Understanding the science of EFT by Brad Mace

Having worked with EFT for many years now I often find that many clients, when first introduced to the process, tend to be wary that it is an ‘out there hippy therapy’. That’s why I have decided to write this piece on EFT or ‘tapping’ with some evidence based scientific research to support my practice.

One of the things I love about EFT, as a therapy, is that it empowers clients, enabling them to take their power back and no longer having that belief of being a helpless victim who believes they have no power to change. It can transform beliefs, emotions and lives. EFT gives my clients the ability to relearn about themselves, through tapping, and this rewires circuits in the brain. This helps them to change their ways by no longer making unconscious choices programmed by past traumas. This can open them up to new jobs, relationships, opportunities, clearing subconscious cravings and self-destructive habits.

EFT, which has its roots in eastern philosophies, such as acupuncture, and has been shown to have profound positive effects to the nervous system, also to the production of stress hormones (particularly cortisol), DNA regulation and brain activation. Research, which began in the 90s, shows that conditions that respond well to EFT include phobias, anxiety, depression and PTSD. EFT has also been referred to as ‘Psychological acupuncture’ and has been shown to be very effective on the symptoms of PTSD, which it is suggested that 8 out of 100 people will suffer with in their lives, and, sadly, we all know, a much higher rate in military personnel.

Research also shows that EFT is an effective treatment for anxiety and depression. WHO (World Health Organisation) has said that between 1990 and 2013 the number of people suffering from depression and/or anxiety increased by nearly 50 percent!

The acupuncture points tapped on have been shown to have a powerful impact on the way the brain responds to stress and the way it processes information. This can then be used to change distressing or negative feelings and self-limiting thoughts and behaviours by instilling a more positive emotional state, beliefs and goals.

When I was first introduced to EFT, it was hard, at first, to get my head around tapping on negatives. This was because, my core training had been in Psychotherapy and Hypnotherapy, where we very much work with positive suggestion. This process of tapping on the negative now makes much more sense, however, because by tapping on this first, we are stating the truth about what is happening and we are actually engaging the amygdala (the stress centre of the brain) and the limbic system (our emotions) in the brain and body. We engage the negative feeling or sensations just long enough to feel them then we hit the delete button through tapping. It’s the tapping that calms the physiological response from the body. Once this is released, cognitive shifts (or re-frames) may surface naturally. If we tap with only a positive affirmation at first it may result in only a small shift. We need to tap on the problem and reduce its intensity before tapping on anything positive.

EFT has also shown to affect the hippocampus (memory centre) and this, along with the amygdala, plays a role in the decision process when you decide something is a threat. It has also been shown to lower cortisol levels. Too much cortisol can result in lowering immune function and ultimately affect physical health (eg: fatigue illnesses). Tapping sends a signal to the limbic, or emotion, system in the body and reduces its arousal. This is why people tend to feel calmer after tapping, to the point some people will often start yawning. Tapping reduces activity in the amygdala and studies show that changes last over time so there may be changes in the neural pathways. This brain and body calming allows for clearer thoughts and better decision making.

Talking therapies alone are often not enough for healing damage caused by abuse and catastrophe. The physiological changes to the body and brain following trauma become encoded ‘viscera’ and require treatments that engage safety systems of the brain before trying to promote new ways of thinking. Basically, effective therapies for severe trauma must address the body as well as the mind.

A decade long research program at Harvard Medical School looked at what happens in the body when various acupoints are stimulated and results found that certain points almost instantly decrease the activation of the stress response in the brain.

Past president of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, Dr.Bessel Van der Kolk has been vocal of his criticism of the tenets of traditional Psychotherapy. He didn’t believe that just making meaning of a traumatic experience was usually not enough to process it. People needed to have experiences that directly contradicted the traumatic state of emotional helplessness. This is EXACTLY what EFT does! EFT seeks to desensitise clients without requiring them to fully engage in the verbal reliving of the traumatic experience. The results are remarkable. He reported that EFT produced benefits that insight-orientated therapies do not. He also found that Cortisol, which is released through stress, was shown to quickly respond to EFT.

