EFT: How Tapping & Emotional Freedom Technique Work

What is Tapping?

Whatever our walk in life, as moms, I’m pretty sure we all want to find ways to be more calm, loving, and collected. We know we should manage our stress through exercise, eating a healthy diet, and maybe journaling, prayer, or meditation.

We do our best, but sometimes we need that little extra something (or a lot of something!) to get through the day. Surprisingly, I’m not talking about coffee (or wine). I’m talking about using the Emotional Freedom Technique — more commonly called EFT or “tapping” — to manage stress, anxiety, and more importantly, toddler meltdowns!

Some tapping experts describe EFT as a self-administered counseling and massage session in one. Sounds good, right? What’s more, you can even use it on the kids!

What Is EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique)?

If tapping yourself into calmness sounds a little “woo,” I’m right there with you. Still, short of screaming “serenity NOW!” (remember that? video below!) most moms wouldn’t mind learning a simple, effective technique for managing stress that is natural, totally free, and always available.

Definition of EFT

In a nutshell, EFT or tapping is self-administered acupressure combined with cognitive and behavioral therapy techniques. It literally involves tapping acupressure points on your body with your fingertips while engaging in self-talk (often out loud). In this way you coach yourself through strong emotions when overwhelmed or stressed and send a signal to your body to calm down.

It involves three basic steps (described in more detail below):

  1. Observing and validating emotions
  2. Accepting or countering emotions
  3. Physical activation of pressure points

If you’re new to tapping and trying to picture what this actually looks like (besides a little crazy!), this video by my friend Stephanie is a great visual example of what tapping might look like for a mom in everyday life. (And crazy or not, it looks calming enough that I want to try it!)

Origins of EFT

One of the more controversial aspects of EFT is its basis on the Chinese medicine concept of energy flowing through invisible meridians in the body. Basically, tapping or EFT claims to be a way to get the benefits of acupuncture, without the needles.

Adding to the controversy is EFT’s origin in Thought Field Therapy (TFT), a treatment largely considered pseudo-scientific.

Mainstream Credibility Grows

In the last two decades, advances in medical research seem to suggest that EFT has a basis in Western medicine as well as Eastern. In the last two decades it has evolved  from a fringe therapy to a widely accepted and much acclaimed health tool supported by experts like Dr. Oz, Mark Hyman, Ari Whitten, and Dr. Mercola, just to name a few.

As a self-proclaimed science nerd I admit I’ve had reservations about using EFT, but as more mainstream science confirms its benefits, I’m paying much closer attention.

The Benefits of Tapping (& When to Use It)

Advocates say Tapping/EFT has many uses and is even life-changing. According to both anecdotal and research-backed evidence, the areas EFT may help include:

Side effects are virtually non-existent, although seeking a professional assessment for health conditions is always recommended in conjunction with natural remedies and general self-care.

Tapping 101: How to Use EFT for Anxiety (or Any Emotions)

Interest in the tapping technique has spawned a wide variety of methods claiming to be Emotional Freedom Technique. Some are valid, and some almost totally omit the mechanisms that are actually shown to work. It’s important to be choosy and do your own research when diving into the world of EFT.

So what is the “right” way to tap?

According a 2013 study by Dawson Church titled “Clinical EFT as an Evidence-Based Practice” (which is actually a really interesting read for the science geeks among us) there are three basic parts to the method:

1. State the Problem/Feelings

First, out loud and while tapping (see point 3) acknowledge the emotions you are hoping to manage using the technique. No script is necessary, and these can be simple statements. The technique is still supposed to be effective even if you repeat the same statements several times.

We frequently hear about the health benefits of gratitude and positive thinking, so this step might feel a little different at first but experts say it’s essential to the technique’s effectiveness. Validating the negative feelings sends a signal to our bodies that we are “OK” and soothes the fight or flight response we may have to stress.

In mom world, they might sound like:

  • I am so overwhelmed/stressed right now
  • I have so much to do it’s insane
  • I am so tired
  • I can’t believe I screwed up again
  • I don’t know how I am going to get it all done
  • I can’t do it all
  • I hate feeling like this
  • My kids are driving me crazy
  • I can’t handle it when the house is a mess
  • I hate it when my husband (fill in the blank)
  • I think I bit off more than I can chew
  • I hate feeling so rushed and stressed

Definitely substitute your own words for how you’re feeling, but if these ring true you can try them until you get used to the technique. This part of the exercise might last a few minutes.

Tip: If you can, rate your feelings on a scale of 1-10 for the sake of comparison after the exercise.

2. Accept the Problem/Feelings

Second, out loud and while tapping, make statements that suggest you are willing to accept things as they are. This method is similar to cognitive and behavioral therapy techniques for increasing self-compassion and positive self-talk.

Use your own words that go along with the feelings you expressed in step 1, but some examples of what you might say are:

  • It’s OK to feel bad sometimes
  • Everyone feels stress when they have a lot to do
  • I am more than what I accomplish
  • I am totally open to learning something new from this experience
  • It’s OK if I don’t get everything on my list done today
  • I feel my body calming down
  • Even though I feel overwhelmed I am still a good mom
  • I am imperfect but I still love myself
  • I accept that everyone has problems, including me
  • I don’t need to be everything to everyone
  • I’m stressed but I’m calming down now

Take a deep breath, let it out, and now consider how you feel on a scale of 1-10. Notice any improvement?

3. And … Tap and Talk!

Together with the above, using the tips of the first and second fingers, lightly tap points on the body traditionally used in acupressure or acupuncture (more on that below). Tap only as firmly as is comfortable about 5-7 times before moving on to the next point.

