EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique)
Anyone who has ever gotten that sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach on the hearing of disturbing news understands the connection between the body and mind. Often, the body’s energy system responds to psychological stimulus even before the mind registers the news. A new psychological treatment that taps into the way energy flows through the body is called EFT – the Emotional Freedom Technique. It has brought relief to many who have found themselves not helped by conventional psychotherapy and disturbed by the idea that their moods should be regulated by prescription drugs.
How the Body’s Energy System Works: Setting the Stage for EFT
Western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) developed along parallel tracks. Western medicine focused – and focuses – on traditional cause and effect, and scientific method. It has brought crucial health breakthroughs to the world in the areas of vaccination, surgery, and public health. What it has not done is improve the lifespan, or the quality of life compared to the medicine that was and is practiced in much of the Far East.
That medicine – Traditional Chinese Medicine – recognizes the existence of all the same organs as western medicine. There is the heart, kidneys, lungs, nerves, reproduction organs, veins, arteries, and the like. The difference lies in the TCM on a complex network of energy pathways through the body that were first recognized five millennia ago, and whose existence has been confirmed by countless men, women, and children who have been restored to health by TCM doctors. Western medicine’s first appeal is to medication. TCM’ first appeal is to bringing the body’s energy system back into balance, through a variety of techniques including acupuncture, acupressure, herbal treatment, and the like.
It can be hard for westerners to conceive of these energy flows, but it should not be. When that sickening feeling forms in the pit of the stomach at bad news, or a lump forms in the throat at sad news, those physical effects are in reaction to a change in the body’s energy. Hormone releases explain part of the change, but only part. Just as a wireless Wifi transmitter sends out radio waves that are unseen and useless until an external electronic device connects to them and enables the use of the Internet, the effects of body energy are most often unnoticed. The fact is, though, that so many physical and psychological issues develop because that energy flow is somehow impeded. Restoring balance to the flow, and thus to the body, is at the heart of TCM. Restoring mental balance by regulating energy flow is at the heart of EFT.
How EFT Works
EFT is grounded in mind-body medicine and acupuncture. Acupuncture is a technique that is quite well known, where an experienced TCM doctor will insert almost impossibly thin needle a little ways into the skin, along recognized energy meridians, in order to stimulate the flow of energy in those meridians. Experience has show that various meridians, and their sub-channels, are associated with the health of various organs and bodily systems. Acupuncture is painless. Its value can be seen in the number of western medical hospitals that now incorporate the practice into complementary medical departments designed for patients will all kinds of ailments, including cancer. The hospital at New York University, one of the world’s most prestigious, is a good example of such an institution. Often, these hospitals call these departments “integrative medicine.”
EFT can be conceived of as a form of energy meridian manipulation for the mind. No matter what is troubling a person – whether the patient seeks improvement in the physical health, emotional style or response to life, or even performance of life’s tasks -- the patient has unresolved emotional and psychological factors that block progress. The science – western science! – is clear now, for example, that emotional or psychological stress can lower immune response. Before a person is approved for a kidney or heart transplant procedure, many transplant centers will do a battery of psychological testing of the potential transplant recipient because state of mind and emotional response are seen as crucial for a successful outcome. For a more granular example, many people recognize that they are especially prone to viruses and colds when they are under emotional stress. Or, they sleep more poorly.
There are some who call EFT psychotherapy through acupressure. Instead of being an expert on attachment theory, reaction-formation, defense mechanism, or all the other theoretical underpinnings of talk therapy, the EFT specialist takes more direct route to allay psychological pain. Psychotherapy can take a dozen, two dozen, or even a couple of years of weekly meetings to achieve a result. By that time, it can be hard to determine whether progress is the result of the therapy, or simply the changing conditions of life that come with the passage of time. EFT, by way of contrast, will work fast to alleviate blockages in the energy meridians that govern the mental and emotional responses of the body. That these responses can stand independent from physical functioning is attested to by the number of people who go to the gym faithfully, run on the treadmill, sweat on the elliptical, attend spinning classes, lift weights, and still feel lousy emotionally. They are doing everything right that they can, but their energy meridians are not helping their minds and spirit. To go back to the analogy of the WiFi transmitter, it is as if the transmitter itself is top of the line and operating at 100%, but the antennae itself is broken. No matter how good the unit, without an antenna, there will be no WiFi connection. Without unblocked energy meridians, there will be mind-body connection, either.
