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Tapping Your Way to Success: Using Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) to Reduce Anxiety and Improve Communication Skills in Social Work Students

Citation: Elizabeth Boath, Rachel Good, Anna Tsaroucha, Tony Stewart, Sheila Pitch & Adam J. Boughey, Social Work Education, Volume 36, 2017, Issue 6


By the nature of their professional training and practice placements, social work students are prone to situations provoking the onset of anxiety. A programme of academic and placement support, termed the ‘Skills Lab’, provides help and support for students to develop their communication skills and prepare for their practice placements and transition into professional social work practice. Skills Lab evaluations indicated a high level of appreciation, linked with a strong sense of apprehension and anxiety, which some students report has negatively affected their performance. To address student anxiety, a pilot study using Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) was developed. EFT is an intervention, which may potentially be effective in reducing academic anxiety and enhancing public speaking. This mixed-methods pilot study measured participants’ (n = 45) subjective distress and anxiety before and after using EFT. Subjective distress/anxiety was invoked through a 15-min assignment lecture. Twelve of the 45 students also participated in one-one interviews to elaborate on their experiences of EFT. Quantitative findings indicated participants reported significantly less subjective distress and anxiety after using EFT. Qualitative findings indicated three themes whereby participants found EFT calming, relaxing and helpful; considered the transferability of EFT in other settings; and proposed some of the mechanisms of EFT’s action.

Craig’s Notes

This study examines the ability of EFT in relieving academic anxiety and improving public speaking and communication skills in graduate students. The study, based in the UK, worked with social work students who were required to participate in a ‘Skills Lab’ designed to provide support for the students, but—since it required a presentation—which also provoked anxiety in the students.

The specific aim of the study was to evaluate the impact of group EFT on performance anxiety with a cohort of students in the Skills Lab. Two different scales were used to measure the outcomes. One was SUDS and another called HADS, specifically ranks levels of anxiety, and of depression.

Participants in the study were given a 15-minute lecture about EFT and were guided through the tapping points, including an example round of tapping. They then were given an assignment lecture and immediately following that they were asked to rate their anxiety levels.

They were then guided through three rounds of EFT focused on their anxiety about the assignment. They then rated their anxiety levels again. They were informed they could continue to use EFT on themselves as needed and were sent a reminder email one week before their Skills Lab assessment. After their assessment presentation, those participants who had agreed to do so were interviewed about their experience.

So… what were the results?

Researchers noted a marked decrease in anxiety levels after EFT with significant decreases in the distress and anxiety scores. The twelve students who participated in post-presentation interviews all had a positive report about the EFT experience, calling it ‘calming, relaxing and helpful.’

Findings from this pilot study support previous studies’ findings regarding the use of EFT in an academic setting.

Although this study did have some limitations, being non-controlled and only using one group, it does suggest the Group EFT is potentially effective in reducing performance anxiety in students. Since it takes very little time to train students in the use of EFT, and it can easily be transferred to to other aspects of their student and personal life, there is a great potential benefit in its use and application in the academic setting.