MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Often referred to as “Psychological acupressure”, the emotional freedom technique (EFT) works by releasing blockages within the energy system which are the source of emotional intensity and discomfort. These blockages in our energy system, in addition to challenging us emotionally, often lead to limiting beliefs and behaviours and an inability to live life harmoniously. Resulting symptoms are either emotional and/ or physical and include lack of confidence and self esteem, feeling stuck anxious or depressed, or the emergence of compulsive and addictive behaviours. It is also now finally widely accepted that emotional disharmony is a key factor in physical symptoms and dis-ease and for this reason these techniques are being extensively used on physical issues, including chronic illness with often astounding results. As such these techniques are being accepted more and more in medical and psychiatric circles as well as in the range of psychotherapies and healing disciplines.

An EFT treatment involves the use of fingertips rather than needles to tap on the end points of energy meridians that are situated just beneath the surface of the skin. The treatment is non-invasive and works on the ethos of making change as simple and as pain free as possible.

EFT is a common sense approach that draws its power from Eastern discoveries that have been around for over 5,000 years. In fact Albert Einstein also told us back in the 1920’s that everything (including our bodies) is composed of energy. These ideas have been largely ignored by Western Healing Practices and as they are unveiled in our current times, human process is reopening itself to the forgotten truth that everything is Energy and the potential that this offers us.

END OF QUOTE

If you ask me, this sounds as though EFT combines pseudo-psychological with acupuncture-BS.

But I may be wrong.

What does the evidence tell us?

A systematic review included 14 RCTs of EFT with a total of 658 patients.  The pre-post effect size for the EFT treatment group was 1.23 (95% confidence interval, 0.82-1.64; p < 0.001), whereas the effect size for combined controls was 0.41 (95% confidence interval, 0.17-0.67; p = 0.001). Emotional freedom technique treatment demonstrated a significant decrease in anxiety scores, even when accounting for the effect size of control treatment. However, there were too few data available comparing EFT to standard-of-care treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy, and further research is needed to establish the relative efficacy of EFT to established protocols.  Meta-analyses indicate large effect sizes for posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety; however, treatment effects may be due to components EFT shares with other therapies.

Another, more recent analysis reviewed whether EFTs acupressure component was an active ingredient. Six studies of adults with diagnosed or self-identified psychological or physical symptoms were compared (n = 403), and three (n = 102) were identified. Pretest vs. posttest EFT treatment showed a large effect size, Cohen’s d = 1.28 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.56 to 2.00) and Hedges’ g = 1.25 (95% CI, 0.54 to 1.96). Acupressure groups demonstrated moderately stronger outcomes than controls, with weighted posttreatment effect sizes of d = -0.47 (95% CI, -0.94 to 0.0) and g = -0.45 (95% CI, -0.91 to 0.0). Meta-analysis indicated that the acupressure component was an active ingredient and outcomes were not due solely to placebo, nonspecific effects of any therapy, or non-acupressure components.

From these and other reviews, one could easily get the impression that my above-mentioned suspicion is erroneous and EFT is an effective therapy. But I still do have my doubts.

Why?

These reviews conveniently forget to mention that the primary studies tend to be of poor or even very poor quality. The most common flaws include tiny sample sizes, wrong statistical approach, lack of blinding, lack of control of placebo and other nonspecific effects. Reviews of such studies thus turn out to be a confirmation of the ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’ principle: any summary of flawed studies are likely to produce a flawed result.

Until I have good quality trials to convince me otherwise, EFT is in my view:

  1. implausible and
  2. not of proven effectiveness for any condition.

19 Responses to Emotional Freedom Technique, a combination of two types of BS

  • I have used EFT over the years. If you have stress or pain, it’s like magic! Others use it to remove the stress that has caused illness, and once they have tapped away the energy from the energy pathways, the illness goes away.

    In my opinion, looking at scientific data to prove if EFT is BS or not is not the way to go with EFT. You have to try it out, and then you will see that it works.

    However, this brings up another issue for conventional medicine people. If one does not accept that the body has an energy system, energy centres (chakras), and energy pathways (meridiens), then of course, EFT is BS. It is actually hard to deny this though because one can photograph the chakras, the energy pathways, and the body’s energy field; and observe how it and the red blood cells change when people do EFT tapping. You can see videos on YouTube of the effect of EFT on the blood.

    Dr. Ernst, you may have gone a bridge too far by trying to deny the effectiveness of EFT.

  • This sounds remarkably like someone read about Rolfing and decided to adapt it to “modern” conditions—and a lot less work too.

  • I feel we should all accept that as stated on the web site Edzard refers to, “(EFT) works by releasing blockages within the energy system which are the source of emotional intensity and discomfort. These blockages in our energy system, in addition to challenging us emotionally, often lead to limiting beliefs and behaviours and an inability to live life harmoniously.”

    The ’energy system’ referred to is of course a synonym for ‘patient’ (a bundle of energy – which is true for the entire construct of the universe). Quacks do like to use fanciful terms for their marketing.

    The principal blockages released are to the ability to rationalise, to apply critical thinking, to set aside quackery, to avoid logical fallacies, and to appreciate that ‘meridians’ are never been identified over the 5000 years they have been posited. They are imaginary.

    Fingertip tapping of course does nothing, but is akin to Mesmer’s magnetic wands and foot baths; the Marquis de Puysegur’s swinging watch chain; Braid’s and Elliotson’s intense supervised concentration; and Irving Kirsch’s ‘response expectancies’.

