EFT: How Tapping & Emotional Freedom Technique Work

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What is Tapping?
Wellness Mama » Blog » Mindset » EFT: How Tapping & Emotional Freedom Technique Work

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 Wellness Mama 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 2019 Tapping World Summit and access all their information for free for 10 days.

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 Wellness Mama 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!

  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.
Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


17 responses to “EFT: How Tapping & Emotional Freedom Technique Work”

  1. Victoria Avatar

    I had a training session with Dawson Church about a year ago, and have used EFT regularly since then. I burn my hand all too often on the stove or oven, and I use tapping when it happens and then–after a few hours, no burn mark or prolonged pain or swelling. I was also taking a berberine formula for parasites and berberine does not agree with my system. I had tried and failed to start this formula to eradicate the parasite, and fed up with failure, I used EFT to help. I would take the medicine and say, “My body accepts this medicine easily. Parasites, thank you for the lessons that you have taught me, but it is time for you to go. You will accept this medicine and let it carry you from my body, easily and completely. My body digests the medicine easily and processes the die-off easily.” Etc, etc. And it worked–it allowed my body to accept the full dose of the medicine during the 30 days that I was on it. BTW, if the “thanking the parasites” bit sounds too strange for you, the reason was because the parasitic infection taught me lessons about myself–health and self-destructive patterns and behaviors. By being as sick as I have been, I was able to focus on root causes of anger, depression, self-destructive behavior–and I recognized that I also had “parasitic” people in my life, so I got rid of them, too. Note that you can work through anger and depression issues with EFT by bringing up the memories of what made you so angry/depressed and tapping through it and by saying that you completely and deeply love and accept yourself. Working with an experienced practitioner is advised if you are dealing with PTSD (crime victim, veterans, etc.). When you work through your issues or problems with EFT, then instead of the memory bringing back anger, sadness, or other stressful fight-or-flight emotional responses, it becomes a “bad fact” in your life which you can recall without getting upset about it.

  2. Rachele Avatar

    Thank you for this! I keep meaning to look into EFT, and I am just so thankful that you broke it all down in one place. I am going to start making this part of my routine today now that I know how easy it can be! And does anyone else think the rain in that video just made it more magical? love love love

  3. Kristin Avatar

    Can this technique be used on the wrists when wearing gloves? I wear gloves and a lab coat at work. The analyzers and loud people are distracting me and stressing me out. Thank you, from a medical professional.

  4. Kim Avatar

    Can I ask how long it took before you enjoyed flying? That is currently a phobia of mine that I truly want to overcome. Thanks!

  5. Theresa Avatar

    I used EFT to completely cure me of an intense fear of flying. I’m a believer. ..when I decided to do it, I thought, well, it won’t hurt, and if it helps that’s great. But to be truthfull, I thought it was the dumbest thing I had heard of…and then, it worked! Now I love to fly!

  6. CTY Avatar

    This is great! I have been doing this for years–I just never knew it had a name. I think opposition comes mostly because there is no money to be made from it–it is something we can do for ourselves for free. I can see some people arguing against it saying it could cause denial or you may miss a bigger problem. In my mind you have to know yourself and recognize that if there is a chronic issue you may need to talk to a doctor. Either way on it’s own or in conjunction with a Dr this can be a valuable tool

  7. Melissa Avatar

    I’ve been using EFT for about 10 years with amazing results. I use it a lot for allergies, stress and more.

  8. Pam Avatar

    I was under the impression that EFT is a new age energy healing and therefore conflicts with Christian values?? Have you, Katie, looked into this aspect of the technique?

  9. Hannah Bonana Avatar
    Hannah Bonana

    I have been using tapping on and off for a few years not to calm my emotions, but when I start to get a headache coming on. It is always successful in relieving some degree of pain, and sometimes I’m able to get my headache to go away completely. It’s been really useful for me when I’ve been outside and haven’t had any pain medication with me, and I usually do it without speaking to myself at all. I’m sure it would be really great for people when they’re feeling overwhelmed too, and maybe I will try it as presented in this article next time I feel like ahhhhhhhhhhh!

  10. Kathleen Kahl Avatar
    Kathleen Kahl

    Thanks for doing a tapping post Katie. I learned about this years ago from a naturopathic pharmacy talk show that was my first guide to natural living and healing. My reservations with it were the origins and wether or not it was comparable with my Christian faith. I have used it occasionally over the years but not often. I was actually led to Dr. Mercola’s blog from a google search on EFT and Christianity. Needless to say that was a huge blessing and continues to this day. He is a wealth of information on staying fit and well. I have been wanting to get into daily meditation without success for a while now. Probably for the same reason as most meditation out there is eastern based. I cannot find much on Christian meditation. I think I will give tapping another go. I am also interested in introducing it to a family member struggling with anxiety and addiction.

