How EFT Works

The EFT Discovery Statement

The cause of all negative emotions is a disruption in the body's energy system.

EFT is based on the principle that when energy isn't running smoothly, we suffer mentally, emotionally, and physically.

(Note: This article covers the general ideas of EFT. See the Articles Index for information on issues of pain, trauma, and other areas.)

Energy Medicine

Many of those reading this are already familiar with vibrational healing. You work with crystals, essences, Reiki, and other energetic methods. For others, the concept of energetic healing will be new. Here, I briefly review the principles and describe EFT as a method based in energy work.

Physicists now recognize that all things are made of energy particles. Dense concentrations of these particles create things we think of as solid-stones, mountains, and the earth itself. The elements of fire, air, and water, are composed of less dense concentrations of energy particles that vibrate at a higher rate.

As humans, we are a combination of all the elements. Blood pulses and flows through our so-called solid flesh; our body temperatures vary; air flows in and out of us.

Eastern Healing Systems

Energy both creates us and maintains us in well-being and balance. Chinese medicine, tai chi, chi kung, Reiki, and the chakra system are based on the idea that all life is maintained in health and wholeness by a universal and ever-replenishing energy source. Negative thoughts and emotions create a blockage of this energy flow that leads to emotional-and sometimes physical- imbalances. When such blockages are released, universal energy not only maintains our physical and emotional balance, but also guides us to be true to our essential natures as joyful, free beings.

One system originating in the West holds the above principles: essence therapy. Originated by the founder of the Bach Flower Remedies system, Edward Bach, M.D., this theory of energy flow and blockage is the basis for a number of essence families.

Chinese Medicine and the Meridians

Chinese medicine calls energy force Qi (called "ki" in Japanese and one of the syllables that form "Reiki"). Qi includes the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical aspects of life. Qi travels through meridians, and if its flow is inadequate, unbalanced, or blocked, illness may result. Doctors of Chinese medicine use special needles to stimulate appropriate points along these meridians to rebalance the system.

Acupressure uses the fingers (and sometimes feet) to press acupuncture points on the body. It also differs from acupuncture in that people can practice it on themselves.

EFT bears a resemblance to acupressure in that its physical aspect consists of tapping meridian points to stimulate energy flow. It differs in that it's much easier to learn and in that verbal statements are part of the rebalancing process.

How EFT Works

Sometimes an emotionally charged incident disrupts your energy system, triggering physical and emotional reactions. You may feel nauseous, dizzy, anxious, or fearful. Intense reactions program the mind so that it stores the details of the traumatic event.

If a similar event occurs, this program activates to create the same negative response. This reaction may be as strong as the original reaction.

This event may occur in reality or in your imagination. A good example of this is the power of music. Say, for example, that at the moment a lover told you he was leaving, a particular song was playing. In the future, that song might trigger the sadness, betrayal, or abandonment you felt at that time. When it comes to emotional triggers, we don't distinguish between physical and imaginary reality.

If untreated, an energy disruption can deepen into a chronic blockage that prevents universal healing and balancing energy from flowing. This can lead to emotional and physical imbalances.

Phobias (one of the conditions successfully treated by EFT) provide another good example.

A Step-by-Step Example

  1. A negative experience occurs with emotional intensity. As a teenager, I was with my family in Yellowstone National Park when a mother bear chased us. Even when we made it to our car, she rose to her full height and leaned against the car. I was shaking, finding it difficult to breathe, and overall in a state of panic and terror.
  2. The energy system records both the incident and the accompanying emotions. It becomes programmed and becomes programmed to reproduce the emotions in response to anything that reminds one of the negative experience.

I believe this happens as a protective measure. I experienced the bear as dangerous (accurately), and my resulting energy disruption reflected an attempt to remind me, if I ever saw a bear again, that I should be fearful and run away.

My mind faithfully recorded the details of my terror and connected them to the bear. It created a program called "Bear --> Terror."

For years I lived in places, like New York City, that bears didn't frequent. However, whenever I was in a state of deep anxiety, I dreamt about bears and often woke up in a state of terror comparable to my initial fear. These nightmares turned into a waking one 30 years after the original event. I had moved to upstate New York in the mountains. Two months after I moved, I saw a VERY LARGE bear walking through my front yard. My "Bear --> Terror" program activated, and I was virtually paralyzed.

The EFT Process

The basic recipe for using EFT is described in detail elsewhere on this site. In abbreviated form, here's how I tapped on my bear phobia.

