Emotional Freedom Technique

Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT, integrates ancient Asian healing traditions with contemporary Western clinical psychology by combining acupressure (digital pressure applied to acupuncture points) with imaginal exposure (i.e., mental imagery) to traumatic or conflicted feelings, memories, or images.

EFT derives from Thought Field Therapy, or TFT, conceived in 1979 by Roger Callahan, PhD, a clinical psychologist.  Callahan discovered that having clients tap on certain acupuncture points while experiencing and verbalizing negative emotional states provided rapid and dramatic relief.  He developed numerous algorithms of tapping sequences for treating particular ailments and dysfunctions.  TFT spawned a number of similar techniques, now collectively referred to as “Energy Psychology.”

In 1991, Gary Craig, a student of Callahan’s, found that identical results could be obtained with a simplified method of tapping the principal acupuncture points without Callahan’s more extensive algorithms.  However, Craig maintained the practice of pairing the meridian tapping with exposure-based treatment and client verbalization of the targeted emotional state or behavior.

There are two dominant theories about how EFT provides relief.  Both theories agree that the pairing of a physical activity and mental activation of the troublesome state or behavior beneficially alters that state or behavior.  However, the first theory, informed by Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM), asserts that the tapping of acupuncture points while the client is experiencing (really or imaginally) the problem condition has the effect or neutralizing the “charge” around the condition and stimulating healing or, at least, relief. 

Presumably, this theory would work because, as CCM contends, the body, mind, and emotions are inseparable expressions or densities of one energy field or biofield.  This is a way of thinking that is not based upon any paradigm or rationale historically accepted by Western science, but one that has allies in quantum physics and the emerging field of epigenetics. 

CCM maintains that illness, whether mental or physical, does not arise randomly or spontaneously but is caused by internal and/or external pathogenic factors.  The internal pathogenic factors are generally thought to be “stuckness” (block, stagnation, or “freezing”) in the free movement of the emotions.  External pathogenic factors include poor nutrition, injuries, traumatic events, and lack of physical movement and exercise.

According to CCM, unless there is such a stuckness in the energy field that is associated with the causative pathogenic factor, healing will occur naturally.  Where stuckness does exist, however, healing is inhibited.  Acupuncture is one of the tools used in Asia for at least 3000 years and, it has been speculated, as early as 5300 years ago in ancient Europe to restore the uninhibited flow of energy throughout the body’s main energy channels, or meridians, and thus stimulate and mobilize healing in the biofield. 

Following from the CCM model, Callahan’s unique contribution was the discovery that pairing a targeted emotional or mental charge or behavior (including those associated by the client with a past trauma) with simultaneous stimulation of certain points along energy meridians would “release” the stuckness and induce healing of the targeted emotional or mental state or behavior.  Though the panacea-like claims of EFT enthusiasts have become one of the greatest hurdles to its acceptance, this theory helps explain why EFT practitioners claim success with psychological and physical conditions: A strong mental or emotional “charge” around a physical event, condition, or symptom would block physical healing.  In keeping with this theory, once the stuckness is released, the organism “knows” how to heal itself with surprising depth and rapidity. 

The second theory used to explain the efficacy of EFT, and one that is more aligned with Western science, is that pairing the targeted negative mental or emotional state with an acupressure technique that creates a feeling of ease or relaxation creates a new, non-stressful association with the targeted state.  This theory is congruent with other exposure-based treatments (desensitization, progressive relaxation, mindfulness, repeated exposure, or “flooding”), which are well researched in the treatment of anxiety disorders and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

As with other exposure-based treatments, EFT achieves exposure by evoking the hyperarousal associated with negative states and traumatic memories through narrative, in-vivo, or imaginal means.  Unlike the other treatments, however, EFT incorporates the stimulation of specified acupuncture points known through research to decrease activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain associated with powerful negatve emotional states.

EFT enthusiasts make the controversial claim that EFT not only reduces the link between trauma and its mental and emotional by-products, but eradicates it.  This claim has some support in research that has identified electrochemical mechanisms by which this claim is plausible.

Acupressure, that element of EFT that is rooted in CCM, is based upon several of CCM’s core concepts: that the health of living organisms is dependent upon the unrestricted flow of their energy; that there are specific channels or meridians of vital energy running through the body which, if restricted, cause or contribute to the development and maintenance of physical, mental, and emotional disease; and that stimulating certain points along these meridians by slight needle penetration, pressure, or tapping can “unblock,” restore, or improve the flow of energy, in turn stimulating the organism’s natural capacity for self-healing.  I refer the reader to the wealth of supportive research for acupuncture contained in the 2003 World Health Organization publication Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials. 

EFT research has been published in more than 15 different peer-reviewed journals, including Journal of Clinical Psychology, Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, < span style="font-style: normal;mso-bidi-font-style:italic">and Review of General Psychology.