There are many videos and diagrams showing how to tap, but the nice part about the technique is that it doesn’t have to happen any precise way to get the benefits. We have pressure points in our fingertips as well, so the important thing is just to tap, breath, and say the exercise. It is not necessary to follow any certain sequence or pattern.

How to Find EFT Tapping Points

According to my research, traditional points on the body to “tap” are:

  • top of the head
  • inside point of the eyebrows
  • side of the head (on the bone under the outside of the eye)
  • under the eyes (on cheekbones)
  • between the nose and the upper lip
  • on the chin
  • on the collarbone
  • under the arm (just below the armpit)
  • on the inside of both wrists

Being in the general vicinity of these points is all that’s needed for benefits. The fingertips themselves also contain pressure points, so some activation is happening no matter where you tap.

Can EFT Help Kids Cope with Stress?

EFT may be a natural way to help kids with everything from normal childhood fears, temper tantrums, and not wanting to go to sleep at night (a universal epidemic, let’s face it) to the symptoms of anxiety, ADHD, Aspergers, and autism.

Research shows that even just watching someone tap can relieve stress and lower heart rate. Teaching kids this method or just letting them observe you do it might be another useful tool in the parenting tool bag to help a child — especially one with a tendency to become overwhelmed by sensory input.

Stephanie has another video about how to use EFT with kids to prevent temper tantrums/meltdowns:

A Note on Tapping in Public

In case you’re thinking, like I did, that you wouldn’t exactly feel comfortable whipping out this technique on a temper tantrum in the middle of a grocery store, it is possible to tap discreetly. Just speak at a low volume or whisper and tap more discreet points like insides of wrists … and hope everyone minds their own business!

Common Objections to EFT

Objections to EFT have dwindled in the last two decades as mainstream popularity and claims of success in clinical practice increase, but they do still exist and are worth covering so we can consider all sides of the topic.

Emotional Freedom Technique Is Too “Alternative”

I’m the last person to discredit a therapy just because it’s considered “alternative.” (See the Healthy Moms Podcast if you have any doubt!) Still, it is always wise to be careful what we believe on the Internet and taking a deeper look before believing sensationalized health headlines.

As EFT is vetted in more mainstream medical journals (like the McClond study published in the respected Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 2016), my comfort level with the practice increases. The basic mainstream consensus as far as I can tell is EFT shows some promising benefits, but more research is needed.

EFT Studies Are Limited in Size or Controls

Some of the published medical literature to date is also criticized for small sample sizes or poor controls. In addition, as mentioned, much of it has been published in alternative medicine journals (which makes sense).

There are now over 23 randomized clinical trials (the gold standard of medical research) demonstrating the benefits of EFT. As the body of evidence grows, it seems reasonable that even those who don’t believe in energy healing may want to try tapping as a coping mechanism.

EFT Might Not Be Compatible with Some Religious Beliefs

As mentioned, the Emotional Freedom Technique has its origins in a system of belief that isn’t my own and doesn’t fit every worldview. I’ll admit this was the reason for some of my initial hesitancy, and for me I’m still considering arguments for or against. While I’m not into the concept of energy healing, the connection between mind and body is undeniable from a medical perspective (and in my opinion from a spiritual perspective as well).

As scientists use tools like EGG/ECGs, MRI imaging, and controlled clinical trials to study and explain why tapping works, I am more convinced EFT has a solid foundation no matter your religion or worldview.

Learn More About EFT

As I mentioned, I’m not an expert in tapping but I am interested in understanding more about it. I plan to check out the 10th Annual Tapping World Summit led by Nick Ornter, author of the book The Tapping Solution, which is recommended by Dr. Mark Hyman and several other health experts I respect.

Click here to sign up for the 2018 Tapping World Summit and access all their information for free for 10 days starting on Monday, February 26th, 2018.

P.S. Other Ways to Help Stress and Anxiety

Anxiety often is caused by multiple factors and I don’t believe tapping is the only way to manage anxiety and other unwanted feelings naturally. If tapping is not for you, here are some other great natural ways to narrow down the root cause of anxiety or panic attacks.

These episodes of the Healthy Moms Podcast are packed full of information and useful tips about the root causes of anxiety:

Also helpful in the fight against anxiety:

As always, I’m a mom, not a doctor, so be sure to discuss any concerns with a qualified professional.

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

Have you ever used EFT/tapping to manage stress? Do you think it’s a valid therapy or a little too “woo”? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Sources:

  1. Boath, Stuart, Rolling. The Impact of EFT and Matrix Reimprinting on the Civilian Survivors of War in Bosnia: A Pilot Study. Current Research in Psychology. 2014;5(1):64.
  2. Church D, Stapleton P, Sheppard L, Carter B. Naturally Thin You: Weight Loss and Psychological Symptoms After a Six-Week Online Clinical EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) Course. Explore (NY). 2017.
  3. Clond, M. (2016). Emotional Freedom Techniques for anxiety: A systematic review with meta-analysis. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 204(5), 388–395. doi:10.1097/NMD.0000000000000483
  4. Craig G. The EFT Manual. Elite Books, 2010.
  5. Dawson Church. Clinical EFT as an Evidence-Based Practice for the Treatment of Psychological and Physiological Conditions. Psychology. 2013;04
  6. Karatzias, T., Power, K., Brown, K., McGoldnick, T., Begum, M., Young, J., Loughran, P., Chouliara, Z., & Adams, S. (2011). A controlled comparison of the effectiveness and efficiency of two psychological therapies for posttraumatic stress disorder: Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing vs. emotional freedom techniques. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disorders, 199, 372-378.

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