Blockages do not just result in underwhelming or unpleasant emotions. They can even result in unhealthy thoughts and poor psychological stances toward life. A person may feel low self-confidence, self-loathing, unenergetic, or unmotivated. Anxiety may mount; depression is possible. In the outside world, the patient may be producing mediocre work when excellence is needed, or find work to be less rewarding than it used to be, instead of more rewarding. Social relationships may change as well. Close friendships may grow more attenuated, or a person may shift into a social group where closeness is more apparent than real. People have even reported changes in their political leanings and opinions about the issues of the day. It is hard to maintain a life stance of optimism when energy flow is making a view of the world darker. In some cases, patients may be eating more, drinking more, and acting more compulsively.
The Nuts and Bolts – and Taps! -- of EFT Treatment
EFT requires the practitioner to be exquisitely aware of the energy channels and meridians that affect the brain, thoughts, and emotion. Created in the 1990s by a TCM-aware practitioner named Gary Craig, Craig came to understand that the application of firm but fleeting fingertip pressure to particular energy meridians would have a powerful effect on a patient’s mental and emotional state, and even their intellectual thinking. If one wonders why the Chinese had not come across this phenomena in all their years of doing TCM, the answer lies in the difference in how western and Chinese society developed. The west favors autonomy; China favors the collective. Social scientists would label the west low-context, and China high-context. In societies that favor autonomy, different kinds of emotional problems are likely to develop compared to more collectivist cultures.
Craig found that his tapping technique was little short of miraculous, when it worked. Patients who had struggled with drug therapy or long courses of psychotherapy found relief from a wide variety of symptoms. People who had suffered recent trauma or long-term abuse found themselves able to function in ways that would have been impossible before the treatment. Those with depression felt the darkness lift; the hyper anxious were restored to ordinary neurotic daily life, and the creative reported that they were even thinking better. Some of his patients found more relief in a single session of EFT than in conventional therapy. Their therapists were skeptical, but the results lasted. What’s more, patients of Craig who were dealing with seemingly intractable physical issues found those issues resolving, too. EFT didn’t cure cancer, no, but it surely helped patients with chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, and any number of other physical difficulties.
Just as blood cannot flow through blocked arteries, EFT opens pathways for energy to flow to the brain as it should, and for the brain to send signals to the body as it should. Those signals activate hormones that respond to the myriad changes the body encounters all the time – from something as simple as a change of temperature in the night while sleeping, to as complex as a physical attack. When pathways are unblocked, the body can function as it should, and heal itself as itself. That healing extends to the mental, spiritual, and emotional, as well as to the physical.
EFT as a Useful Adjunct to Talk Therapy
EFT does not render talk therapy obsolete. Not hardly. In fact, an EFT practitioner cannot begin to diagnose a patient, nor understand which energy channel between the brain and body might need stimulation, without a keen understanding of the psychology of the patient. This does not mean that every EFT practitioner must also hold a psychology doctorate, but it would be advisable to see a practitioner who has at least done some graduate work in psychology. Understanding a patient’s psychology using knowledge gleaned from episodes of Dr. Oz or old Oprah! reruns will not cut it. In addition, a trained practitioner can help a patient to understand the triggering incidents and maladaptive thinking patterns that can lead to energy blockages. If that sounds a bit like Becker’s cognitive behavioral therapy, with its short-therapy and here-and-now emphasis, the connection is deliberate. For physical symptoms, EFT may be appropriate without the same kind of psychological understanding. However, the more that a patient can resolve past traumas, emotional difficulties, and unhelpful mental states, the more likely it is that the patient will thrive.
The Limits of EFT
Just like any treatment, EFT does not have a perfect cure rate. If it did, it would be touted on the front page of the New York Times. Instead, it has an admirable record of success for many who have not found relief down any other avenue. The vast majority of patients have no psychological recoil from the unblocking of energy pathways, but in rare cases individuals may feel overwhelming emotions or other signs of psychological distress. These almost always dissipate quickly, leaving the patient feeling as if she or her had a cathartic experience. Those whose childhoods were filled with traumas and who are under the care of a doctor or mental health professional should certain consult with their caregiver before coming for EFT treatment.
What You Should Know About EFT Research
EFT is being researched in laboratories around the world. In some of these studies, the treatment has reached the standards of the American Psychiatric Association for “efficacious” for certain disorders, such as anxiety, PTSD, various phobias, and different levels of depression. These studies have been reported in outstanding clinical practice journals, including several journals of the American Psychiatric Association like the Review of General Psychology. Sponsoring institutions include the medical school at Harvard University, the City University of New York, and the University of California (Berkeley). International research includes hospitals and universities in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Sweden. A number of these studies are in the process of being replicated.