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Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) for Stress in Students: A Randomized Controlled Dismantling Study

Citation:  Rogers, R., & Sears, S. (2015). Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) for Stress in Students: A Randomized Controlled Dismantling Study. Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 7(2), 26-32. doi:10.9769/EPJ.2015.11.1.RR LINK HERE to view abstract and purchase article in source journal.


Previous studies have demonstrated that Clinical EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) is an evidence-based method that relieves stress and a variety of psychological conditions. EFT combines techniques drawn from conventional methods such as cognitive therapy with the novel ingredient of acupressure. The goal of the current study was to determine whether or not EFT could quickly reduce stress symptoms in college students, and to compare the efficacy of acupoint stimulation to the stimulation of sham points. Participants were 56 university students randomly assigned to either the EFT (n = 26) or sham group (n = 30). They were assessed for nine common stress symptoms before and after a single 15–20 minute group treatment session. Sessions occurred on campus in groups of five to 10 students. Participants in both groups repeated statements from a script containing eight sets of stressful cognitions centered on feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, and ending with positive affirmations.

Those in the EFT group stimulated the points described in manualized form of the method, while those in the second group stimulated sham acupressure points. There were no significant differences in stress symptoms between the two groups at pretest. Posttest, symptoms were reduced in the EFT group by 39.3% and in the sham acupressure group by 8.1% (p < .001), demonstrating that the stimulation of actual points is superior to sham points even when all other components of treatment remain identical. The results of this study are consistent with previous dismantling studies demonstrating that acupressure is an active ingredient in the EFT protocol and not a placebo or inert component of treatment. Clinical EFT is an effective immediate treatment for common stress symptoms.

Craig’s Comments

This study, published last year, was conducted as a thesis project by a fourth year psychology student, under supervision of a clinical psychologist specializing in stress. The intent was to add to the body of work showing that EFT is effective in relieving many aspects of stress in the lives of students, and more importantly, that using the correct acupressure points makes a difference in the efficacy of the treatment. The study notes that although critics assert that EFT is no more effective than a placebo, several other ‘dismantling’ studies have shown that EFT is indeed most effective when both the somatic (tapping of the specific points) and verbal (words and affirmations) are used.

Study participants were 56 Colorado students that were divided into two groups. Both groups were given identical EFT ‘scripts’, but one group was taught the correct EFT acupressure points to tap while the other group was taught ‘sham’ points to tap on different locations on the body. The point of the treatment was to alleviate common stress symptoms that could be easily reported by the students. The intensity of these symptoms was measured before and after treatment on a 10 point (zero to ten) Likert scale. Each student received just one 15-20 minute EFT session consisting of eight rounds of tapping. Each round was scripted with the first round expressing the stress and overwhelm, the second moving into understanding, the third exploring possibilities, and then moving through expressing doubts, becoming hopeful, etc., with the eighth round focusing on choosing peace. (It is worthy to note that most EFT research does not use a pre-determined “script” and that at least Clinical EFT and most other forms would utilize the unique experiences and emotions of the individual rather than phrases created in advance of an EFT session).

So, what were the results? Both groups experienced a decline in stress levels after tapping, but the stress symptoms of the acupressure point EFT group declined significantly more than the sham group. In the acupressure point group stress declined by 39.3%, while the sham group declined by just 8.1%, indicating that EFT tapping on the prescribed acupressure points is an effective means of reducing immediate stress in college students. These results are consistent with other published reports demonstrating that the acupressure tapping component is an essential part of EFT’s efficacy.

Since this study only utilized one EFT session per participant, it does not provide any information about the long-term sustainability of stress reduction from EFT. The researchers note that future studies might examine this, as well as include a test group that received the tapping instructions but no script to test how important the statements and affirmations are to the efficacy of EFT protocol.

Acknowledgment: I would like to express my appreciation to Sarah Grace Powers for her assistance in the creation of this post.