What is EFT?

EFT is a self-help healing technique that can provide relief from pain and distress. It involves tapping on meridian points along the body while voicing positive affirmations about a specific issue. It is helpful for a multitude of psychological, physical and emotional issues, does not involve medication, and is effective and safe. It can be applied to both minor daily issues as well as major problems. Results can be experienced immediately. It can be used by the average person on the street and even more effectively by a dedicated therapist. The simplicity of its basic application makes it a tool that children and adults alike can use for success in their personal lives and for better quality of health. 
EFT has its roots in the ancient healing art of acupuncture. In 1962 an American chiropractor, George Goodheart, studied the relationship between acupuncture meridians and specific illnesses in the body. He found that some patients experienced a relief of symptoms simply by massaging or tapping on specific acupuncture points rather than using traditional invasive acupuncture needles. A decade later one of Goodheart’s students, Australian psychiatrist John Diamond, expanded on this research by suggesting his patients include positive statements about oneself, i.e., affirmations, while activating the meridians. This proved to be successful in treating a number of emotional issues. However, it wasn’t until the early 1980s when another student of Goodheart’s, US psychologist Roger Callahan, developed an overarching framework for this combined approach of stimulating acupuncture points and positive self-talk.
Dr. Callahan uncovered his new technique while working with a patient “Mary” who had a severe water phobia. Although he spent two years working with her and employed a variety of approaches, Mary was still unable to undertake simple daily tasks, such as bathing, without experiencing debilitating anxiety. One day, as she discussed her fear, she described an uncomfortable feeling in her stomach. On a whim, Dr. Callahan suggested she tap on the stomach acupuncture point just below the eye as she talked. After a few minutes of tapping, Mary suddenly remarked that not only had her stomach discomfort disappeared but that her fear of water had vanished as well. Dr. Callahan was skeptical until Mary ran toward the backyard swimming pool and began splashing water on her face.  As it happened, this one session helped cure Mary on a permanent basis. This event marked the beginning of the development of the Callahan Techniques (later renamed Thought Field Therapy). Over the years Dr. Callahan identified different tapping sequences, which he named algorithms, for different emotional problems. However, many found the variety of tapping patterns cumbersome and some of his students explored whether a generic, unified sequence could be developed to address any issue.
In 1987 psychologist Patricia Carrington built on Dr. Callahan’s work and developed a single algorithm in which all the meridians were tapped upon. She named this approach Acutap. At the same time, one of Dr. Callahan’s best students, Stanford-trained engineer Gary Craig, also developed a universal tapping sequence independently from Dr. Carrington. The technique was more robust than Acutap and included elements of neurolinguistic programming and story-telling. He wanted this approach to be simple and accessible in an effort to empower the average lay person to heal themselves of unwanted emotional states.  Craig called this new model Emotional Freedom Techniques or EFT. 
How it works

