Emotional Freedom Techniques or 'tapping' for PTSD
Albert Einstein proved in the 1920’s that everything (including our bodies) is comprised of energy. Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) or ‘tapping’ is a scientifically proven technique which can release any ‘blockages’ in this energy, which can be the source of emotional intensity and discomfort, and has shown to be incredibly effective at treating PTSD and C-PTSD. This guest blog post from EFT International (the world’s leading professional EFT organisation) provides a greater understanding of what it is, how it works, and how it can help people with PTSD or C-PTSD.
“EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) or ‘tapping’ combines ancient wisdom about the body with current understanding of the psychology of trauma and the lasting damage it does. And one of the conditions for which it is proving most valuable is trauma and its after effects.
Qualities that make it a frontrunner for trauma help are:
- that it gets results in fewer sessions than traditional trauma therapies.
- it has the least risk that the treatment itself will be re-traumatising.
- it has impressive evidence of its effectiveness.
- it does not just assess success by self-report. It has results confirmed by biological, neurological, and genetic outcome measures.
- after working with an EFT professional, people have excellent effective coping strategies to use for themselves in any challenging situation, whether it is trauma related or not, for the rest of their lives.
More than 100 research studies, review articles and meta-analyses have been published in professional, peer-reviewed journals establishing the effectiveness of energy psychology, many of them EFT. There is enough evidence for NICE (the body that recommends treatments of choice in the UK) to have rated EFT’s evidence as strong enough to warrant further research as a trauma treatment.
What is EFT?
In an EFT session you or your practitioner will tap on points on your face and body with fingertips while you are focussing on a memory or a feeling. It may be a memory of a traumatic experience, or it may be a symptom of PTSD or C-PTSD.
These meridian points that are tapped on have been used in acupuncture and acupressure for more than 2000 years. In fact, EFT has been described as a kind of emotional acupuncture, but without needles.
Some practitioners like to start tapping in the first session with a client. Others like first to listen longer while a client tells them in more detail about what is going on for them. This is not just down to the practitioner’s preference: what a client feels is right for them is as important.
Some practitioners routinely tap on their clients. Others tap on the points on themselves and ask clients to mirror them and tap on themselves. Some do a mixture. They might, for example, switch to tapping on a client at times of high distress. If you do not want your therapist to touch you, you will have the option of saying so and tapping on yourself, either initially or throughout your treatment. It Is always your call.
While a client is tapping or being tapped on, they will be encouraged to repeat a phrase that helps them to keep their focus on what they are tapping to deal with.
One round of tapping takes only a couple of minutes. But it is impossible to predict or to promise how many rounds in a session or how many sessions an individual client will find most beneficial.
At the end of a round or rounds your practitioner will ask you to notice what is now coming up for you and may divert the direction of your focus according to what you tell them. This is because one thing that EFT does reliably is to take us where we need to go.
It is amazing how often someone is focussing on a memory or a feeling and tapping and finds their attention suddenly zaps off to something else in the past. This is pure therapy gold. It may seem irrelevant when subjected to logical analysis, but it will have some relevant link. EFT seems be able to penetrate the way events and the memory of them are related in our unconscious minds and how we need to go about untangling them.
This video below featuring Judy Byrne, EFTi Master Trainer of Trainers, gives a comprehensive introduction to EFT/tapping.
How do EFT sessions work?
It is difficult to explain exactly what to expect in EFT sessions because different practitioners work in different ways. And even more importantly different clients need different kinds of help. Practitioners are encouraged to tailor each session to the person they are working with. Unlike some therapies, there is no fixed rigid protocol for an EFT session.
Tapping is always a key part of the work. But a trauma-informed EFT practitioner will take into account your history, your resources, your symptoms, your needs and your preferences. It will be collaborative work, discussing options and your preferences with you.
That might begin with checking what resources you have and helping you to add additional ones. Your practitioner might use tapping on acupuncture points to ease your dread of remembering the traumatic event or events before going to the trauma itself.
They may do much of the processing without asking you to talk about the memory you have of past trauma at all. Or they may postpone asking you to tell them about it until you can do so without being overwhelmed by emotion. Because EFT does not have a rigid procedure, one of its strengths is that it is so readily adaptable to the needs and preferences of individuals.
