EFT Is Bunkum? – Part 2

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is an “emotional version of acupuncture, except without the needles”, as developer Gary Craig puts it.

[If you need more introduction to EFT go to Part 1 here.]

There is very little evidence in the scientific literature, but EFT has a lot of raving fans and practitioners.

So coming from my own background as a medical practitioner what did I make of EFT?

Well back in 2001 when I moved from medical practice to counseling, I used it in my practice, but then I stopped.

My fundamental disagreement with EFT is with its theoretical underpinnings.

I suspect that the outcomes from EFT have NOTHING to do with Chi, or energy flow, or acupuncture meridian points. It might be good marketing to be caught up with Eastern philosophies, but it also puts people off.

I think EFT has a much more Western explanation for it’s effects.

My assessment of EFT is based on the well-recognized psychological mechanism of conditioning.

Many of the psychological problems that EFT was first claimed to work for are classic examples of problems that have an automatic emotional reaction ie a conditioned response.

Phobias, traumatic memories, addictions. All these involve strong emotional responses.

With a spider phobia it is a fear reaction to the sight of spiders or the thought of spiders. Even with depression or anxiety, there is certainly an emotional reaction, and often there are specific triggers for those emotions in memories from the past or expectations they have for the future.

The idea with therapy is to change the unwanted emotional reaction. To turn fear into comfort, depression into hope or choicefulness, and anxiety into calmness or a sense of control.

In fact if you take it further, emotional reactions can be thought of as part of many, many different problems, both psychological and physical.

So in comes EFT.

Let me describe the experience of using EFT from a personal perspective.

If you’ve done EFT or if you watched the video from Part 1, I think you will agree that EFT is an abnormal thing to do, and it takes a bit of concentration.

It’s a bit like a cross between trying to simultaneously pat your head and rub your tummy, and learning the Macarena, but you’re meant to be serious as you do it.

The emotional experience of using the technique involves a mix of feelings, including awkwardness, curiosity, confusion, embarrassment, as well as the emotions of learning something, ie intensely observing, listening, forgetting, stumbling, achieving and so on.

You are meant to do all this WHILE thinking about a particular problem you have.

This means you are trying to experience two sets of emotions at once.

As in the phobia example, if you mix the phobic fear with the emotional experiences of doing EFT you end up not only with a diluted fear, you also add in elements of emotions that are very valuable for finding new and better ways to react.

I think this mix up of emotions explains all the features of EFT.

If you turn what I have just said into medical terminology of conditioned responses and stimuli you end up with an explanation for EFT that is complete, and doesn’t require any beliefs that aren’t already part of medical and scientific knowledge.

So how did all of this apply to me and my medical counseling practice?

I was happy to learn EFT because of how neat it is – lasting change in minutes. That’s cool!

I then was happy to use EFT even despite the lack of scientific proof, because EFT fitted with what I already knew was proven, and I didn’t need to believe in meridians or energy flows to need to wait for the scientific testing.

However after all this you may be curious about why I stopped using EFT in my practice?

For the very simple reason that there are heaps of valuable things I don’t use because they don’t fit very well with the rest of what I offer.

I still have recommended EFT on the occasions where it has fitted the expectations of the person I was talking to, and it may fit for whatever ails you.

If you are interested, Gary Craig’s official EFT site has plenty of case studies/testimonials, and also a free download of the basic techniques, to keep you from getting caught in any corrupted version of what is out there on YouTube or elsewhere.

I just suggest you ignore the theories.

What’s your opinion?

“EFT Is Bunkum? – Part 3” is here.

-Dr Martin Russell

18 thoughts on “EFT Is Bunkum? – Part 2”

  1. The way I look at it EFT is a technology. And you can develop a technology without being able to explain it scientifically. For example people were using fire for a long time before we knew how to explain it with chemistry and physics.

    I don’t know whether EFT works because of ‘energy’, ‘chi’, distraction or an NLP pattern interrupt. It just works.

    Also I tend to stay away from claiming it can help physical ailments. I’ve heard it can but I have no personal experience of that.

  2. Hi Cornelis,

    Love your tapping.com site, and the “How It Works” section is well presented indeed. No Chi’s or meridians or pseudoscience to be found. Congratulations on lifting the bar for others to follow!

    In NLP terms EFT is not a pattern interrupt. Pattern interrupts do not create lasting results unless they are turned into chained anchors which is not quite the same. In NLP terms EFT is a collapse anchors of a problem state and a non-specific but generative resource state.

    Gary Craig has enough NLP background to know this for himself, so I’m not sure why he persists in taking EFT into the realms of the mystical.

