What Is Tapping Therapy?
Written by: Denise John, PhD
Published on: August 25, 2022
Tapping therapy, also known as an emotional freedom technique or EFT, combines three modalities—cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, and acupressure—to help reframe old, negative beliefs. And, yes, it involves the literal practice of tapping, using your fingertips to tap on the side of your palm or along the edges of your face.
“The frame through which we hold a memory is more important than the memory itself,” says Dawson Church, PhD, who’s conducted decades of research on tapping. “It determines if the memory becomes traumatic or not.” We spoke with him about the technique and some of the results he’s seen throughout the years.
A Q&A with Dawson Church, PhD
EFT, or emotional freedom techniques, is commonly called tapping because of its most distinctive feature—tapping on acupuncture points with your fingertips. But it’s a combination of three different kinds of therapy: cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, and acupressure.
Cognitive therapy is used to help reframe a memory, because the frame through which we hold a memory is more important than the memory itself. If we are able to frame a traumatic event in a positive way—for example, consider that the traumatic event had some meaning or purpose in our life—we will not be as negatively affected by it. I used this strategy when a fire destroyed my house. Although my wife and I were devastated, we decided to use it as an opportunity to build the life we really wanted. We moved to the city we’d always wanted to live in and embraced an entirely new life. We reflect back on the fire as something that allowed us to re-create ourselves.
Exposure therapy is used because we’ve found that you must process traumatic memories to heal them. Some people think that you can transcend trauma—if you don’t think about the trauma and just think positive thoughts, you will be unaffected by it. We’ve found that this is not the case. People’s unprocessed trauma can affect their lives and the choices they make. Reexposing the client to the traumatic event by recollecting the memory with a trained professional allows them to place the event in a neutral frame so that it’s less traumatic.
Tapping along with the exposure therapy sends a soothing signal to the body that helps people calm down and release the emotional intensity of the memory more quickly by decreasing cortisol and deactivating emotional areas of the brain. Tapping alone is so effective that you often see people tapping on their own, without cognitive and exposure therapies, which works well for common everyday stressors.
You can tap on your own whenever you experience negative feelings or discomfort in your body, whether you’re in physical pain, sitting in traffic, or giving a presentation. It’s helpful if, while you’re tapping, you focus on the pain or experience that’s causing you discomfort—it can reduce the emotional intensity even further.
For more chronic conditions—PTSD, anxiety, depression, physical pain, phobias—for which research has shown tapping to be effective, it’s best to work with a trained professional. You’ll want professional support to address the root of the concern and the emotional intensity that you’re likely to experience.
Tapping on acupuncture points is key. For everyday stressors, a great place to start is tapping on the side of the palm of your hand, below your pinkie. Other tapping points are at the center of the eyebrows, to the sides of the eyes, under the eyes, under the nose, on the chin or collarbone, and under the arms. It may help to refer to this tapping guide or get help from an EFT practitioner to determine which exact points will be beneficial to you.
It’s important to find a well-trained practitioner for effective results. A practitioner who has a certification in clinical EFT, which is an evidence-based EFT training, is a great option; EFT Universe has a database of certified EFT practitioners around the world. This training is approved by the American Psychological Association for continued education credits.
Dawson Church, PhD, is an award-winning science writer and the bestselling author of The Genie in Your Genes, Mind to Matter, and Bliss Brain. Church has conducted dozens of clinical trials; founded the National Institute for Integrative Healthcare, which has created groundbreaking treatments; and developed the Veterans Stress Project, offering EFT services to veterans—approved by the Veterans Administration (VA) as safe and effective therapy.
This article is for informational purposes only, even if and regardless of whether it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.
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