For centuries, people have believed in the power of human hands to heal. Just think about the sense of calm a hug or even a hand on your shoulder can bring when you’re upset. In recent years, psychologists have been studying the effects of tapping, or Emotional Freedom Technique (also known as EFT), a self-help therapy introduced in the 1990s to reduce stress. Today it’s used to help treat victims of trauma, PTSD, anxiety, and stress. Here, Vivian Morgan, L.C.P.C., clinical professional counselor and founder of True Balance Counseling Collective in Towson, MD, “taps” into the therapy.
Trauma is an emotional fight-or-flight response to a stressful event (such as a natural disaster or a bad divorce) that you’re not able to cope with. Afterward, the same physiological effects may be triggered by specific stimuli, including scents or sounds associated with the event, and can interfere with relationships and daily functioning.
Similar to acupuncture, tapping uses certain acupressure points—including the top of the head, above the eyebrows, and alongside the eyes—that have high-density nerve endings. Following their therapist’s guidance, a client will tap points with their fingers, five to 10 times, in a sequence. Research using brain scans shows that tapping sends a signal to the amygdala, at the base of the brain, letting the person know they’re safe, which calms the nervous system. In fact, a 2019 study found that a tapping workshop lowered PTSD symptoms by 32% and cortisol by 37%.
At the start of a session, the client explains the triggering event and their level of stress (from zero to 10), and the therapist guides them to a summary statement. For example, a war veteran who hears a car backfire might be triggered and experience a flashback. In the session, they can visit aspects of the event and say, “Even though I feel frightened at a level eight, I still deeply and completely accept myself.” The client will repeat this a few times while tapping the sides of the hand, then repeat shorter phrases, like “this fear,” while tapping nine other access points. Eventually they can learn to calm their nervous system by doing this themselves whenever they are triggered. This is important, because when we’re in defensive fight-or-flight mode we can’t think clearly, but when we are calm we can problem-solve.
Yes, but the statements help tie the tapping exercise to specific events—such as the car backfiring—so it can be used in real-life scenarios. If someone has had a traumatic event, it’s best to practice EFT with an experienced therapist.
The Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology provides a list of therapists so you can find one in your area.
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