  11. Kim Eisen Avatar

    As a Master of EFT practitioner for many years (and a previous student of many energy modalities) I find it as one of the easiest self-help techniques a person can use. Some people need studies (and there are a lot of them), yet I just say ‘try it!’. Many are amazed how it can easily help with releasing emotions (especially the hidden ones when we’re trying to be strong and just get through daily life). Don’t get hung up on what words to use – just say what you’re feeling while tapping. I like to call it the ‘beautiful ugly truth’ (because once we acknowledge and release what we’ve been holding onto, it’s beautiful). We’ve always been taught to be a good girl or boy, so we hide what we really feel. But as Robert Smith says ‘Emotions buried alive – never die’. Finally, we get to acknowledge the truth of how we really feel (in the privacy of your own space or with an experienced practitioner), while neutralizing their emotional effects. The results are more relief, peace, clarity – less monkey mind, frustration, or even pain. There are many different techniques or therapies and have been for years. Yet after working with hundreds of clients – EFT ‘Emotional Freedom Techniques’ is my goto which has allowed me to help myself and others in an efficient manner and no long-term dependencies are needed by the client.

  12. DeAnn Avatar

    I am a Licensed Professional Counselor who uses EFT (meridian tapping) in my practice with clients who have experienced various traumas and adverse events. These techniques are one of the most helpful tools I have and produce maximum results in a shorter period of time than traditional talk therapy. I have been using it for the past few years and would never choose to do therapy without it. Additionally, I use it with horses and it is therapeutic for them also. I have seen it reduce or eliminate cravings for food and drugs, anxiety, panic attacks, depression and severe trauma symptoms. I have used it with childhood victims of war, victims of sexual molestation and rape, addicts, military veterans and expectant moms. I believe that it is a great self help tool, but that many people will find even deeper and significant benefit from being guided by a mental health professional first and then will be able to continue to help themselves afterwards. It is not magic or a cure all for everything, however, due to the mind body connection, it is the first tool I pull out of my bag guided by the best standards of practice. I have used it effectively in both an office setting and through telehealth and my online practice and find it to be just as powerful. I know that there are so many testimonials out there already but I thought I’d add mine also.

  13. Rachel Avatar

    Yes!! im an IPEC (INTEGRATED PHYSICAL EMOTIONAL CLEARING) therapist, and we use this as one of our main therapy solutions. we do it a bit differently, but like Katie mentioned, there is no right way really. i use it on myself and the kids all the time, and its AMAZING!!!! we say sentences, that start with the negative, then end with how we overcome it. example : “even though i have a tummyache now, i know its stress related and i know i can calm down”. as the tapping progresses, i change the sentence “even though i HAD a tummyache, im calm now” etc.

  14. Debra Avatar

    Comments on healing pain And sleeplessness with the use of organic cbd oil.And reasonable priced product

  15. Anne Graham M.S. Avatar
    Anne Graham M.S.

    Interesting. I have something of a problem with this. It seems to me that while this “technique” might seem like a cool new thing coming down the pike, it’s actually a cover of older therapeutic paradigms that has been around for a long time called Emotion Focused Therapy, the original EFT. EFT approaches are based on the premise that human emotions are connected to human needs, and therefore emotions have an innately adaptive potential. They are adding in self-talk, a technique mental health providers have been teaching for decades. The “tapping” part is pulled from EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing by Shapiro that was first written about in the early 1980’s. So I guess my frustration with this is that the authors are not being transparent about where their information is truly coming from. The EMDR is sited in the resources but it certainly is not “acupuncture” and it seems that all the professionals who contributed to Emotion Focused Therapy (what and who I was taught and were on my state boards) are not being credited for the ‘Emotional Freedom Technique’. I have nothing against building new paradigms on older work and collaborative efforts, but perhaps this is why is not being widely accepted. It’s already out there and being applied and has been for years. Just sayin’.

  16. Lanny Avatar

    I just ordered the book “The Tapping Solution” and signed up for the summit about a week ago. I have started this on my own a little bit, just dabbling, and have seen some success for about a half a day afterwards. I think with consistency and a longer period of time it will be a good tool to have in my arsenal.

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