    Certainly from a users point of view having a “black box” technology is fine, but from a developers point of view for future advancements you probably need to have better models for what is going on.

  3. Hello Martin,

    I came because of your article in this week’s Personal Development Carnival. It was an interesting coincidence seeing two articles discussing EFT and the apparent lack of validity of it’s model, even though it can be effective. Wikipedia lists some research that has been done on EFT if you’re interested.

    A study by Waite and Holder shows that the meridians have little to do with the effectiveness of EFT.

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  5. Hi Martin,

    I came over from the Personal Development Carnival. I also submitted an article about EFT this week. There has been some research on it. Work by Waite and Holder shows that the energy model it uses is incorrect.

    I thought I submitted a comment about this once. If so, please delete this one.

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  7. Megan at Imaginif says:

    Thanks for joining the Carnival of Australia again.
    I also am a therapist and read your posts with interest.
    Many thanks.

  8. Rick,

    My spam filter blocked your comments because they had outgoing links in them. Both comments are useful.

    Yes I checked out Wikipedia before publishing this article. The research you quote from there is brilliantly thought out and executed. I pondered about writing leaving it out or adding a Part 3, because it was already very long for readers.

    The study says EFT’s effectiveness “derives from components shared with more traditional therapies already established as effective treatments for specific phobia.” I think that downplays the differences of EFT. EFT does a reconditioning in a much neater way than standard therapies. Exposure therapy just plain sucks for the recipient, in comparison to EFT where you just feel silly for a while.

    A lot more needs to be done in this field.

  9. I don’t think anything that has a history of success can be called “bunkum”. I’m not qualified to say whether the effects are the placebo effect or not and, frankly, I don’t really care. Any process that relieves distress, discomfort or pain can be called a legitimate therapy. Psychosomatic conditions cause a genuine experience of malaise. If a placebo relieves this, then a placebo is a legitimate therapy (which is why doctors occasionally administer placebos and can do so without being called a charlatan).

    I do have a lot of trouble with the EFT video on Gary Craig’s site. There’s a lot of hype and some claims about findings using Live Blood Cell Analysis that I’m not altogether convinced about (these are discussed on my own blog). However, there’s a lot of hype on many therapies. It doesn’t mean they’re devoid of substance so much as The American Way of putting an idea forward is generally to follow the same marketing approach established by the traveling medicine shows. A pity as it makes it hard to distinguish between the profound and the absurd.

  10. Ron,

    There is a question mark in the title of this series. It is there deliberately.

    Lots of things have had a history of success and are now bunkum.

    Gary Craig has taken EFT into some strange areas with some wild claims. I don’t think this is necessary, or useful.

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  12. Deborah Evans says:

    Hi Martin,
    Well here are my questions as promised…
    1) Do you think EFT is mainly a distraction technique, so it doesn’t really deal with the root cause of problems?
    2)Would you suggest it only works on certain people, who are willing to accept it?
    3) Should it always be used in conjunction with counselling? Would you ever recommend an EFT only course of action?

    Thanks Martin

  13. Deborah,

    1) Do you think EFT is mainly a distraction technique, so it doesn’t really deal with the root cause of problems?

    Try distraction under any other name. It doesn’t work for changing someone’s response the next time. EFT is not about distraction.
    Root cause is not a very precise term, but yes EFT is not a masking technique. They respond differently the next time.

    2)Would you suggest it only works on certain people, who are willing to accept it?

    No. Scepticism is a good starting point. Acceptance of a technique is not necessary for it to work.

    People often think you have to believe in something for it to work. Not true. Placebo’s work even when people don’t believe in them.

    Remember you have a paradox here. People will tell you they don’t believe in something, yet they are doing it, swallowing it, trying it, etc etc. What do they “really” believe?

    3) Should it always be used in conjunction with counselling? Would you ever recommend an EFT only course of action?

    No, and heck yes.

    Go to emofree.com and download the basic recipe. Follow the instructions to the letter, and in an hour you should have been able to tap on a dozen things and you can decide for yourself if it is for you. At worst you’ve wasted an hour. If you prefer to have a person teach you then it might cost you some money for that. Demand provable results in the first session, and methods you can walk away and do for yourself.

    I think you wanted to ask me questions to get the critical viewpoint. I don’t think you’ve got that from me with these questions.

    The worst criticism one can have of EFT is that it is a waste of time, waste of money, load of psychobabble, or just plain silly. Otherwise it is pretty innocuous.

    My fundamental issue with EFT is there is too little effort to bridge the divide between users and researchers. EFT theories get more esoteric and the claims more incredible, but the support in the literature lags way behind.

    When something claims a 80+% cure rate it can’t be that hard to prove, can it? Well, it seems it is.

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