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Effects of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) on the Reduction of Chronic Pain in Adults: A Pilot Study

Citation: Ortner, N., Palmer-Hoffman, J., Clond, M. (201r) Effects of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) on the Reduction of Chronic Pain in Adults: A Pilot Study. Energy Psychology Journal. November 2014.  LINK HERE to original journal abstract and to purchase original paper


This pilot study examined the effects of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) on pain reduction in adults with chronic pain. A brief exposure therapy that combines cognitive and somatic elements, EFT has previously been found to be effective in the treatment of a number of psychological conditions, including depression, anxiety, phobia, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Research into EFT’s effect on the treatment of physical pain and somatic complaints is less well established. In the present study, 50 adults with chronic pain participated in a 3-day workshop to learn how to use EFT. Pain was measured on the Pain Catastrophizing Scale (PCS) and the Multidimensional Pain Inventory (MPI) immediately before and after treatment and at 1-month and 6-month follow- ups. Significant reductions were found on each of the PCS item scores (rumination, magnification, and helplessness) and on the PCS total score (–43%, p < .001). On the MPI, significant improvements were observed in pain severity, interference, life control, affective distress, and dysfunctional composite. At 6-month follow-up, reductions were maintained on the PCS (–42%, p < .001) but only on the life control item for the MPI. Findings suggest that EFT helps immediately reduce pain severity while also improving participants’ ability to live with their pain. Although reductions in pain severity were observed at 1-month follow-up but not maintained in the long-term, participants continued to report an improved sense of control and ability to cope with their chronic pain. The results of this pilot study are consistent with the literature and suggest directions for further research.

Craig’s Comments

This study, conducted by a certified EFT Practitioner who has written books and directed a movie on the subject, along with social science researcher and a Ph.D medical student, is admittedly a pilot study with a small sample size. The researchers were looking to determine whether EFT is equally effective for chronic physical pain as it is for psychological issues. The authors note that numerous studies have shown the benefits of tapping for emotional issues such as anxiety, depression, PTSD and phobias, there have been fewer studies addressing its efficacy in treating physical pain.

Chronic pain, and its effective treatment, is a significant public health challenge. Researchers point out that approximately 100 million Americans live with chronic pain and that it is estimated that this condition costs the economy 635 billion a year and comprises 14% of Medicare expenditures.

The study worked with 50 participants who had signed up for a three-day EFT workshop for chronic pain. Their pain was assessed using two well-validated and reliable scales:  the Pain Catastrophizing Scale and the Multidimensional Pain Inventory. The first measures a person’s ability to cope with pain based on a 13 statements that they rate for truth on a scale of 1-5. The categorizes the severity and effects of the pain based on 28 questions. Both tests were administered to participants before and after treatment, and at one month after, and six months after. During the intervening six months participants were encouraged to continue self-administering the EFT.

So – what were the results?

The authors concluded that based on both tests participants experienced a statistically significant decrease in their chronic pain response after the EFT treatments, and by most measures this continued through the six months. However, only 34 participants remained by the end of the six months. Sixteen had dropped out and did not return their questionnaires.

In the PCS Scale, the subscore for helplessness had the largest reduction, indicating that EFT treatment helps chronic pain sufferers feel more in control of their pain. The MPI scale noted a significant improvement in pain severity as well as in interference, life control, and affective distress, most noted after one month, and with less effect after six months. While participants were better able to cope with their pain 6 months after the 3 day event, pain reduction was not maintained at follow up.

Overall, this study suggests that EFT is effective in helping individuals to cope with their chronic pain. If the results can be replicated in further studies, the implications would be considerable – given the fact that EFT is low-cost, easily administered, and can be used to complement other treatments.

Acknowledgments: I wish to express my appreciation to Sarah Grace Powers for her invaluable assistance in helping to create this study’s commentary.