In one study, 83 adults were randomly assigned to either a single hour of EFT (they didn’t get to choose the treatment option), a psychotherapy group receiving a supportive interview, or a no treatment group who just rested. All adults had their cortisol tested (measured in their saliva) immediately before and 30 minutes after the intervention. The EFT grouped showed clinical and statistically significant improvements in anxiety (approximately 58%) and depression (49%). They also reported an overall reduction in the severity of symptoms (by 50%).

There were no supported changes in cortisol levels between the other two groups. The cortisol in the EFT group dropped by 24% which was significant. The speed in which EFT works can be truly breath taking. This tells us that the mind and body are definitely in tune and interconnected. Further studies to support my practice, also shows that 30 minutes tapping on ‘claustrophobia’ brought elevated brain wave levels down and significantly reduced anxiety scores.

EFT has also been shown to have a positive impact on our genes. In a study of 16 war veterans with PTSD who received 10 hour long EFT sessions, found that interleukins, which are responsible for regulating our bodies inflammation response, changed significantly. Expression and ‘good’ genes associated with improved functioning of the immune system were also changed. There was also a significant association between improvement in the veterans mental health symptoms and positive changes in the expression of their genes related to stress hormones.

EFT research has also been conducted on heart rate variability and heart coherence, the circulatory system using resting pulse rate and blood pressure, the endocrine system using cortisol, and the immune system using salivery imunoglobin. This is an extensive measurement of the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS controls most functions of the body and mind and consists of the brain and spinal cord. The study looked at change in the psychological symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, pain, cravings and happiness.

Thirty one participants attending a five day workshop practiced 12 hours of EFT. Measurements were taken at the start and end of the workshop. Reported reductions were in these areas

Anxiety: Reduction 39%

Depression: Reduction 46%

PTSD: Reduction 32%

Pain: Reduction 66%

Food cravings: Reduction 80%

They also reported their happiness increased by 13% and their immune system by 61%. Resting heart by 8% stress hormone and cortisol levels by 49% and their systolic blood pressure by 6% and diastolic blood pressure by 11%. Sixty days later when researchers followed up with the attendees, everyone indicated they had maintained the gains in their psychological symptom improvements.

Many research trials have now compared EFT to traditional and gold standard approaches. Invariably EFT treatments achieve or identical outcomes in fewer sessions. A unique feature of EFT is that the benefits appear to last way into the future without further treatment.

Early findings from a world-first study aimed at scientifically proving a simple ‘tapping’ technique have shown the method is effective in reducing food cravings. This is the first time anywhere in the world that Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans (fMRI) have been used to see physical, scientific evidence of exactly how EFT self-help techniques work on these conditions by changing the brain’s neural pathways involved in addiction and food cravings. After 4 weeks (2 hours per week) of EFT Tapping, participants’ brain scans showed a remarkable reduction in activation. The control group who did not receive any EFT did not change.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans (fMRI)

Tapping on past traumatic memories also changes neural pathways. At no point is it suggested that tapping changes or erases any learnings. Nor does it transform what actually happened. (Although I could argue that EFT Matrix reimprinting does. See my blog on how it transformed my tourettes symptoms here). But the deactivating signal it sends to the emotional centres of the brain allows someone to remember what happened without distress. And the research is indicating these changes last over time.

{ The Science Behind Tapping by Dr.Peta Stapleton }

The wonderful aspect of this particular therapy is that not only has it been very successful within my therapy consulting room, it is also administered successfully through video link, as I have witnessed powerful and positive change with clients, in this way, throughout Europe. Particularly with covid-19 I am now able to offer my services worldwide

An informative and detailed Blog relating to the science behind EFT. Are you suffering from PTSD, anxiety or a phobia? Why not reach out to Brad here at Life House Therapy - contact me here.