Known as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), this alternative (many say "fringe") method originated in the 1990s to treat phobias, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems.
In tapping EFT, the practitioner taps on specific acupuncture points or "energy meridians" in your body, while you concentrate on a distressing or traumatic thought or memory. You may also be instructed to make declarations of self-acceptance and empowerment and engage in deep breathing. Some people do the tapping themselves.
Websites claim that by releasing energy blockages, tapping EFT can cure you of both mental and physical ailments—in as little as five minutes. A few studies suggest benefit, but most are uncontrolled or otherwise flawed. Overall, there is a lack of reliable published data.
It's not even clear what the mechanism behind tapping EFT could be. Any benefits could simply be a placebo effect—the result of your expectations that tapping EFT therapy will work and having a therapist pay attention to your needs.
Or the benefit, if there is one, may come not from tapping specific acupuncture points but from other components of tapping EFT—distraction, relaxation and affirmations—that are based on established psychological principles. In a 2003 study in the Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, for example, tapping reduced intensity of phobias, but so did a placebo procedure in which the tapping was done on areas away from the acupuncture points.
If you have a fear of flying or another phobia or psychological problem, don't count on tapping EFT, in and of itself, to help. It won’t hurt to try, but doing so may prevent or delay you from getting psychological treatment that has a proven track record, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
Originally published in The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter (July 2011)