    Tapping on the skin (aka EFT to marketeers) simply enhances the placebo and non-specific effects of TLC and amply demonstrates the value of this and other theatrical placebos such as acupuncture.

    • “Fingertip tapping of course does nothing…”, then “Tapping on the skin (aka EFT to marketeers) simply enhances the placebo and non-specific effects of TLC…”

      How did you come to that conclusion? Certainly not from what Edzard posted.

      “These reviews conveniently forget to mention that the primary studies tend to be of poor or even very poor quality. The most common flaws include tiny sample sizes, wrong statistical approach, lack of blinding, lack of control of placebo and other nonspecific effects. Reviews of such studies thus turn out to be a confirmation of the ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’ principle: any summary of flawed studies are likely to produce a flawed result.”

      Any evidence for your conclusions?

  • “Nothing” apart from enhancing placebo responses.
    Which is how all camists practising camistry (CAM) obtain the ‘beneficial effects’ so much appreciated by their supplicants.

    That’s a given. What else?
    JM (whoever you are), did you not know that?
    Keep reading this blog!

    And when you can, point us in the direction of any plausible reproducible evidence for ‘energy’ that can be accessed and utilised meaningfully by TT (which is generally non-touch), Reiki, Rolfing, Bowen, EFT, acupuncture, belonetherapy, or etceteratherapy.

    • ““Nothing” apart from enhancing placebo responses.”

      How would you know, if the reviews are “poor or even very poor quality”? You’re basing your conclusions on ‘rubbish, in, rubbish out’. Which pretty much makes your conclusions…rubbish. Or as Edzard puts it, your summary is likely flawed.

  • jm: Those who make implausible claims should provide the evidence to support them.

    Bertrand Russell: “The burden of proof lies with those who make unfalsifiable claims.”
    Carl Sagan: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

    Or didn’t you know that?

    Please, when you can, point us in the direction of any plausible reproducible evidence for ‘energy’ that can be accessed and utilised meaningfully by TT (which is generally non-touch), Reiki, Rolfing, Bowen, EFT, acupuncture, belonetherapy, or etceteratherapy.

    Thank you, we’re all ears (and eyes)!

    • Edzard pointed out that “the primary studies tend to be of poor or even very poor quality.”. So, you’re taking in rubbish information.

      With that rubbish input, you claim:

      1. “Fingertip tapping of course does nothing”
      2. “Tapping on the skin (aka EFT to marketeers) simply enhances the placebo and non-specific effects of TLC”

      Your claims could very well be spot on. Or, they could be ‘rubbish out’. No way to tell, really. Unless you can provide evidence.

      Pretty tricky to come up with a good assessment of what EFT does or does not do, based on poor quality studies. Or as Edzard said “any summary of flawed studies are likely to produce a flawed result”. Who knows – maybe by pure luck, your summary is an outlier!

      Can’t really help your ears (and eyes!). No idea what you mean by ‘energy’ – it’s a term that’s so vague it’s useless. I’m not familiar at all with TT, Bowen, EFT, belonetherapy, or etceteratherapy. And not a clue what ‘energy’ models reiki, acupuncture, and Rolfing share. None, that I know of.

  • jm: Thank you for explaining your lack of knowledge about CAM.

    • Nothing to do with CAM – if all you have is rubbish info, your conclusions don’t hold a lot of weight. Fun to speculate though – and hey, there’s a chance that your speculation “Fingertip tapping of course does nothing” might be right!

      Good to be careful with your speculations, though. You’re the person who feared that a massage therapist doing acupressure was using needles. (from the Exeter Uni thread → “‘Acus’ – Greek, ‘a needle’. ‘Acupressure points’: ‘pressure on a point from a needle’. How can we be sure there is no puncture of the epidermis? What would be the point of using the term ‘acu-‘ if a needle is not used and needling is not meant?”) That was a funny one :).

      Or maybe you were talking about my lack of knowledge about the ‘energy’ models that reiki, acupuncture & Rolfing share. If you’d like to elaborate, I’m all ears (and eyes, as you say)!

  • Finger tapping is OUT, Tong Ren is IN!

    Here’s what everyone needs today!
    Lay off your silly finger tapping and get out and buy dolls and hammers to tap away all your woes and worries. You can have a session anywhere. On the bus, in a party, during lunchbreak… all without anyone thinking you look like you have a serious case of ticks.

    When they hear the rhythmic tapping, people will flock to you and ask what you are doing. When you smartly explain the wonderful effects of Tong Ren, as taught by master Tom Tam, everyone will want to buy a Ton Ren doll and a hammer.
    And it does not leave ugly marks on the body like cupping or Gua Sha.

    Tong Ren

  • This is just based on personal experience.

    There are a lot of variations of CBT + something sort of physical, like Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.

    The alleged method of action is forcing your brain to follow tapping (or whatever) while reliving trauma. Supposedly this helps the brain relearn in a way other CBT doesn’t.

    Skeptics claim that what works is actually the CBT component. But the CBT component is quite different from standard CBT and patients report less distress following the protocol.

    Obviously the bit about stimulating acupoints under the skin is just silly. Can you imagine what life we be like if we could reprogram emotions by squeezing our fingers and toes?

    I haven’t been able to find any good studies that address these claims directly. Not that I would know how to look.
    The real method of action could be as simple as using a fidget spinner when you’re in the middle of something unpleasant.

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