David Feinstein, Ph.D. Ashland, Oregon
Abstract Energy psychology is a clinical and self-help modality that combines verbal and physical procedures for effecting therapeutic change. While utilizing established clinical methods such as exposure and cognitive restructuring, the approach also incorporates concepts and techniques from non-Western healing systems. Its most frequently utilized protocols combine the stimulation of acupuncture points (by tapping on, holding, or massaging them) with the mental activation of a targeted psychological issue. Energy psychology has been controversial, in part due to its reliance on explanatory mechanisms that are outside of conventional clinical frameworks and in part because of claims by its early proponents—without adequate research support—of extraordinary speed and power in attaining positive clinical outcomes. This paper revisits some of the field’s early claims, as well as current practices, and assesses them in the context of existing evidence. A literature search identified 51 peer-reviewed papers that report or investigate clinical outcomes following the tapping of acupuncture points to address psychological issues. The 18 randomized controlled trials in this sample were critically evaluated for design quality, leading to the conclusion that they consistently demonstrated strong effect sizes and other positive statistical results that far exceed chance after relatively few treatment sessions. Criteria for evidence-based treatments proposed by Division 12 of the American Psychological Association were also applied and found to be met for a number of conditions, including PTSD and depression. Neurological mechanisms that may be involved in these surprisingly strong findings are also considered.
Energy psychology: Efficacy, speed, mechanisms
The most well known forms of “energy psychology” combine cognitive and exposure techniques with the stimulation of selected acupuncture points (acupoints) by tapping on them. Most clinicians who learn and utilize an acupoint tapping protocol integrate the approach within their existing clinical frameworks rather than using it as a stand-alone therapy. The method has been highly controversial, with its efficacy, purported speed, and explanatory models all questioned. Nonetheless, its utilization within clinical settings and as a self-help method has continued to expand since it was introduced more than three decades ago. This paper reviews the most salient criticisms of the method and presents research and empirically based theoretical constructs that address them. More than 100 peer-reviewed outcome studies—51 of which are randomized controlled trials—provide an evidential base for evaluating the claims and criticisms surrounding the approach. This review concludes that a growing body of evidence indicates that acupoint-based energy psychology protocols are rapid and effective in producing beneficial outcomes in the treatment of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and possibly other conditions. Mechanisms by which acupoint tapping might bring about these treatment outcomes are also proposed.
Psychological Trauma Symptom Improvement in Veterans Using Emotional Freedom Techniques: A Randomized Controlled Trial
Church, Dawson PhD*; Hawk, Crystal MEd†; Brooks, Audrey J. PhD‡; Toukolehto, Olli MD§; Wren, Maria LCSW∥; Dinter,, Ingrid¶; Stein, Phyllis PhD#
This study examined the effect of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), a brief exposure therapy combining cognitive and somatic elements, on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psychological distress symptoms in veterans receiving mental health services. Veterans meeting the clinical criteria for PTSD were randomized to EFT (n = 30) or standard of care wait list (SOC/WL; n = 29). The EFT intervention consisted of 6-hour–long EFT coaching sessions concurrent with standard care. The SOC/WL and EFT groups were compared before and after the intervention (at 1 month for the SOC/WL group and after six sessions for the EFT group). The EFT subjects had significantly reduced psychological distress (p < 0.0012) and PTSD symptom levels (p < 0.0001) after the test. In addition, 90% of the EFT group no longer met PTSD clinical criteria, compared with 4% in the SOC/WL group. After the wait period, the SOC/WL subjects received EFT. In a within-subjects longitudinal analysis, 60% no longer met the PTSD clinical criteria after three sessions. This increased to 86% after six sessions for the 49 subjects who ultimately received EFT and remained at 86% at 3 months and at 80% at 6 months. The results are consistent with that of other published reports showing EFT’s efficacy in treating PTSD and comorbid symptoms and its long-term effects.
© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
This study examined the changes in cortisol levels and psychological distress symptoms of 83 nonclinical subjects receiving a single hourlong intervention. Subjects were randomly assigned to either an emotional freedom technique (EFT) group, a psychotherapy group receiving a supportive interviews (SI), or a no treatment (NT) group. Salivary cortisol assays were performed immediately before and 30 minutes after the intervention. Psychological distress symptoms were assessed using the symptom assessment-45. The EFT group showed statistically significant improvements in anxiety (−58.34%, p < 0.05), depression (−49.33%, p < 0.002), the overall severity of symptoms (−50.5%, p < 0.001), and symptom breadth (−41.93%, p < 0.001). The EFT group experienced a significant decrease in cortisol level (−24.39%; SE, 2.62) compared with the decrease observed in the SI (−14.25%; SE, 2.61) and NT (−14.44%; SE, 2.67) groups (p < 0.03). The decrease in cortisol levels in the EFT group mirrored the observed improvement in psychological distress.
© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
The present study reports on the first ever controlled comparison between eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and emotional freedom techniques (EFT) for posttraumatic stress disorder. A total of 46 participants were randomized to either EMDR (n = 23) or EFT (n = 23). The participants were assessed at baseline and then reassessed after an 8-week waiting period. Two further blind assessments were conducted at posttreatment and 3-months follow-up. Overall, the results indicated that both interventions produced significant therapeutic gains at posttreatment and follow-up in an equal number of sessions. Similar treatment effect sizes were observed in both treatment groups. Regarding clinical significant changes, a slightly higher proportion of patients in the EMDR group produced substantial clinical changes compared with the EFT group. Given the speculative nature of the theoretical basis of EFT, a dismantling study on the active ingredients of EFT should be subject to future research.
© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.