The Setup Statements

  1. "Even though I'm terrified of bears, I want to be free of this fear."
  2. "Even though the sight of a bear makes my heart pound, I forgive myself for being fearful."
  3. "Even though thinking about bears makes me want to move back to the city, I realize they're less interested in me than I am in them."

Then I tapped on the face and body points, with statements like these (some I repeated several times):

"This fear" (repeated several times)
"This terror"
"Giant, frightening bear"
"Huge bear with big teeth"

I also tapped for specific aspects of my fear: the bear chasing me, the bear leaning against the car, etc.

My final round of tapping included the statement that fear attracted the bears to me. At the end of this round, I had zero intensity when I thought about bears.

The real test, though, was seeing bears. During the summer of 2007, a record number of bears strolled through my property. One even pounded against a wall of my house in an attempt to knock down a bird feeder hung beyond his reach. I opened the second-story window and yelled at him to leave. He gave me a puzzled look and loped away.

Please note: The elimination of a phobia doesn't mean the abandonment of caution. Bears are large and potentially dangerous. I'm careful when they're around, but I don't experience terror.

It Doesn't Have to be a Phobia

Phobias are dramatic examples of disruptive events. Everyone's childhood is filled with less dramatic events that shaped their reactions as adults to work, relationships, and their ideas about themselves.

If someone, as a child, had a father who quit his job and risked everything to start a business that failed, he might decide that being an entrepreneur was dangerous. Every time he made a small move to free himself of a nine-to-five job he hated, he might relive his terror at seeing his father cry at his failure. Again, this reaction is intended to be protective.

Multiple Events

Commonly, a series of events cause energy disruption. A child growing up with an alcoholic father may experience countless occasions of abuse or fear of abuse. He or she may live in an atmosphere of constant tension. In such a situation, one can't point to a single traumatic event and say, "That's what caused the disruption."

That doesn't mean that in using EFT to rebalance the energetic system, one must tap for every incident of trauma. Gary Craig worked with Vietnam vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, all of whom had many traumatic memories. They found that tapping on a percentage of them worked to eliminate the rest.

This is sometimes called the tabletop syndrome. A general issue--"my terrible experiences in Vietnam"--is supported by specific memories, table legs. If enough of the legs collapse, the table will fall.

EFT and Physical Healing

Often an acute injury, such as a bee sting, can be immediately dispelled with EFT. An emotionally based chronic condition, however, usually results from multiple events. The child of an alcoholic, for example, may have developed the habit of holding his breath because of fear, or so he won't be noticed. In time, this may lead to a breathing disorder. The tabletop method is often employed to address this condition. Incidents he can remember ("the time my father hit my mother and I hid in the closet, not daring to breathe," "the time I held my breath to keep from crying") can be addressed until the table collapses.

The question of physical issues is addressed in greater detail elsewhere on the site.

How EFT Differs From Traditional Psychotherapy

Conventional psychotherapists might attempt to work with a rational and highly verbal treatment of the emotional issues involved. A treatment of the bear trauma might include discerning the symbolic meaning of bears for me and/or analyzing my dreams. EFT's theory is that rational and analytical therapy usually doesn't correct the energy disruption.

Some schools of therapy recommend facing and reliving the terror in detail in order to eliminate it. The intention of EFT practitioners is to reduce, not increase, emotional and physical pain. While we may walk clients through the disturbing experience, we ask them to stop the moment their level of pain, anxiety, or whatever the negative emotion may be, increases. At that point, we use tapping on the meridians, sometimes accompanied by appropriate statements, to lower the level.

Psychotherapy usually takes a long time-rarely less than years-and it costs a lot of money (even with insurance). Because EFT techniques focus on the energy disruption, they yield much faster results.

Pharmaceutical drugs-increasingly popular for "handling" emotional issues-may also produce quick results, but they don't address the energy trauma, and we're hearing alarming stories about side effects.

Another benefit of EFT is its universal applicability. Are you afraid of not having enough money, of experiencing increasingly worse health? Do you worry about your children, spouse, parents, or pets? Are you unhappy with your job, home, or mate? Does your creativity feel frustrated?

EFT can help. Bruce Lipton, PhD, author of The Biology of Belief, says, "EFT is a simple, powerful process that can profoundly influence gene activity, health and behavior." Norm Shealy, MD, who wrote Soul Medicine, says, "Meridian-based therapies such as EFT...can have effects out of all proportion to their cost and complexity."

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