Emotional Wellbeing – The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)

by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP

At Women to Women, we talk a lot about supporting your core foundation of health. This foundation, much like a building’s, must be rooted to four mainstays, or corners. Most of the time, it is easier to describe (and to understand) the first three: optimal nutrition, hormonal balance, and healthy lifestyle choices. But the fourth — emotional well-being — is equally important, or perhaps more so because it is so often overlooked.

Since first beginning my practice, I have tried to help my patients deal with all aspects of their health, including how their physiology relates to their emotional patterning. But up until ten years ago I couldn’t provide them with any easily accessible tools of their own — only referrals. Then my father introduced me to an innovative therapy known as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). I have been recommending it to my patients ever since. The wonderful thing about EFT is that it can be done anywhere: on your own or — even better — with a trained practitioner. For some women, EFT may be all they need to get a handle on how deeply their emotions are affecting their health. For others, it may be just the first step on a more intense journey that needs the guiding hand of a skilled professional.

Stress, anxiety and emotional ruts all manifest in the body in some way — that’s why we always tell our patients that their biography becomes their biology. EFT is simple, affordable, practical self-help that targets this reality. So let’s discuss why you should try it.

Stress and your health: the science of psychoneuroimmunology

Stress is a given in our culture – but what’s not so accepted is the idea that stress and emotional trauma have a physical manifestation.

While many people are familiar with the mind-body concept of Eastern and alternative medicine paradigms, psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is applying Western scientific methodology to the study of how the central nervous system and the immune system interact. Specifically, how these two systems are influenced by non-biological factors: conditioning and stress. What these and other areas of documented study prove is that emotional experience is, in a figurative sense, embedded in our tissues and has clear physical manifestations that are unique to each woman and man, including anxiety, weight gain, depression, fatigue, diffuse pain and GI upset.

For more information, read our article, “How Emotional Experience Determines Your Health.”

What this means for a vast majority of people is that to truly shift your physiology, you have to unlock your emotional baggage.

And this is often not easy to do — in the vast orchestra of your body, understanding your emotional patterning is like trying to identify one discordant instrument and tune it. Most people simply can’t do this on their own without training — and unfortunately end up on antidepressant or anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) medication that turns down the noise. While this can be somewhat beneficial in the short term, you can only press the mute button for so long.

In order to truly feel well, you have to listen and you have to do the work. And that’s where EFT comes in.

What is Emotional Freedom Technique?

The philosophy behind EFT, according to its founder Gary Craig, is: “The cause of all negative emotions is a disruption in the body’s energy system.”

Eastern medicine has long recognized the importance of understanding and maintaining health by maintaining the proper and free flow of bodily energies. In the Ayurvedic medical community, life force (prana) flows through channels called the chakras. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) these channels are known as energy meridians, and these are the pathways used in the practice of acupuncture and acupressure. They also serve as the basis of other energy healing modalities, including EFT.

Emotional Freedom Technique came into being in the 1990’s after Gary Craig completed extensive training with Dr. Roger Callahan, a cognitive psychologist. Dr. Callahan devised — almost by accident — a therapy system known as Thought Field Therapy (TFT), which is based in part on theories of energy kinesiology. He discovered TFT in the course of standard treatments for a patient with a severe phobia of water. Seeking more ways to offer help, he drew on his background in energy psychology and physical energy flow and successfully cured the patient’s phobia. Gary Craig has taken Thought Field Therapy one step further.

I became familiar with Craig and EFT through my father’s therapeutic work with victims of deep trauma and PTSD. Since then, EFT has become one of several popular initial therapies at Women to Women. I have seen many cases where EFT has worked for anxiety, phobias, pain management, weight loss, insomnia, and a range of other conditions. Many of my patients had no idea their emotions were contributing to their symptoms until they began EFT.

For more information about how emotions affect our health, read our many revealing articles in our Emotions, Anxiety and Mood section.

Remarkably, unlike many more conventional emotional and psychological therapies, EFT is entirely accessible, private, and quite inexpensive — free, if you can do it yourself. Even working with a trained EFT practitioner is typically less costly than similar visits to a traditional psychotherapist or counselor. Plus, the number of visits required is usually few — sometimes just one will accomplish what is needed, and occasionally a simple conversation with a trained practitioner can get you started. Unlike drugs, EFT has no side effects. It can be done almost anywhere (even by phone or tele-video sessions), and can be easily learned at home. EFT is genuine self-help and can be a springboard to profound emotional — and ultimately physical — change.

Craig calls EFT “a unique version of acupuncture, except you don’t use needles. Instead, you stimulate well established energy meridian points on your body by tapping on them with your fingertips.” EFT is grounded in thousands of years of therapeutic history. Energy meridians relate directly not only to TCM and acupuncture, but to other healing paradigms like shiatsu, t’ai chi, yoga, and so on. In all these practices — EFT included — a balance of body energies is fundamental to all other aspects of health.

Acupuncture, acupressure and EFT

Over 5000 years ago, the Chinese discovered a primary energetic substance in the body that can’t be seen. This energy, or Qi, is thought to be the essence and sustenance of all life in the universe. There can be no movement without this life force, which runs through the human body along twelve channels, or meridians. Like a circuit board, these energetic meridians map the body and are named for the life functions associated with them.

