly improved, for conditions including anxiety, depression, physical pain, tension headaches, fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more.
EFT’s effectiveness with such a wide variety of conditions may be explained by how our brains and bodies respond to stressful and traumatic situations.
If EFT can reduce the way that an individual’s nervous system and physiology respond to highly emotional situations, then he or she has a wider range of healthy emotional, cognitive, and perhaps even physical responses to a wide array of challenging situations or conditions.
Tapping Can Affect Electromagnetic and Electrical Information Flow
Let’s examine the physical part of tapping, which is performed on easily accessed surface acupressure points on the face, upper body, and hands. Tapping can also be adapted to simply applying pressure on the points.
Activating these points can result in the increased flow of information to the brain through the piezo-electric effect. Piezo is a Greek word meaning “to squeeze” and the piezo-electric effect refers to certain material’s ability to convert mechanical energy into electrical energy.
Tapping may facilitate and increase the flow of electrical information through the nervous system to certain key areas of the brain, influencing the way the information is perceived.
Measuring Brain Waves
A series of studies and reports were done using the electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure brain-wave changes after tapping was performed (Diepold & Goldstein, 2009). Prior to tapping and upon recalling a traumatic memory, the subjects exhibited chaotic brain waves. After the tapping, their brains exhibited normal brain waves when thinking about the painful memory.
Another EEG study showed a calming effect by decreasing right frontal cortex hyperarousal after the tapping treatment following traumatic car accidents (Swingle, Pulos, & Swingle. 2004).
These studies indicate that tapping on these points changed brain function.
Acupoint Stimulation Affects the Emotional Brain’s Limbic System and Stress Hormones
David Feinstein, PhD, a clinical psychologist and pioneer in tapping research, references the Harvard University Medical School research that explored the physiological results of stimulating certain acupuncture points. Hui and colleagues (2005) documented that when certain acupoints are stimulated and activated, they have a calming effect on the amygdala, a critical part of the brain’s limbic system.
That is important because the amygdala is a key player in the “emotional brain” or midbrain. It acts like a sentry, alerting the rest of the brain and body when something around us is perceived as dangerous or is a potential threat to our safety and well-being.
When the brain perceives threat, whether it be a loud angry person carrying a baseball bat or a growling dog coming our way, it swiftly responds by sending the body into fight-or-flight mode. Stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol surge to assist us in mobilizing our physical resources to survive the impending threat by beating off the onslaught or getting us safely away from it.
Research published in 2012 by Church, Yount, and Brooks in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, demonstrated that EFT reduced cortisol levels by 24%, significantly more than the other therapeutic interventions offered in the study. This potentially explains how EFT can help reduce the stress load that often diminishes our physical and mental well-being.
When threats are real, this fight-or-flight stress response can save our lives. Stressful and traumatic events can generate a chronic and persistent state of arousal, making us vulnerable to even minor stresses, which may appear trivial to others but may feel intense and sometimes overwhelming to us.
If occurring threat is perceived—“perceived” being the key word—the body can respond to an event such as a boss’s criticism with the same intensity as it would respond to the sight of a dog baring its teeth. This occurs because our brain-body interface remembers another time when there was a real threat, but now it cannot tell the difference. Our responses can become exaggerated and easily triggered, and we are not always aware of what may have triggered our exaggerated emotional response.
Positive Results from Focusing on the Negative
In addition to the physical tapping, there is an important EFT concept commonly referred to as “focusing on the negative.” This can be seen in the first part of the EFT Setup Statement, for example, “Even though I feel this anger,” It is also used in the Reminder Phrase, as in “This anger, this anger.”&
The Reminder Phrase helps keep the person tuned in to the problem and introduces an element of mindfulness or witnessing.
A part of the brain, especially the medial prefrontal cortex, is involved with “interoception,” the ability to look inward and notice oneself. It has an important regulatory and dampening role on the stress response and helps explain the effectiveness in stress reduction resulting from mindfulness meditation practices.
You might say, “Why would I want to think about a negative feeling? After all, that’s what gets me into trouble all the time, worrying and thinking about all the bad things. I thought that I was supposed to focus on the positive, like affirmations.”
There is the old adage that warns “What we resist, persists.”
When we ignore, avoid, and detach from painful feelings and memories, healing rarely happens. Acceptance of the uncomfortable feelings that we are experiencing, such as pain, anxiousness, anger, frustration, guilt, and shame, opens us to the possibility for change.
