Shards of Consciousness

EFT And The Placebo Effect

What is the Placebo Effect?

An area that has interested me for a long time is the placebo effect. Medically, a placebo is an inert substance that is administered to a person. The person's own beliefs that the substance is effective cause changes in their body to occur.
In broader terms, a placebo would be any activity or substance that has no known correlation with changes in a desired direction. Receipt of the placebo is correlated with desired changes in the recipient's mind or body.

The Incidence of the Placebo Effect

Much of the design of medical research is an attempt to tease out the difference between the placebo effect and the physiological effectiveness of the drug or procedure being tested.

I often wonder why we don't do more research to make placebos more effective. It is said that generally an average of 30 - 35 % of individuals administered a placebo show improvement for the condition they are being treated for. If there is one thing that the placebo effect shows, it is that the human body and mind have an amazing potential for self-healing and growth. If this potential for healing and growth is present in a third of the population, it is present in all of us. The question is how to call it out.

EFT and the Placebo Effect

An example is EFT. A friend of mine, Michael Weir, recently sent me a link to a video on EFT (emotional freedom technique). I've heard the term before, but always let it go at that, so I did a little research on it. EFT Therapy has a good introduction to EFT (though accompanied by some irritating ads), from which you can learn to use the technique for yourself.

EFT models emotional states as causing changes in the energy body that mediates between the mind and physical body. The basic technique of EFT is relatively straightforward. You tap on specific acupuncture points to rebalance the meridians of the energy body while using self-talk regarding the physical or emotional issue you are working on and a resolve to let it go.

Wikipedia details some research that has been done on EFT. A major part of EFT is tapping on certain acupuncture points in a specific order. In one study, participants who experienced specific phobias and fears were divided into four groups.

  • One group used EFT.
  • One group tapped on sham points.
  • One group tapped on a doll.
  • A fourth group received no treatment.

The self-talk used in the first three groups was similar. They all showed some improvement, but there was no meaningful difference in how much improvement they showed. This tends to show that, while EFT can be effective, it's effectiveness isn't related to tapping on specific acupuncture points.

Note that this work doesn't show that EFT is ineffective. Quite the contrary. All of the groups that used EFT or the variant tapping showed improvement, while the group that received no treatment showed no improvement. The only difference between the groups that showed improvement was where they tapped. The self-talk involved was the same for all three groups. This research appears to show that the model used by EFT is inaccurate. Direct action on the energy body is apparently not necessary and is, it appears, a placebo, while the real work is being done in the restructuring of thoughts that accompanies the self-talk that is a part of EFT. I hope there is further research utilizing a fifth group, in which the members using all of the processes of EFT without any form of tapping.

Self-Talk in EFT

There are three main types of self-talk used in EFT

  • The setup phrase. This embodies the definition of the difficulty you are working with, and the acceptance that, even though you have a difficulty, you still accept yourself. It can be set up in a form similar to Even though I have this roaring headache, I completely and unconditionally accept myself. The setup phrase should define the problem as sharply as possible. It is repeated a few times while rubbing one of the acupuncture points before you begin tapping, then it is repeated at the end of the main tapping whil tapping on a different point.
  • The reminder phrase. This is a short phrase embodying the difficulty. Following the above example, you could use roaring headache. This phrase is repeated as you tap.
  • The release phrase. With this phrase, you let go of the pain or the person you see as the source of your emotional distress. Following the example, it can have a form like Even though the headache is painful, I completely and unconditionally accept myself. I choose to forgive myself, and I let the headache go. This is repeated after the second use of the setup phrase.

There is a form of progressive relaxation in which you first purposely intensify the tension in a muscle group to get the feel of what the tension feels like, then suddenly release the tension. As a result of this tension-release, the muscles become more relaxed than they would with the beginning tension. The effect of the phrases appears to be similar. You focus on the emotional or physical pain as emodied in your setup and reminder phrases, then release it in the release phrase.

Should You Use EFT?

Will I ever use EFT? I don't know. It's effectiveness, and it does appear to be effective for a large number of people, appears to reside more in the belief work that it embodies than in the work with the acupuncture points. It does appear to need a new model.