Gary Craig formulated the key principle underlying EFT: “The cause of all negative emotions is a disruption in the body’s energy system.” This suggests that when the energy/acupuncture meridians of the body are disturbed or blocked, emotional distress is experienced. In order to unblock the energy pathways and allow energy to flow freely, both the meridian and the corresponding emotion must be activated. The use of brain imaging software has shown that various parts of the brain become highlighted, such as the amygdala, hippocampus and orbital frontal cortex, when thinking of an experience which provoked a negative emotion. Talking of the emotional disturbance and reframing the triggering experience in a positive light while activating the meridians of the body through tapping on acupuncture points helps process the emotion. Thus the meridian is calmed down, the body’s energy flows freely, and the emotional distress released.  In addition to resolving context specific negative emotions, EFT can help transform subconsciously held limiting beliefs, such as feeling inadequate, unworthy or unlovable. Introducing positive self concepts such as worthiness and resiliency can profoundly support psychological growth and healing.
Further, EFT is not only useful for negative emotional states, but healing physical illnesses as well.  Evidence suggests that stress not only complicates diseases but can cause them as well. According to an energy-oriented theory of medicine, the energetic disruptions not only cause negative emotional responses, but, over time, may also cause or contribute to physical illness.  EFT is best used in conjunction with allopathic medicine.
Clinical Evidence
As a result of the plethora of positive anecdotal evidence, researchers have taken an interest in EFT and studies have been undertaken in recent years.  At the time of this writing, clinical trials have been undertaken in ten different countries and their findings have been published in over 20 peer-reviewed journals.[1] The American Psychological Association (APA) has set forth rigorous standards of treatment efficacy, which EFT has met as an “efficacious" or "probably efficacious" treatment for phobias, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[2]
Research has been conducted on EFT’s effect on a variety of emotional and physical issues, including overeating, fibromyalgia, psoriasis, sexual abuse, traumatic brain injury, athletic performance, among others. The results are overwhelmingly positive and provide evidence-based support for EFT’s efficacy.[3]
 Text anxiety. A 2009 double-blind study of Canadian university students suffering from test-related anxiety showed that two sessions of EFT had an equivalent reduction in symptoms as to five sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy. These students reported high satisfaction with the method and also transferred its use to other stressful areas of their lives.[4]
⇒ Sports ability. A randomized controlled study was conducted on the effects of EFT on the performance of 26 male and female basketball players’ free throw and vertical jump. Although there was no significant statistical difference between the control group and the treatment group in jump height, the players who received the EFT intervention improved in free throws an average of 20.8 percent, while the control group decreased an average of 16.6 percent.[5]   
Animal phobia. In 2004 the Journal of Clinical Psychology published the results of a study on the effects of EFT and diaphragmatic breathing on individuals suffering from a phobia of small animals. Analysis of variance showed that participants using EFT had significantly greater improvement than the diaphragmatic breathing participants as related to behavior and three self-report measures, although not to pulse rate. A six to nine month follow-up demonstrated that the greater improvement for the EFT group was maintained on the behavioral measure.[6]
 Food cravings. In Australia researchers conducted a randomized, single-blind, clinical trial on the efficacy of EFT in reducing food cravings among 96 overweight or obese adults. Food cravings, perceived power of food, restraint capacity and psychological distress were analyzed pre- and post- a four-week EFT treatment program and at a 12-month follow-up. Although there was no difference between the control and the experimental group related to psychological symptoms, EFT was associated with a statistically significant improvement in food cravings, relative power of food and restraint capabilities. Further, this improvement related to cravings and the power of food after treatment was sustained at 12-months, and a significant decrease in body mass index was found in the EFT treatment group as assessed from pre- to 12-months.[7]
Veterans with PTSD. A 2010 pilot study of eleven US veterans with PTSD showed that a five-day EFT intervention resulted in statistically significant improvements related to anxiety, somatization, phobic anxiety and interpersonal subscales immediately after the intervention as well as at 30- and 90-day follow-ups.  The participants no longer scored positive for PTSD. Evaluation tools included the Symptom Assessment 45 and the Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist – Military.[8]   
It is important to note that one of the first clinical studies on EFT, undertaken in 2003, on its effect on reducing anxiety and fear concluded that its efficacy can be attributed to the characteristics it shares with more traditional therapies, such as desensitization and distraction. Tapping on meridians, the authors asserted, was moot.[9]  However, the analysis of the data has come under severe criticism for its flawed interpretation.[10]
These studies, among others, have laid the groundwork for research on EFT. Despite their limitations, particularly small sample sizes, they provide overwhelming support for the potential of EFT to revolutionize healing. Further and more extensive research on EFT’s efficacy should be funded.
Additional information on EFT research can be found here and here.

[1] EFT Universe. “EFT Research.” Accessed 12 April 2012. http://www.eftuniverse.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=18&Itemid=21

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Daniel J. Benor, Karen Ledger, Loren Toussaint, Greg Hett, & David Zaccaro. “Pilot Study of EFT, WHEE and CBT for Treatment of Test Anxiety in University Students”. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, (2009, November) 5(6), 338-340.

[5] Dawson Church. “The Effect of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) on Athletic Performance: A Randomized Controlled Blind Trial.” Open Sports Sciences Journal, (2009), 2, 94-99.

[6] Wells, S., Polglase, K., Andrews, H. B., Carrington, P. & Baker, A. H. “Evaluation of a Meridian-Based Intervention, Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), for Reducing Specific Phobias of Small Animals.” Journal of Clinical Psychology, (2003), 59(9), 943-966.

[7] Stapleton P, Sheldon T, Porter B, Whitty J. (2011) A randomised clinical trial of a meridian-based interventionfor food cravings with six month follow-up. Behaviour Change; 28(1):1-16.

[8] Dawson Church .”The Treatment of Combat Trauma in Veterans Using EFT: A Pilot Protocol.” Traumatology, (2010), 15(1), 45-55.

[9] Waite, L. W. & Holder, M. D. “Assessment of the Emotional Freedom Technique: An Alternative Treatment for Fear.” The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, (2003), 2(1). 20-26.

[10] Baker, A. H., Carrington, P., Putilin, D. “Theoretical and Methodological Problems in Research on Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) and Other Meridian Based Therapies”. Psychology Journal, (2009) 6(2), 34-46.