EFT helps us connect the negative emotion we are feeling with the body. This is called a somatic component, which can be described as where we feel the emotion in our body. For some people, this is a simple instruction to follow. For others, it can feel impossible.
Some people, for a variety of reasons, have never felt truly safe in their bodies and therefore may have more difficulty with this element. However, ongoing clinical evidence is showing, especially in the field of trauma resolution, that adding a body connection of how we feel to an emotion, as it exists in our physical body, coined by psychologist Eugene Gendlin as a “felt sense,” increased healing from traumatic past events.
Why Be Specific and Not Global?
The EFT Setup Statement also asks that we recall a specific event that has caused us some kind of limitation or emotional reaction.
For example, “Even though I feel all this anger when I think of my dad making that mean comment about how I looked the night of my first date…”
Why is thinking about and naming a specific experience so critical to EFT’s effectiveness?
Identifying the specific time and place that something occurred or is taking place presently makes it much more manageable to address. Tapping on “all the times that…” or “the way he always makes me feel” has so many incidents connected to each statement that it can be overwhelming and actually increase a person’s stress response.
Recalling a specific incident involves the activation of the frontal lobes of the brain, the structures that enable us to picture or imagine things. The process of “bringing a time to mind” is being shown to make a thought or memory more accessible to change and healing.
For some memories, we can offer many details: “Like the time I drove down I-90 with my family in the station wagon through the Everglades and we ate baloney sandwiches and…” These are called “explicit” or narrative memories. “Implicit” memories, aka body memories, are the unconscious memories that are often associated with very early childhood memories and traumatic events.
They sometimes are repressed or “forgotten” by the conscious mind. These kinds of memories can be the source of our physical stress response to situations, making us feel anxious and stressed without understanding why we are feeling that way.
Beyond Pavlov and Counterconditioning
So if an early memory, such as being a kid and having your bathing suit fall off after diving in a pool, may well set up an unconscious pattern. Perhaps ever since the incident you never feel comfortable in a bathing suit, even decades later. Thank Pavlov for helping you understand this classic example of a conditioned response (especially if it happened more than once!).
The implicit body memory of embarrassment may well be embedded in both the neural networks of your brain and in your body; perhaps your face starts to flush, your palms get sweaty, or your heart begins to beat faster at just the thought of putting on a bathing suit.
Using EFT with such an incident may also be calling into play what is known in psychological circles as counterconditioning (Lane, 2009). Whereas the original “conditioned response” to entertaining the thought of going to the beach and putting on a swimsuit would be uncomfortable feelings of perhaps self-judgment or embarrassment, implementing the tapping process may just be creating a “newly conditioned” or reconditioned response.
Upon imagining the original incident, introducing self-witnessing and self-acceptance statements, while tapping and creating electromagnetic signals, the potential for rewiring in the brain may just well be setting up the result that is seen so often: the ability to contemplate and speak of what had forever been a stressful retelling, and it is now neutral or perhaps even amusing.
Counterconditioning offers another option, a second neural choice for the brain, though under certain conditions and stressful triggering situations, the original learning may again peek through. Therefore, counterconditioning is not necessarily the same as permanent change or erasure of the past memory.
Therapeutically Employing Memory Reconsolidation
For years, the scientific consensus was that a stored memory, especially one that was laid down during a strong emotional response, could never be altered. However, new memory research began to appear in the 1990s demonstrating that “a consolidated (stored) memory can return to a labile, sensitive state—in which it can be modified, strengthened, changed, or even erased” (Nader, 2003, p. 65).
The theory of “memory reconsolidation” points to what may well be happening for individuals that, after using EFT, find they no longer have the same emotional arousal or intensity upon recalling an event as they did before.
Its All about Feeling Safe: Neuroception and Polyvagal Theory Made Simple
Tapping can be done alone or with another person. There are many areas of your life that you can tap on by yourself. There are, however, times that you would be better served by tapping with an experienced professional. This is especially important in the case of physical or sexual abuse or other extreme emotional trauma.
Tapping with another person has several advantages. We are increasingly observing the positive effect that a person who creates a safe and supportive relationship can provide in “neuroregulation,” the process of bringing the nervous system into a relaxed and balanced state.
The work of Stephen Porges, PhD, and his scholarly work on the Polyvagal Theory describes how our brains utilize “neuroception,” a preconscious mechanism of sensing friend or foe, safety or danger, based upon another person’s facial expression, tone of voice, and body movements.