Should you try EFT? That's up to you. As I said, it does appear to be effective for a large number of people. If you don't try it, you don't know if it will help you.

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17 Responses to EFT And The Placebo Effect

  • Interesting post, Rick. I've shared the same thoughts as you about why the medical community doesn't do more research into the placebo effect. What exactly is it, that causes some people to have access to healing through the beliefs generated within them by the placebo?

    The idea that maybe tapping on energy points is actually a placebo is also very interesting. Since EFT can be done with "mental" tapping, it could be that the basic intention to work on energy connects the three separate test groups, including the doll group. It seems to me that there must be something else at work, since self-talk by itself, as most of us know, isn't always effective. So much depends on how receptive we happen to be to our own self-talk at any given moment in time.

    EFT has been effective in my life, and has worked very powerfully in my husband's life, but I do think that the belief work is the most important component of the method. Thanks for a thought-provoking article.


  • Hi Belle,

    What you say about the intent to work on energy may well be. The model of an energy body is too common worldwide for it not to be a model worth pursuing. I use it in yoga and other techniques. The tapping - whether as in EFT, on a doll, or mentally - can be a way of focusing the intent, but that's still a variant from the EFT model.

    I'm glad the method has helped you and your husband. I'm pragmatic. If it works, do it.

  • Hi Rick,

    What I have notice in using EFT and other similar therapies is that we really do hold emotions in the body. These are judgments placed on various subjects (energy's) that are now stuck emotions in the body.

    Moving these stuck energies out of the body is what is allowing the people to feel better. EFT is but one way to do this. It works for a good many people.

    EMOTrance is an other. "Oceans of Energy" is an awesome book by Sylva Hartman. It is also an excellent technique that works every well for many people.

    The healing comes from moving stuck energy (emotions).

    In using EFT you are not just tapping on meridian points. Just tapping on meridian points does some basic energy balancing.

    However when you focusing on what is bothering yo, and all the reasons for it while your tapping now your moving the stuck emotion out of the body. This is why EFT is effective not just because you are tapping on points.

    I will do a post on this to make even more sense,

    Peace bro!


  • BTW I have noticed is that the Placebo effect is a movement of stuck emotion or energy caused by suggestion that caused some form of a looking or feeling within.

    All healing is self healing, although at times you may have a guide helping you.

    Suggestion can be waking suggestion from family, friends, strangers, doctor, therapist, or hypnosis, EFT, EMOTrance, how about a mom kissing a child's hurt and instantly the pain is gone.

    It is all a movement of energy...

    and healing happens...



  • Fascinating article, Rick. It actually answered some questions I'd had about EFT and whether the tapping was actually doing anything.

    One of the things that I've always found interesting about EFT is the number of different ways that people practice it. You've got the "official" version from Gary Craig, but then then there are a number of styles that are related, but with different tapping points and various ways of using the setup and reminder phrases. Like Belle said, you can do mental tapping, and I've just started noticing a lot of people writing about success with surrogate tapping (tapping for someone else.)

    When it comes down to it, what you said at the end of the article says it all - if you don't try it, you won't know if it works. Too often we let our beliefs that something won't work keep us from doing anything at all.

    For me, I know that when I use it, it usually works well. But the key is actually doing it.

  • Rick,

    Great post! Gary Craig sends out an electronic newsletter twice a week with success stories and tips. The common thread of these stories does seem to indicate that the key to success is the phrasing. Having experimented with EFT myself, I know that when the phrasing is right, the results are better.

    Having seen the myriad of technique variations out there, I came to a similar conclusion about the specifics of tapping points being less relevant.

    I'm not sure just what to make of 'surrogate tapping'...but if it's working for people, something's going on!


  • Hi Michael (Weir),

    I was hoping you would check in. As a hypnotherapist you have a closer acquaintance than I or many of the readers here with the effect of the mind on the body.

