In my clinical practice, clients who come to me for Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) consultations want one of two things: to improve their relationships, or to beat food cravings so they can make healthier choices. One question practitioners like me ask is: “How well does EFT work?”; another is: “How long does it take to make changes last?” A new study answers both of these, so we can maximise the efficacy of treatment plans and programs.
How EFT Can Fill in the Gaps that Diets Leave
It’s no secret that diets usually don’t work, and even the most initially determined often fall back into old patterns. Research has found that consistent dieting provides short- to medium-term benefits for the average person; and longer times between the end of a diet and follow-up mean more weight is regained. Sadly, an unstable weight leads to poorer self-esteem, binge eating and sometimes an even greater accumulation of fat. All of this means that psychological interventions to enhance self-control and change the way we think about food are often necessary.
EFT is performed by stating a problem with an acceptance ending, such as “even though I have this sugar craving, I completely accept myself”. This is stated three times while tapping on the “setup” point, just below the base of the little finger. The client then uses two fingers to tap on a series of eight more acupressure points while repeating phrases related to the problem. I use two or three cycles of this per round; after each round and before the first, the client and I measure and record the level of distress or other emotion (even numbness) around the issue. It doesn’t just make clients feel better. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans show that EFT reduces overactivation of the amygdala, hippocampus, and other areas of the brain associated with fear and pain. The amygdala performs functions related to anger and fear (the “survival” emotions), while the hippocampus helps retain our memories. These actions are very important, as clients with unhealthy eating patterns can often trace them back to distant childhood memories, including ones involving fear of punishment and resentment of family members. For example, I have heard “If I didn’t clean my plate, I’d be punished”, and “I had to eat it before my sister got to it first”.
How Long Does it Take for EFT to Work?
Initially, not very long. A one-day EFT workshop for healthcare workers led to a significant reduction in food, tobacco and alcohol cravings by the end of the day. The severity of cravings fell from an average severity of 7/10 to 1/10 after the workshop. This mirrors my own experience, but more than one session is necessary to make these changes last. Only half responded to a 90-day follow-up, with 61% reporting that they continued to use EFT. These responders reported significant relief in pain, anxiety, depression and cravings; on average, there was a 45% drop in symptom severity and a 40% drop in their breadth.
For the May 2018 clinical trial, 96 adults completed the four-week EFT course, and 47 completed the eight-week course. Both groups filled out the Food Craving Inventory (FCI), which ranges from 0 to 185 at the highest; the 21-item Power of Food Scale (POF) and the Revised Restraint Scale, with a maximum score of 35. During the EFT courses, FCI scores dropped from 62.21 to 45.93 in the four-week group, and 61.68 to 48.58 in the eight-week group; at the six-month follow up, they were both around 48. Additionally, while POF scores fell from 76.86 and 70.43 in the four- and eight-week groups respectively down to the early 50s, at six months they dropped even further into the 40-something range! The improvements to FCI scores were not seen as significant in the four-week group after six months, however. The researchers considered both groups to have yielded comparable benefits.
This trial adds to the evidence that energy psychology modalities like EFT can be highly effective in helping clients to improve their health. In real-life situations, holistic practitioners such as myself would not only incorporate other interventions such as nutritional advice, but also taper off EFT sessions or offer follow-ups as needed.