Our blog warning people away from a controversial therapy known as the Emotional Freedom Technique – or EFT or “tapping therapy” – was recently challenged by a practitioner who claims that recent research supports the efficacy of EFT. However, when asked to provide some of this research, the studies this practitioner provided were far from conclusive.
For those who are unfamiliar with EFT/tapping therapy, it is described by its inventor, Gary Craig, as an “emotional version of acupuncture” wherein certain meridian points are stimulated by tapping on them with the fingertips. This practice alleges that unbalanced “energies” are the cause of some emotional issues. The problem with this assumption is that these “energies” do not exist, according to science, which calls into question whether anything about EFT can possibly work aside if its underlying premise is fatally flawed.
However, EFT is being studied and claims are being made about its efficacy that have not yet been established by science. For instance, one of these studies sent for our review, which appeared on Pub Med, found that a single treatment session using EFT to reduce specific phobias can produce valid behavioral and subjective effects. Some limitations of the study were also noted and clarifying research was suggested. In other words, it’s not conclusive.
Another study provided for our review relied on a small sample size and concluded that “While reductions in BMI were not observed, the current study supports the suggestion that psychological interventions are beneficial for food cravings and both CBT [cognitive behavior therapy] and EFT could serve as vital adjunct tools in a multidisciplinary approach to managing obesity.” The study found that psychological interventions can work (which is already established by science) and that CBT and EFT “could” serve as vital adjunct tools in a “multidisciplinary approach” – meaning it could be useful when used with other interventions. It did not conclude that EFT was useful on its own.
There were similar drawbacks in another study that was provided to us, all of which were enunciated in the study itself: “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 behavioral therapy, and further research is needed to establish the relative efficacy of EFT to established protocols.”
An Iraqi study provided for our review also had several serious problems which were stated in the study’s own conclusions: “First, the results of this study were based on data collected from male secondary school students in Baghdad, so the sampling method used was not representative of the all Iraqi secondary schools in Baghdad. Second, the sample size was not sufficient to generalize the results. Because of the difficulties in obtaining permission to conduct this study on females, all the participants were male. Third, due to practical and resource constraints data collection was based on self-report scales rather than conducting clinical interviews.” For this reason, it concluded that further studies were needed to replicate these findings with larger sample sizes which would be sufficient to generalize the results.
In addition to questioning the results of these studies, we also pointed out that there is a plethora of scientific evidence in support of the psychological technique known as exposure and desensitization (therapies that help a person to confront their fears) to “defuse” painful emotions associated with trauma – but very little has been done to establish that the “tapping on meridian points” makes a real difference.
The only study I could find that did this comparison is 14 years-old and concluded that the results “do not support the idea that the purported benefits of EFT are uniquely dependent on the ‘tapping of meridians.’ Rather, these results suggest that the reported effectiveness of EFT is attributable to characteristics it shares with more traditional therapies.” We need to see more studies which compare groups that utilize interventions with tapping with those who use interventions without tapping..
This review found that tapping therapy studies in general tend to have the following methodological errors:
§ Drawing conclusions from a p value of 0.09
§ Not declaring the number of patients who dropped out
§ Poor, if any, blinding
§ Not controlling for placebo effects
§ Not controlling for demand characteristics
§ Tiny sample sizes
§ Bizarre, or inadequate, control groups
In addition to the above, it’s important to point out that EFT is based on the assumption of a putative form of energy that travels through the body via meridians which are accessed through “acupressure points.” Neither the energy nor the acupressure points are scientifically founded. Cochrane Collaboration conducted a systematic review of all the testing done on acupuncture and found no evidence that this treatment works for anything but some types of pain and nausea – and even these are not considered to be very strong conclusions. Whatever relief patients claim to be feeling after an acupuncture treatment is due to the release of pain-relieving endorphins and/or other physiological effects of a skin puncture. It has nothing to do with meridians or the manipulation of a universal energy.
Because EFT bases its efficacy on two methods that have proven to be pseudo-scientific, it is even more important to provide a much more thorough study of this practice than has been done to date.
It’s also disturbing to note the many websites promoting EFT like to mention a Harvard study that was conducted by Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Rick Leskowitz. This doctor is the director of the Integrative Medicine Project at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and a longtime practitioner of the technique which means he has a vested interest in promoting EFT – which means his research is considered to be biased.
Similarly, the same sites also like to tout this famous article that appeared a few years ago on Huffington Post which was written by Larry Burk, M.D. who is also a “certified energy health practitioner” who has a vested interest in making his therapy seem plausible to the public.
The “average Joe” doesn’t know that what they’re reading is considered to be biased by the scientific community and readers should be told this to avoid appearing to be misleading the public.
However, the good news in all of this is that EFT is being studied – which is more than can be said for many alternatives which make similar claims but refuse to back them up with anything more than user testimonials.