    There is no doubt that we hold emotions in the body. I agree with you that healing is a matter of energy (life energy, prana, chi, mental and emotional energy) manipulation, and that in the long run all healing is self healing. The self healing aspects can be too distant to be obvious, as when we take an antibiotic for an infection or have surgery for a clogged artery, but it is there. EFT does seem to be effective. Imagine how much more effective it would be if its model were closer to consensus reality.

  • Lyman,

    The tapping does something, just not what EFT says, or at least not the way it says. As Belle said, just self-talk alone is often not as effective. Michael Weir would be able to address that point even better.

    Funny you should mention about letting our beliefs get in the way, not that that is anything new here. I've started drafting another piece on the nocebo effect, which, as you would imagine, is negative reactions to a placebo.

  • Hi Mike,

    One psychological possibility I've come across is that the tapping is a distractor. Just as many of us think better when we're pacing because that one aspect of our mind is occupied, the tapping may occupy a part of our mind so that phrases can do the most good.

  • Long time no talk, Ric! And Hi!

    I've yet to fully immerse myself on the topic of EFT, but I've to say that any alternative therapy is geared towards energy healing. After all, we are all energy beings.

    Base on the information above, it seems to me that EFT is a combination of affirmation and energy healing.

    There is no denying that these two powerful combinations work wonders but TRUE healing comes when we work from within--much within. Cell (DNA) healing.

    Having said, I will read more about EFT and experiment it on my clients.

  • Hi Renee,

    It's good to hear from you again!

    I would be interested in hearing your results with EFT. Take care.

  • Rick,

    I've read studies that show a connection between cognition and motor activity, be it pacing or tapping a finger/pencil/foot. I can't believe I didn't make the connection until I read your comment. Of course! The tapping, particularly on your face, is going to provide that boost and a focusing effect that helps one do the mental work of addressing the emotional issue.



  • Hi Mike,

    I wasn't ignoring you. I saw your comment, then let myself get sidetracked.

    If you could point me in the direction of some of that work I would appreciate it. I ran a couple of searches and didn't find anything directly relevant. It sounds like interesting work.

  • Rick,

    I'll see what I can find. I encountered the material pre-internet days, but I'm sure with some creative searching I can find something!


  • Hi Rick,

    Sorry to not get back to you much sooner.

    Excellent to see the discussion you have around this post. As you commented on my blog this study raises some vital issues about EFT.

    Attention Gary Craig - this study was published in 2003. It's in Wikipedia. You must know about it, so where is your response?

    Also, just to clear up about placebo because I do not believe EFT is a placebo.

    The current medically best placebo is a surgical operation, followed by an injection, then a tablet (the bigger the better.) Oh and blue injections and pills are better sedatives, and red placebos are stimulants, so you have to ask placebo for what desired effect?

    When I left medical practice the favorite treatment for tiredness / depression by one of the doctors in the clinic was a Vitamin B12 injection. It has almost no side effects (ie only needle bruising) but produces 2 outcomes in normal people. First it creates expensive urine as all the B12 is pissed straight out within days, and second it comes as a red liquid injection so it is the ideal quick placebo.

    Keep rattling the fences Rick!

  • Hello Martin,

    I don't know whether EFT is a placebo or not. I do wish more research would be done to learn to take advantage of the placebo effect since it does lead to positive changes in a large group of people. I have my suspicions that those same people would test as more susceptible to hypnosis than a control group.

    Your example of a red placebo having a stimulating effect while a blue one has a sedative effect seems to correlate with this as red in general has a stimulating effect on people, while blue is calming.

    I don't understand your colleague using B12 injections because he/she thought it was harmless. My understanding is that it is a common treatment for pernicious anemia.

  • My best analysis of EFT is that it is what in NLP terms would be called a "collapse anchors". This is not distraction, nor a placebo (which is a very loose term for a number of different mechanisms.)

    That's what my post is about "EFT Is Bunkum? - Part 2" -

    And yes B12 is absolutely necessary to treat the malabsorption problem of pernicious anemia or in people who are lacking meat in their diet, but for the general population it is of no physiological benefit - but harmless and a great placebo :-)

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