An effective tapping session, that is, one that includes the positive “social engagement” aspect, stimulates the most advanced part of our vagus nerve, which helps us to feel calm, safe, and balanced even when we are focusing on and talking about difficult or painful subjects. Thus the body can enter into a relaxed and balanced state when another human being provides a safe and supportive relationship.
Rewiring the Body and the “Somatic Implanting of Affirmations”
Finally, there is the second half of the tapping statement known as the “acceptance phrase.” That is the phrase “I deeply and completely accept myself.”
The importance of self-acceptance, of accepting oneself as one is, has significance perhaps beyond the ability to measure objectively. It has been offered that tapping while stating the acceptance phrase may be a way to “facilitate a somatic implanting of the affirmation” (Feinstein, 2015).
According to Chamberlain and Hagaa (2001) of American University, we should “work toward unconditional self-acceptance, meaning that “the individual full and unconditionally accept oneself whether or not he behaves or behaved intelligently, correctly or competently and whether or not other people approve, respect or love him.”
An important aspect of the self-acceptance statement, in the opinion of these authors, is that the person saying this phrase must find a statement of congruent acceptance; in other words, the statement should ring true.
If one can ultimately accept what one has done, said, and felt and feels, then this is a powerful window to healing.
That this statement is performed simultaneously while tapping electromagnetic signals of information into the brain and nervous system may end up proving to be a potent element of this technique. This offers the possibility of taking responsibility for oneself and one’s feelings and actions and can be a profound tool for healing.
The art of creating a powerful tapping statement may require an alteration from the standard phrase in exchange for “I hold the possibility that maybe someday I can accept myself.” The often repeated “I deeply love and accept myself” is one that we can all aspire to with lots of tapping and self-forgiveness, but it is rarely a place to start.
Rewiring Core Beliefs
The contrast of stating a negative situational feeling with a statement of self-acceptance creates a powerful juxtaposition. Interestingly, this juxtaposition, this oscillating back and forth repeatedly in an EFT tapping session, appears to be a prerequisite for what we noted earlier about permanently changing or eradicating old emotional learning that created dysfunctional life patterns and behaviors.
Weaving the specific events of a situation (from the past or present) with the emotion that is being felt and connecting it to a feeling in the body creates a rich neural network that offers the possibility of rapid and profound change. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change how thoughts, memories, sensation, and patterns of behavior are processed.
Neuroplastic rewiring of the brain and the subsequent messaging to the tissues of our bodies through the nervous system, hormones, and neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) may explain why EFT is quickly emerging as such a powerful tool for healing.
Chamberlain, J. M., & Hagaa, D. A. F. (2001). Unconditional self-acceptance and psychological health. Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 19(3), 163–176.
Church, D., Yount, G., & Brooks, A. J. (2012). The effect of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) on stress biochemistry: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 200, 891–896. doi:10.1097/NMD.0b013e31826b9fc1
Diepold, J. H., & Goldstein, D. (2008). Thought Field Therapy and qEEG changes in the treatment of trauma: A case study. Traumatology, 15(1), 85–93. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1534765608325304
Feinstein, D. (2008). Energy psychology: A Review of the Preliminary Evidence. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. 45(2), 199–213.
Feinstein, D. (2009, November). Controversies in energy psychology. Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 1(1), 45–56. doi:10.9769.EPJ.2009.1.1.DF
Feinstein, D. (2012). Acupoint stimulation in treating psychological disorders: Evidence of efficacy. Review of General Psychology, 16, 364–380. doi:10.1037/a0028602
Feinstein, D. (2015, January). How energy psychology changes deep emotional learnings. Neuropsychotherapist, 10, 38–47.
Gallo, F. (2009, November). Energy psychology in rehabilitation: Origins, clinical applications, and theory. Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 1(1), 57–70.
Hui, K. K. S., Liu, J., Marina, O., Napadow, V., Haselgrove, C., Kwong, K. K., . . . Makris, N. (2005). The integrated response of the human cerebro-cerebellar and limbic systems to acupuncture stimulation at ST 36 as evidenced by fMRI. NeuroImage, 27, 479–496.
Lane, J. (2009, November). The neurochemistry of counter conditioning: Acupressure desensitization in psychotherapy. Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 1(1), 31–44.
Nader, K. (2003). Memory traces unbound. Trends in Neurosciences, 26, 65–72. doi:10.1016/s0166- 2236(02)00042-5
Swingle, P. G., Pulos, L., & Swingle, M. K. (2004). Neurophysiological indicators of EFT treatment of posttraumatic stress. Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine, 15(1), 75–86.