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EFT Research Paper

Epigenetic Effects of PTSD Remediation in Veterans Using Clinical EFT: A Randomized Controlled Study

Citation: Church, D., Yount, G., Rachlin, K., Fox, L., & Nelms, J. (2016). Epigenetic effects of PTSD remediation in veterans using Clinical EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques): A randomized controlled pilot study. American Journal of Health Promotion, 1-11. doi:10.1177/0890117116661154

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Purpose: To assess the feasibility of measuring changes in gene expression associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment using emotional freedom techniques (EFT).

Design: Participants were randomized into an EFT group receiving EFT and treatment as usual throughout a 10-week intervention period and a group receiving only treatment as usual (TAU) during the intervention period and then receiving EFT.

Setting: A community clinic and a research institute in California.

Subjects: Sixteen veterans with clinical levels of PTSD symptoms.

Intervention: 10 hour-long sessions of EFT.

Measures: Messenger RNA levels for a focused panel of 93 genes related to PTSD. The SA-45 questionnaire, Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, Insomnia Severity Scale, SF-12v2 for physical impairments, and Rivermead Post-Concussion Symptoms Questionnaire.

Analysis: Pre, post-treatment and follow-up mean scores on questionnaires were assessed using repeated measures one-way ANOVA. A Student’s t test and post hoc analyses were performed on gene expression data.

Results: PTSD symptoms declined significantly in the EFT group (-53%, p < .00001). Participants maintained their gains on follow-up. Significant differential expression of six genes was found (p < .05) when comparing expression levels before and after the intervention period in participants receiving EFT.

Conclusion: Study results identify candidate gene expression correlates of successful PTSD treatment, providing guidelines for the design of further studies aimed at exploring the epigenetic effects of EFT.

Keywords: gene expression, epigenetics, EFT, Emotional Freedom Techniques, PTSD, posttraumatic stress disorder


Craig’s Comments:

Dawson Church, one of the pre-eminent and prolific EFT researchers has just received word of acceptance for publication in a peer-reviewed medical journal of a landmark study which offers what I find to have enormous potential impact regarding the underlying physiological mechanisms of EFT. While there now exist over 100 published papers regarding the use of EFT, papers of various methodologies and study types, nearly all of them measure effectiveness via subjective reports. In other words, how effective EFT was found to be was measured by asking the study participant how they felt or experienced life differently after the EFT intervention. While this is of course significant, there are only a handful of studies which have explored “objective” measurements of change which are determined not by the experience of the participant but instead by calibrated physiological changes. Two studies have used EEGs to measure brainwave changes and fond a regulation of the brainwave frequencies associated with fear. The study I consider most important was the Stress Biochemistry study, also by Church, in 2012, which reported a significant reduction in cortisol after a single EFT session. For the very first time, this study shows beyond subjective improvements reported, statistically significant alterations in gene modulation after a series of EFT sessions in veterans suffering from PTSD.

This study included 16 veterans with clinical levels of PTSD symptoms at a research institute in California. They were divided into two groups, one which received weekly hour-long sessions of EFT for 10 weeks, the other received treatment as usual (TAU) (recommendations/treatment as directed by their V.A. primary care physicians and mental health care providers). The TAU group also then received EFT after the intervention period. Lab-work before and after EFT measured the messenger RNA levels on a panel of 93 genes found to be related to PTSD. In addition, a variety of conditions were tracked using subjective scales such as the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, the Insomnia Severity Scale, a brief Pain Inventory, the SA-45 questionnaire and a post-concussive symptom scale.

The results demonstrated several important items:

  1. PTSD symptoms significantly decreased after EFT, a decrease of 53%
  2. Post EFT improvements maintained these gains after follow up at 3 and 6 months.
  3. The study showed that a “significant differential expression of six genes was found when comparing expression levels before and after the intervention period in participants receiving EFT.”

In a bit more depth, this study showed at follow up that 6 months after EFT, PCL-M scores (PTSD Symptoms for those in the military) dropped an average of 25 points, which is highly significant and these changes were maintained after 6 months, including the reduction of paranoia, depression and hostility which all dropped below the clinical cutoff. Additional statistically significant improvements were seen in pain, insomnia, phobic anxiety, interpersonal sensitivity, psychoticism, anxiety, obsessive compulsive behaviors,

These kind of results have been seen in other EFT PTSD studies, but most unique in this study was the following: “Analysis of the gene expression data demonstrated that changes in expression levels for specific genes are measurable following EFT.” This is the first study to measure and evaluate the use of EFT for influencing the regulation of gene expression, especially with regards to genes involved in the stress response pathways that are critically involved with the regulation of inflammation and cellular immunity.

While this is a small study, it it required several years to obtain a sufficient number of study volunteers who met the criteria for inclusion. I only hope that funding can be acquired to do a follow up study and that this can be an influencing force in the inclusion of EFT as worthy of research by the VA for veterans but be the final straw in the quest for the APA’s (American Psychological Association) acceptance of EFT as an approved methodology.

A great deal of appreciation and gratitude for Dawson Church and the EFT volunteers involved for the extensive efforts and perseverence required to perform this study.

Craig Weiner