Meridians serve as pathways of positive and negative energies and communicate deep within the vital systems and organs of the body. The meeting points of positive and negative energies along meridians are acupuncture points. Acupuncture points are also where Qi from the outside environment enters the body. Five hundred acupuncture points have been measured and mapped by modern technological methods: electronically, thematically, and radioactively. By applying pressure or needles to these acupuncture points, trained doctors are able to diagnose disease, control pain, optimize health, and facilitate healing by restoring or maintaining the flow of Qi.

Although many Western practitioners don’t officially recognize acupuncture and the concept of energetic meridians, it has proven to be so effective (and cost-effective) for pain management that many health insurance companies now cover the procedure. Even the skeptics are beginning to admit that there is something to this 5000-year-old practice. It’s about time! And while you may not want or be able to access an acupuncturist, when you practice EFT you are working with the same principals.

So just what is the technique? I’ll do my best to explain.

The EFT process

In my experience, EFT is a wonderful first step in understanding the emotional roots of a health condition — but it is often just the beginning. In order to get the most out of EFT, it is best to work with a licensed psychologist or counselor trained in EFT. With that being said, I can’t think of any harm that could result trying EFT on your own.

Gary Craig has devised what he calls “The Basic Recipe,” a sequence that can be used in just about any situation with minimal adaptation, as suits the patient or practitioner.

With this you are first guided (or will guide yourself) through identifying a specific pain, anxiety, or problem. This is an important part of the process and can make all the difference in some cases. It is my belief that EFT is generally only as effective as the practitioner asking you questions. The good news is that this can be done over the phone or in one or two brief sessions.

From that work, you’ll develop a guiding phrase (Craig likes to refer to this as the “affirmation”) that relates to an issue, sensation, concern, and emotion, based on this adaptable phrasing:

Even though I have this _____, I deeply and completely love and accept myself.

Practitioners urge that the guiding phrase be said with conviction, but even if you don’t really feel it, just repeating the phrase with emphasis appears to be quite effective. This is one of the reasons why EFT works even when the person involved is a bit skeptical of the therapy.

Once you have established a phrase, you begin a series of tappings on specific points on the body that correlate to the various energy meridians. As you repeat your guiding phrase, you tap rhythmically about seven times in each place, though the exact number of taps isn’t crucial.

The tapping sequence is as follows:

  • H – top of the head
  • EB – inner edge of the eyebrow
  • SE – side of the eye
  • UE – under the eye
  • UN – under the nose
  • CH – center of chin
  • CB – collarbone
  • UA – under the arm

This simple sequence of guided phrases and tapping is often enough to provide relief, but for those who want more, an extension to the procedure and patterns for repetition can be used, and all the pieces can be layered together for greater effectiveness.

EFT may sound strange, but until you try it you will never know what it can do for you. In fact, Craig declares that the whole procedure looks “weird” to the casual observer. But he stresses that he has seen it work for over 100,000 people, with almost no failure and virtually no complaints. He advocates trying it even if you don’t think you need it. As for myself, I’ve seen patients successfully use it for anxiety, PTSD, insomnia, anger, menopause symptoms, and many other physical problems that you might not suspect had even the slightest emotional component.

But keep in mind that EFT may be only the gateway to discovering how your physical symptoms relate to your emotions, and that it can be very powerful. Some of us have buried so much, so deeply, that even scraping the surface triggers a geyser blow of emotion. For this reason, I recommend that my patients who want to do deeper work seek a licensed psychologist or counselor also trained in EFT. I also recommend more intensive programs like the Quadrinity Process and HeartMath to patients who truly want to change their physiology with emotional work. EFT may cause certain biological shifts, and has tremendous healing potential, but lasting work depends on the quality of your questions and the experience of your practitioner.

Finding an EFT practitioner

The EFT website has a listing of trained EFT practitioners. Many of these therapists are available for a phone consultation. If you are presently seeing a psychologist or other therapist, ask them about EFT.

One note of caution: If you do decide to work with an EFT practitioner, make sure you feel comfortable with him or her and gauge the chemistry between the two of you (or lack thereof). This can be of tremendous importance in your relationship with any healthcare professional and is crucial when it comes to your most private feelings. Interview a few practitioners, even if you only do this by phone. Ask about his or her success rate and the type of problems with which he or she has the most expertise. With someone you trust you can then choose to work superficially or delve more deeply.

A good EFT practitioner will help you get to the heart of your emotional issues — and believe me, we all have them. But you should also know that even trying EFT a few times or practicing it regularly on your own is a very positive step. Facing up to the idea that you are a complex, interconnected creature can be intimidating; embracing EFT in the privacy of your own home is a great way to start.

EFT and hormonal balance

In our practice, EFT works extremely well as part of a combination approach in alleviating some of the physical symptoms of menopause. Physical symptoms at menopause and perimenopause often have deep-seated emotional roots. One of my patients in the midwest was literally housebound with chronic anxiety related to menopause. She had bowel difficulties and was taking several medications. I referred her to the EFT website, where she learned the technique herself, and was soon able to eliminate all of her anxiety medications.

The time during perimenopause is perfect for consideration of therapies like EFT. As with any transition, but specifically in menopause, this is a period of emotional reassessment. Use EFT to help take stock of the things you want to free yourself of, so you will have room to become all that you want to be. And while you’re busy doing this work, don’t forget to support the other cornerstones — the secret to a strong health foundation is to give equal attention to them all.