Can We Consider EFT to be an Evidence-Based Treatment Method from a Scientific Point of View?
Updated: May 9
Before I became a psychologist, I trained as a microbiologist and later worked in microbiology, medical biochemistry and commercial chemistry laboratories.
So, my initial training was as a scientist and I am still reassured by sound scientific evidence that a particular psychotherapy method works.
We label such methods as being ‘evidence-based.’
So, is EFT Evidence-Based?
Well, I’ll explore this via the criteria of the American Psychological Association (APA) - the controlling body for psychologists in the USA - a very conservative body with very stringent criteria for the acceptance of a method as being “efficacious” (i.e. evidence-based).
The APA stipulates several criteria that have to be satisfied before we can call a treatment an “efficacious.”
They stipulate that a treatment can only be called “efficacious” if:
at least two different controlled trials
are conducted by independant research teams
and the statistics show with a 95% probability that the results are not due to chance
and the results demonstrate that the treatment is better than a wait list, placebo, or established efficacious treatment.
Now, it is notoriously difficult to show that a psychotherapy method is efficacious.
Only about 20% of new psychotherapy methods eventually become recognised as being efficacious and it typically takes around 17 years for a method to achieve this status.
With EFT, it has been particularly difficult.
EFT combines elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with western psychological methods and so the method looks strange.
Furthermore, clinicians using EFT typically report results that appear to be too good to be true.
These have led many clinicians, researchers and funders to be rather sceptical.
And, if the funders are sceptical, financial support for research is very limited. Despite all of this, to date, EFT has been able to meet the stringent APA standards and has been accepted as an “efficacious” treatment for phobias, anxiety, depression and PTSD.
This conclusion was reached as early as 2012 and was based on 51 peer-reviewed papers and which included 18 randomised controlled trials (Feinstein, 2012).
Randomised controlled trials are considered to be the ‘gold standard’ in psychological research and such trials aim to compare a new treatment to an existing treatment (or to no treatment or to a pseudo treatment), in a completely unbiased way. It does this by assigning subjects to two (or more) existing treatments, in a random way and then comparing results.
At the time of writing this article (April 2020), there are more than a 100 studies demonstrating the efficacy of EFT for variety of issues (Bach, 2019) and there are now at least 24 randomised controlled trials published in peer-reviewed journals all demonstrating that EFT is effective in treating a wide range of issues (Feinstein, 2020).
Some of these findings are very striking. A meta-analysis (a high-level statistical analysis) of 20 studies on EFT for depression by Jerrod et al (2016), for example, concluded that EFT was more effective than:
antidepressant drug trials
In another study by Karatzias et al (2011), EFT was compared with one of the gold standard treatments for the treatment of PTSD (EMDR) and EFT and EMDR were found to be equally efficacious.
So, we can confidently say that EFT is an evidence-based treatment for phobias, anxiety, depression and PTSD.
But, this is by no means a complete list of issues for which EFT is claimed to be useful.
Clinical reports and preliminary research have reported EFT to also be effective in:
Lowering stress levels
Lowering levels of irrational anger
Lowering levels of jealousy
Lowering levels of guilt
Lowering levels of shame
Resolving unremitting grief
Reducing test anxiety
Reducing chronic pain including fibromyalgia
Reducing cortisol levels
Reducing blood pressure
Reducing resting heart rate
Raised immunoglobulin levels
Improved heart rate variability
Raising levels of happiness and sense of well-being
Further research is required on the use of EFT with these issues in order to meet all of the APA requirements. So, a conservative view would be to say that EFT for these issues is at an experimental stage (Feinstein, 2020), pending further research.
That having been said, EFT is being used to treat all of these issues by thousands of professionals worldwide and the clinical reports continue to be very positive.
In addition to this, research continues at many prestigious institutions including:
Harvard Medical School
The University of California at Berkeley
City University of New York
Walter Reed Military Medical Center
Texas A&M University
Staffordshire University (United Kingdom)
Lund University (Sweden)
Ankara University (Turkey)
Santo Tomas University (Philippines)
Lister Hospital (England)
Cesar Vallejo University (Peru)
Bond University (Australia)
and Griffith University (Australia).
I am certain that, in time, EFT will be widely considered to be a highly-valued, effective and efficient, evidence-based treatment for a much wider range of disorders.
Bach, D., Groesbeck, G., Stapleton, P., Sims, R., Blickheuser, K., & Church, D. (2019). Clinical EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) improves multiple physiological markers of health. Journal of evidence-based integrative medicine, 24 , 2515690X18823691.
Boath, E., Stewart, A., & Carryer, A. (2012). A narrative systematic review of the effectiveness of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). Staffordshire University, CPSI Monograph.
Church, D. (2013). Clinical EFT as an evidence-based practice for the treatment of psychological and physiological conditions. Psychology, 4, 645–654. doi:10.4236/psych.2013.48092.
Church, D. (2013). The EFT manual (3rd ed.). Santa Rosa, CA: Energy Psychology Press
Church, D., & Feinstein, D. (2017). The manual stimulation of acupuncture points in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder: A review of Clinical Emotional Freedom Techniques. Medical Acupuncture, 29(4), 1–12. doi:10.1089/acu.2017.1213
Church, D., Stapleton, P., Yang, A., & Gallo, F. (2018). Tapping on Acupuncture Points an Active Ingredient in Emotional Freedom Techniques? A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Comparative Studies.
J Nerv Ment Dis 2018;206: 783–793
Clond, M. “Emotional freedom techniques for anxiety: A systematic review with meta-analysis.” Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 204 (2016):388–395. doi:10.1097/NMD.0000000000000483.
Feinstein, D. (2012). Acupoint stimulation in treating psychological disorders: Evidence of efficacy. Review of General Psychology, 16, 364–380. doi:10.1037/a0028602
Feinstein, D. (2020) Interview with Jessica Ortner, World Tapping Summit 2020.
Jerrod A. Nelms,PhD, MPH and Liana Castel, PhD, MSPH. (2016). A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised and nonrandomised trials of clinical emotional freedom techniques (EFT) for the treatment of depression. Explore 2016; 12:416-426 © 2016 Elsevier
Karatzias, T., Power, K., Brown, K., McGoldrick, T., Begum, M., Young, Y., Loughran, P., Chouliara, Z., & Adams, S. (2011). A controlled comparison of the effectiveness and efficiency of two psychological therapies for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing vs. Emotional Freedom Techniques. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 199(6), 372-378.
Sebastian, B., & Nelms, J. (2016). The effectiveness of Emotional Freedom Techniques in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder: A meta-analysis. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 13(1), 16-25. doi:10.1016/j.explore.2016.10.001