In the late 1990s, an alternative therapy created from a combination of alternative therapies including acupuncture, neuro-linguistic programming, energy medicine and thought-field therapy was popularized by a man named Gary Craig through his book entitled “EFT Handbook.”
Designed to allow people to manifest their desired reality through affirmations and patterns of physical touch, it is strongly advocated by people who believe they have felt its effects and just as strongly dismissed by others (including the 2013 Oxford Handbook of Psychiatry) as pseudoscience. This article will discuss the possible application of EFT techniques to anxiety disorders.
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How EFT is Performed
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When used properly, EFT is supposed to allow people to feel happier about their lives and to foster self-acceptance. The treatment requires the participant to touch a progression of pressure points along the “meridian lines” of electromagnetic energy upon which acupuncture is based while concentrating on the problem they wish to address (referred to as “tuning in” to their problem) and repetitively stating an affirmation. EFT affirmations have the following structure (though variations are acceptable):
“Even though I have this (briefly state your personal problem), I deeply and completely love and accept myself.”
How Pressure Points Relate to Anxiety
The pressure points, said to be located along meridian lines wherein the body’s “ki” or life-energy is stored, include the following:
- Fingertips (used for tapping the other pressure points)
- Brow bones
- Beside the eyes (outer side)
- Beneath the eyes
- Beneath the nose
- Collar bones
- Beneath the arm
Science has yet to prove the existence of electromagnetic energy “meridians” in the body. It has suggested that when EFT is performed on you by another person, it may be more effective, because touching your body yourself immediately registers in your brain as a non-threat, your body doesn’t pay that much attention to it (this is why it is impossible to tickle yourself, even if you are extremely ticklish). However, when another person touches you, it has a deeper impact because the brain recognizes it as an intrusion by a foreign body.
Concentrating on evoking strong feelings in yourself while experiencing another person’s touch functions to link the two in your brain in the same way that people, places or things can be linked to traumatic events in the brain through the amygdala, which organized memories based on the strength of associated emotions and is also responsible for triggering the fight or flight response in the body.
If the strong feelings you consciously associate with the touch are positive, there is a scientific chance that you will subconsciously associate those parts of your body with strong, positive feelings in the future. As for the specific affirmation, it is harder to know whether it will “come true” due to the process, but at least some people believe that it does. The next section will discuss positive affirmations in more detail.
The Value of Positive Affirmations
Thinking of and repeating positive affirmations in general may be a good habit for you if you are someone who experiences anxiety. Rather than focusing on the negative, you can use positive affirmations to put yourself in a better frame of mind, whether because you are actively pursuing a goal or because of your belief that positive affirmations will help you reach it (or both).
Thinking “I can do this!” rather than “This is impossible!” is a much more productive way to go through life. Watching for negative affirmations that your mind offers you in your daily life, such as “I’m not good enough,” “Nothing good ever happens to me” or “I’ll always feel anxious,” and consciously replacing them with their positive opposites can help you take on a more positive and empowered perspective in the difficult situations you may encounter.
Interrupting negative thought cycles with positive affirmations in this way can also help you avoid anxiety. Journaling is a helpful way to find out what your negative affirmations are and replace them with positive ones, as well as helping you to identify and stop negative thought cycles when they occur.
Learning Self Acceptance
Self acceptance is another useful principle involved in EFT. It can be hard to accept yourself when you feel anxious and do not want to feel that way. However, you can make anxiety worse by allowing yourself to become upset by it. Focusing on the aspects of yourself that you value and appreciate rather than becoming distressed by the problems that you have is a more constructive and healthy way to think.
Being accepting of yourself is also a good way to find acceptance in others. If other people sense that you are uncomfortable with yourself, they will also be made uncomfortable, which can lead to the tension and embarrassment in social situations that cause social anxiety. If they realize that you are comfortable with who you are, others will in turn feel more comfortable around you. Having people in your life who understand and support you can help you to live with your problems, which creates a positive cycle of support and strength.
An activity that can help you build a sense of self acceptance in addition to EFT exercises might be finding a creative outlet such as drawing, painting, sculpting, or playing an instrument. Creating art that only you could create can help you become more comfortable with being who you are, and also gives you time to relax and focus your mind on a specific activity rather than allowing it to drift into negative thought patterns.
Can EFT Help You?
While the self acceptance and affirmations advocated in EFT are positive (concentrating on building passionate, positive beliefs every day as frequently as is reasonable), the science behind the pressure points has not been conclusively proven. It is likely just another treatment that is prone to the placebo effect.
However, there is no known risk involved in thinking positively while touching various parts of your body in succession, and may at the very least improve your state of mind. So if you want to try EFT, you should – just note that if it doesn't work, there are other treatments out there that will.
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Church, Dawson, and Audrey J. Brooks. The effect of a brief EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) self-intervention on anxiety, depression, pain and cravings in healthcare workers. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal 9.5 (2010): 40-44.
Swingle, Paul G., Lee Pulos, and Mari K. Swingle. Neurophysiological indicators of EFT treatment of post-traumatic stress. Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine Journal Archives 15.1 (2004).
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.