Blog Post

Can You Tap Yourself Happy?

Just when you thought this world couldn’t get any weirder, proponents of the controversial practice of “tapping” now claim you can clear bad vibes and create good ones just by tapping on certain areas of the body. If only it was that simple!

The Daily Mail is reporting on the new book, Tapping In, by a transformational mind coach named Poppy Delbridge who claims to have discovered a method of rapidly drumming the fingers on the forehead, crown and chest to achieve happiness. This action “can free trapped energy – and within only a few minutes. First you ‘clear’ the emotions you don’t want, then ‘create’ the ones you do.”

The article goes on to explain that tapping, also known as “emotional acupuncture,” is rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine and relies upon tapping key meridian points with the fingertips rather than piercing the points with a needle. Delbridge augments her technique with “manifestation and mantra work” and claims to have many satisfied customers ranging from “Fortune 100 CEOs to fashionistas and celebrities including Fearne Cotton and Laura Whitmore.” Even Oprah Winfrey and Meghan Markle are said to be fans. The article cites a single study as reason to believe rapid tapping is the key to eternal bliss.

So what is this all about?

Rapid tapping is just another form of what’s known as the Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT. In this article, Steven Novella, associate professor of neurology at the Yale School of Medicine, gives us a typical definition of EFT: "EFT works by tapping on acupressure meridians to release blockages. When these blockages are released, the problem feeling can be released and move through the body. The process starts with a beginning statement of what the problem feeling is and includes a complete acceptance and acknowledgement of the problem.”

Dr. Novella goes on to explain that “This ‘energy’ allegedly ties negative emotions to an idea or thought, and proponents claim you can free yourself from those negative emotions by tapping energy points while repeating a reminder phrase.”

As he states, and then goes on to prove, “This…is magical nonsense. Every component of this claim is not only prescientific superstition, they have been adequately shown to not be true.”

First, there is zero evidence for the existence of the “energy” – aka chi, qi, prana, universal life force energy - that tapping allegedly manipulates.

The second point is a logical result of the first – if the energy doesn’t exist, neither do the “meridians” or channels through which this energy allegedly runs through the body.

This leads to the third point, which is the fact that acupuncturists don’t agree on where these specific points are located. Even where there is general agreement, the uncertainty is so great that the actual point could be located just about anywhere within a large area of the body.

As Dr. Novella concludes, “[I]f life energy, meridians, and acupressure points do not exist, how could tapping them have a specific psychological effect? The short answer is, it can’t.”

But how do we explain the studies that show a benefit from EFT for things like anxiety, fatigues, stress, and PTSD? As this blog explains, most of these studies are inconclusive. In addition to small sample sizes and having serious methodological issues, “the outcomes are largely subjective and highly amenable to placebo effects, including demand characteristics, introducing a novel element into therapy, and regression to the mean,” Dr. Novella explains. “Further, there is a component of EFT that is essentially exposure therapy and cognitive behavior therapy, which can be effective on their own.”

For example, there are many scientific studies that support the psychological technique known as exposure and desensitization (therapies that help a person to confront their fears) to “defuse” painful emotions associated with trauma – but very little has been done to establish that the “tapping on meridian points” makes a real difference.

The only study I could find that did this comparison is 14 years-old and concluded that the results “do not support the idea that the purported benefits of EFT are uniquely dependent on the ‘tapping of meridians.’ Rather, these results suggest that the reported effectiveness of EFT is attributable to characteristics it shares with more traditional therapies.” We need to see more studies which compare groups that utilize interventions with tapping with those who use interventions without tapping.

People might feel happy after employing Delbridge’s rapid tapping method, but that doesn’t mean their relief had anything to do with the tapping.

Alex Langford, an Oxford-based psychiatrist, explains that “[E]ven if the patients getting ‘tapping therapy’ recovered quicker than they might have done without it, that doesn’t mean that there’s something special about the technique. The ‘tapping therapy’ involves the patient saying lots of positive things to themselves while tapping – the nice comments would make you feel pretty good, regardless of whether you were tapping yourself, hopping around on one leg or watching Thomas the Tank.”

A review of the literature reveals that tapping therapy studies in general tend to have the following methodological errors:

1) Drawing conclusions from a p value of 0.09 2) Not declaring the number of patients who dropped out 3) Poor, if any, blinding 4) Not controlling for placebo effects 5) Not controlling for demand characteristics 6) Tiny sample sizes 7) Bizarre, or inadequate, control groups

The discerning Christian will also be interested to know that the founder of EFT, Gary Craig, is neither a psychologist nor a licensed therapist. He is a Stanford engineering graduate and an ordained minister in the Universal Church of God in Southern California (a non-denominational church that embraces all religions). On his website, he openly admits that he is an avid student of A Course in Miracles, an occult-based mind-control program created by a woman who claimed to be channeling Christ. This could explain why EFT is based on New Age beliefs in a universal life force, acupuncture, and Mind Body Medicine.

As Dr. Langford concludes. “Everyone wants a miracle cure, but we can’t delude ourselves into thinking we’ve found one when it makes no sense on any level. Time to turn off the tap.”

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