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Is Acupoint Stimulation an Active Ingredient in Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT)? A Controlled Trial of Teacher Burnout

Citation: Reynolds, A. E. (2015). Is Acupoint Stimulation an Active Ingredient in Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT)? A Controlled Trial of Teacher Burnout. Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and Treatment 7(1), 14-21.  LINK HERE to original journal abstract and research paper available to purchase.

Abstract

EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) has been the subject of much research over the past decade, with many studies of conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression showing significant treatment effects. In addition to elements drawn from established cognitive and exposure therapies, EFT uses the manual stimulation of acupuncture points (acupressure) through fingertip tapping. This study investigated the utility of EFT to address professional burnout in a population of school teachers. Participants were K–12 full time, public school teachers. They were assessed using the Maslach Burnout Inventory, which has three scales: Emotional Exhaustion, Depersonalization, and Personal Accomplishment. EFT was compared to a control condition that used sham tapping on a location on the forearm that does not include any acupuncture points. To reduce the possibility of cross-contamination between the two conditions, the study did not randomize participants within a single population. Instead, to minimize contact between experimental and control participants, the two samples were drawn from different school districts with similar demographic profiles in the same county. One hundred teachers were randomly selected from each district, of which 126 completed all assessments. Data analysis revealed that on all three indicators of burnout measured, EFT was significantly superior to the sham tapping control (p > .05). The results are consistent with earlier dismantling studies and indicate that acupoint tapping is an active ingredient in the therapeutic results obtained from EFT and not a placebo. EFT is inexpensive, easy to administer, and could be added to teacher mentor and retention programs to improve resiliency. A positive impact on teachers whose level of burnout is either negatively affecting the educational environment or has caused them to consider leaving the profession will help nurture and retain valuable assets for student learning.

Craig’s Comments

This study, published in 2015, was conducted by a 30-year veteran of public school teaching on a stated mission to empower not only her students but also her colleagues and community to live fuller, healthier lives both emotionally and physically. This researcher wanted to measure the impact of EFT on the burnout level of teachers – hoping to determine if self administered tapping could address this important problem. The paper points out how stress and burnout can cause teachers to leave the field even after only a year of teaching. It additionally noted that teachers are simply not given the tools to actively address these issues and that working teachers agree the profession is becoming increasingly demanding and stressful. Few college teacher training curricula provide tools for handling the stress inherent in the job, and some authors speculate that burnout can begin as early as during student teaching.

The study also addresses whether EFT’s effectiveness is due to the tapping of acupressure points, or that component is ‘inert’ and the efficacy is due to the other cognitive and exposure therapies involved. This aspect of the study is referred to as a Dismantling Study, with the attempt to tether out which aspects of the EFT intervention are making a difference in the outcome.

This study examined two groups of full-time teachers, a total of 200, drawn from six separate school districts in the same county with similar levels of stressors in their jobs and socio-economic demographic profiles. Each teacher was first assessed for burnout using an accepted measure known as the Maslach Burnout Inventory. After pretest, they were taught how to use either EFT or the sham control version on themselves. The first group was given instructions for tapping EFT points, including the 9-gamut procedure and a diagram of points. They were instructed to use it once a day for four weeks. The sham control group was instructed to tap three to five times on their left forearm with the undersides of their fingers as they thought of some negative aspect of their work. They were also given a diagram with instructions. With the exception of the tapping points, the two protocols were identical.

So – what were the results?

The author concluded that EFT tapping lowered the level of teacher burnout significantly in all three levels measured:  emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment. The most significant shift was in the category of emotional exhaustion. Although the control group also experienced some decrease in burnout, the author speculated that one likely cause for this is the helpfulness of any types somatic treatment for emotional issues –even tapping without stimulated acupressure points. Another factor was an upcoming school vacation for some of the teachers in the control group so the author recommends further study with teacher populations that don’t have this mitigating factor.

Since the EFT group showed significantly stronger improvement, this study indicates that acupoint tapping is indeed an active element of EFT therapy and that it definitely contributes to its efficacy.

Studies such as this are encouraging with their potential to help those dedicated to the teaching profession to feel more motivated to retain their levels of commitment to this important job. If teachers and student teachers were taught EFT as a stress management tool, think of the effect this could have on morale levels, and the success of our students.

Acknowledgments: I would like to express my appreciation for the assistance of Sarah Grace Powers in the organization and creation of the study’s commentary.