• Megan Begley, LCSW

Using Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT Tapping) for Anxiety, Depression, Pain, and Other Issues

Updated: Mar 12

What is EFT Tapping or ‘’tapping therapy?’’

Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT, has been called ‘’Emotional Acupuncture.’’ It’s a brief, easy way to cope with distressing issues by using your fingertips to tap on some of the meridian points used in traditional acupuncture. After learning how to combine the tapping sequence with verbal statements about the problem, you can help yourself calm down, move past a difficult feeling or craving, or even alleviate physical pain.

In traditional Chinese medicine, the meridian system refers to channels or ‘’highways’’ of energetic movement throughout the body. Applying needles, pressure, or taps to certain points on these meridians (which are paired in the body), is thought to stimulate and redirect energy in a way that corrects systemic imbalances.

Imbalances that begin at the emotional level are thought to eventually reach the physical level if left unaddressed, which is one explanation for why EFT can help with pain (particularly if numerous other approaches haven’t been effective).

Although Western minds still struggle to embrace concepts like energy medicine and energy psychology, like acupuncture, the efficacy of EFT for multiple conditions is supported by clinical research.

Using EFT as a coping strategy

There are three basic components of EFT: 1) the tapping point sequence (which is all done on the face and upper body), 2) verbalization of the issue you’re tapping on and any associated bodily sensations, and 3) a corrective statement portion. Your first impression of the process may be that it’s overwhelming or too much hassle, but people typically pick up on it very quickly. Also, many people (myself included) find that it’s easier to actually use when distressed than various breathing techniques that they’ve learned for coping. As indicated in my blog post ''Anxiety Doesn't Want to be Managed,'' I believe this is because EFT is focused on acknowledging and honoring the triggering issue, which actually wants to surface rather than be chased away or shut down.

The nine-point tapping sequence, in particular, is easy to memorize. The main learning curve is understanding how to flesh out your feeling statements after a beginning ‘’set-up statement,’’ and it’s normal to stumble with your words initially as you get the hang of it. The key principle, however, is that you state your feeling or problem, the reason for it, and any sensations that it’s causing in your body. You may get increased benefit by verbalizing how the current feeling reminds you of previous memories and tapping on those as well--see more on this below under the subheading ‘’Using EFT as a psychotherapy intervention.''

When first learning, however, feel free to keep it simple, and set yourself up for success by using guided videos that provide issue-specific, generalized statements for you to follow (i.e., you just tap along) until you get the idea of what to say. There’s an abundance of information about EFT online, from instructional demo videos on YouTube to comprehensive resources such as EFT Universe and The Tapping Solution. The Tapping Solution has also developed an excellent, user-friendly phone app with some free guided tapping exercises (e.g., ‘’Racing Mind for Sleep,’’ and ‘’Releasing Anxiety,’’) and a huge library of topics at the paid level.

EFT is great for all levels of emotional awareness and comfort

One of the best things about the Emotional Freedom Technique is that, just as it can be taken deeper, it can also be modified for the capability of the individual, or for any resistance you feel. For example, if you can’t quite buy into the corrective statement portion of the process about a feeling, you can acknowledge and accept your resistance and tap on that. It’s a way of working positively with your energy whether you’re say, scared of your emotions and accustomed to blocking them, or you’re very comfortable with your emotional depths, but would like a method for navigating them more efficiently.

EFT is also great for helping children or limited adults with anxiety or other types of strong emotions. You can help them learn to tap with simplified statements, or have them tap on a doll, stuffed animal, or drawing of a person; in addition to the fact that they may find tapping elsewhere more fun, it helps them begin to externalize feelings and therefore understand they can be managed. Assuming you already understand the aspects of the feeling state they're experiencing, you can also tap and verbalize statements for them as they connect with you by looking into your eyes. This can be particularly useful for states of total paralysis caused by panic.

Using EFT as a psychotherapy intervention

Interestingly, EFT can be used as an in-depth, therapist-guided psychotherapy approach as well as a coping technique. Like other somatic (mind-body) therapy methods, such as EMDR and hypnotherapy, EFT begins with mindful awareness of a negative feeling state and accompanying sensations in the body. Part of mindfulness is acceptance of the feeling (versus distraction or repression) and by extension, of the broader self, which tends to open the door for positive change in the perception of an issue.

We may get messages from others that if an emotional issue persists beyond what seems reasonable, we should ‘’just let it go,’’ but true release rarely takes place with only a decision or assertion. Typically, you must first acknowledge and honor the depth of pain beneath the surface of an issue (i.e., what we resist, persists), and having someone objectively and supportively bear witness to this facilitates the process.

On this same note, EFT and other mind-body psychotherapies are also links to transpersonal work, which involves willingness to understand developmental influences and traumas as unconscious personality aspects--often ones that perpetuate self-defeating patterns. As pioneering transpersonal psychologist and psychiatrist Carl Jung has been famously quoted, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.’’

Also, just as hypnotherapy looks for past memories associated with the current issue and the EMDR process can stumble upon them, EFT can be even more powerful when you stop to ask yourself if your current feeling state reminds you of anything else you’ve experienced in your life, and then build that into your tapping sequence. If you have acute trauma or complex trauma history that you haven’t been able to explore with a sense of adequate safety, however, you may recognize a need to postpone this step until you can do it with the support of a therapist.

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