What Is ‘Tapping’ and Can It Cure All Of Your Pain?


The Emotional Freedom Technique is the new age therapy of the moment and involves tapping yourself over your body to cure physical and mental ills.

“When my first major panic attack happened and I actually thought I was having a heart attack. I got my husband to phone the ambulance. It was horrendous – a horrible space to be living in. I was going through a lot at that time and I was going to bed at night and waking up with the attacks. The doctor said ‘No, you’ve got anxiety’ and just put me under that umbrella term. I just found it so frustrating that they weren’t helping me so I got connected with EFT.” When Caroline Robinson from Warwick started practising the alternative therapy Emotional Freedom Technique, she found herself at the beginning of a slow but steady recovery.

“Eventually, I could think rationally. I could be helpful. I reduced the trauma attached to the events that were triggering my anxiety and now when I think of them, there’s no emotion. Now I see things with a different perspective and can carry on as normal.” She is now teaching EFT to her young kids so they can carry these tools into their future.

EFT is also known as “tapping”. It was invented in the 90s by a guy called Gary Craig and draws on various theories of alternative medicine. Mostly it’s based on the Chinese energy meridians – or Chi meridians – used in acupuncture. The basic idea is that these lines of meridian points are like rivers in the body flowing with energy. Each point corresponds to a major part of the body. Sometimes blockages can form, from strong emotions or trauma, while optimum health needs a balanced flow.

“All the information in these meridians is stored in your subconscious,” explains Karl Dawson, an EFT practitioner. “As we tap on those points it’s like pressing a reset button.” During the tapping, emotions are given attention and acknowledgement and gradually released, until the excess energy is supposedly cleared helping to restore balance in a person. With acupuncture, this is done with needles. With tapping, you’re using your fingers to apply pressure while you repeat words.

If you could tap on your chin and it’d get rid of severe anxiety, would you do it? Yeah, obviously – like most alternative therapies, it sounds too good to be true. But it’s gathered considerable interest over the last few years. Go on YouTube and you’ll find many, many videos of people frantically tapping themselves to absolve all their sins and deliver their hearts’ desires. Gabrielle Bernstein is a bestselling author and one of the most popular new age YouTubers, hailed a “new thought leader” by Oprah herself. She is also an advocate for “tapping”. In a video where she shows people how to relieve stress, she taps on her forehead, chin and hand, repeating the words: “Even though I am totally stressed out and overwhelmed, I deeply and completely accept myself.” You can repeat this at any point in your day to supposedly brilliant effect, but realistically, you would not want to be caught doing this in public or in front of anyone you know.

She’s not the only public face into tapping, and they’re not all new agers. Paul McKenna, the famous hypnotist and self-help author, started going on about tapping on TV and how it could remove your food cravings and Lily Allen attributed the technique to her drastic weight loss. Whoopi Goldberg used it to conquer her fear of flying and Alex Reid, Katie Price’s beefcake cagefighter ex, used it to overcome the stress of newfound fame.

If you want to learn this in the UK, you’ll probably go to Dawson, one of 28 EFT “founding masters”. He started to learn in 2002 after he had pain that doctors couldn’t heal and mild depression and fatigue. “I was on a detox retreat and fasting, and one of the resident therapists there knew about EFT,” he said. “Tapping on yourself to get rid of pain seemed ludicrous at first. But ultimately I tried it and the pain started to diminish over several months. Even though there was something physically wrong, as I started to deal with emotional issues, negative beliefs and past trauma, every part of my life began to change and the depression lifted, the pain went away. After a while, I realised, as many practitioners do, that I wanted to help other people with this, so I became a practitioner.”

If tapping the correct point of your body to ease your physical or mental pain works, then why the self-help mantra that goes along with it? “Originally, there were two sides to the verbal message. One side was, ‘this is what I’m working on, I’ve got this sharp, angry pain in my left knee,’ and then the other side of it is, ‘I accept myself any way’ so it was just a form of self-acceptance. Over the years of doing this I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s more about resolving the problem and what’s going on in your body – that’s the key thing, rather than that self-acceptance.”

According to Dawson, this is never supposed to replace traditional western medicine, but works alongside it. However, the range of ills it claims to cure is longer than anything treatment you’d be advised to try by your GP, besides exercise and a healthy diet.

As you can imagine, at this stage, there is a level of cynicism about tapping. Dr Becky Spelman, psychologist and CBT therapist at Private Therapy Clinic on Harley Street, is not in favour. “While energy meridians are an interesting concept, scientific investigation has thus far been unable to confirm their existence,” she said. “Formal studies of the efficacy of EFT have, to date, indicated that any positive results probably have more to do with the placebo effect than anything else. For this reason, while further studies would certainly be welcomed, very few clinical psychologists consider it to be a valid therapy, and are more likely to suggest a proven approach, such as Eye Motion Desensitizing and Reprocessing (EMDR) for patients suffering distress in association with particular memories, circumstances, or experiences.”

That’s not to say that educated, scientific communities have entirely laughed it down. Researchers at Staffordshire University are leading research into EFT in the UK and have called on the NHS to start providing it as an effective form of therapy for depression, anxiety and anger. On average, it has been said that just over five sessions are required to treat clients, which compares well with other therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), where six to 20 sessions minimum are typically required.

Dr Stephanie Franz is a GP who turned away from treating people in her practice after EFT cured her chronic pain. “It completely cured my health for the better. Sometimes it’s hard to work out whether you’re depressed because you’re in pain or in pain because you’re depressed. But with EFT it doesn’t really matter. You can address emotional symptoms, physical symptoms. Ultimately, I believed that the way general practices are going, it’s going to be difficult for GPs to really help many patients. They just haven’t got the time. I felt I wasn’t able to address the root causes of many of my patients’ symptoms. I decided therefore to leave General Practice and move into EFT.”

After helping many patients, she’s adamant that complementary therapies such as this need to be more readily available. “I’ve seen people for example who’ve had 30 years of counselling and on antidepressants have their symptoms reduced within eight sessions. Or people who’ve been so stressed that they literally couldn’t even do anything come to really good quality of life, again within less than 10 sessions. I’ve really seen people recover from situations which I haven’t improved from traditional counselling or medical treatment.”

Whether this sounds like nonsense or not, any supposed effect it could have on the individual can only be found by actually doing it. What’s more interesting is what it represents as a form of self-care that costs nothing at a time of age of austerity. Once you’ve learned it from a practitioner – or for free on YouTube from someone tapping away at their face – you can do it too. If it’s helping people with low-level, more minor health issues, then power to them. Just don’t do it in front of your boss.

By Hannah Ewens for VICE