What does tapping do to your brain/body?
Tapping on these points calms the amygdala, the area of the brain that acts as the ‘smoke alarm’ and triggers anxiety hormones to stream through the body if it detects, or thinks it detects, danger. That can happen whether the danger is real, or something has triggered a memory of past hazard. Because people who are living post trauma can be in a state of hyperarousal, this is key.
Trauma memories also have a way of tricking us into us into believing we are experiencing something now when we are really remembering something in the past. This time distortion is one of its PTSD’s frequent symptoms.
Memory is not like a video recording. It is a construction. Each time we retrieve a memory we unconsciously edit it in some way to try to make more sense of it. Next time what we recall is this most recently constructed version, not an accurate memory of the actual event.
EFT takes advantage of this mind mechanism. One of the ways it works is that we can retrieve a memory, use tapping to reduce or eliminate the anxiety or fear or terror that is linked with it and produce a new version of that memory’s emotional content. The story will stay the same, but its emotional impact will not.
EFT and Complex PTSD (C-PTSD)
EFT can also be used to treat C-PTSD (PTSD caused by multiple, repeated or sustained traumas), although depending on the severity, depth of exposure to trauma, length of exposure, inescapability, etc the work may be more complex and would need to be taken much more slowly with the need for multiple sessions. With patience and persistence however, very good results can be achieved.
An Advanced EFT Practitioner has so many techniques at their disposal to go gently and indirectly, working at a pace with which the client is comfortable, but at the same time to enable the client to get fairly swift, sometimes even immediate, relief from specific troublesome feelings, even in people who’ve experienced multiple traumas.
Examples of how EFT has transformed the lives of people with PTSD and C-PTSD
In this video below, EFT International Trainer, Naomi Janzen interviews Peter Lloyd, ABC News Australia journalist about his very public journey with PTSD and the role EFT has played in his return to “joy, bubbling over with energy, even mood and not over-responding” and above all, his “special source, his ability to express himself”. Thanks to EFT, he says, he has got that back. And it is very clear from how well he expresses himself in this video that this is indeed the case.
Are there any side-effects of EFT?
Most people have no negative after-effects from EFT. Quite the reverse. But a few do experience something unusual – tingling, numbness, uneasiness, fatigue. And again, EFT has help to offer: the basic tapping routine will deal with them.
Can I do tapping at home myself?
Yes – in some ways. There are a variety of apps, YouTube videos, and Tap-along videos available – however it should be noted that these are perhaps best used to complement EFT therapy with a professional, or to help calm you in tough moments rather than a stand-alone treatment. Tap-alongs, (we do have some on EFTi YouTube channel) can be useful in helping take the edge off things. It’s unlikely that tapping ‘from home’ alone can treat PTSD or C-PTSD, and this is simply down to the fact that much of EFT is about a personalised experience, and what works for you as an individual.
With C-PTSD and PTSD, to tackle the actual problem (as opposed to meditative type work to feel calmer), it’s best to work with an experienced practitioner with training specific to trauma. Alongside that, you could use tap-alongs for day-to-day calming.
How can I get EFT therapy?
There is a list of accredited EFT practitioners on the EFT International website.
EFT International™ is a unique, not-for-profit global association (UK registered charity number 1176538) of dedicated EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) practitioners, trainers and students. We hold our members to the highest standards of EFT practice, and all must engage in annual professional development activities, undergo mentoring, and uphold a comprehensive code of conduct and ethics for the public benefit. The EFT International website is a hub of EFT information, events, and scholarly work, including the latest scientific research, a growing archive of EFT articles and perspectives, and a comprehensive introductory tapping manual.
Our mission: EFT International™ is committed to advancing and upholding the highest standards for education, training, professional development and promotion of the skillful, creative and ethical application of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) for global public benefit.”
Please remember, these aren’t meant to be medical recommendations, but they’re tactics that have worked for others and might work for you, too. Be sure to work with a professional to find the best methods for you.
*Names have been changed for anonymity
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It is possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it is never too late to seek help. For some, the first step may be watchful waiting, then exploring therapeutic options such as individual or group therapy – but the main treatment options in the UK are psychological treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting and understanding your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD. You can find out more in the links below, or here.