How the Emotional Freedom Technique unblocks energy and emotional obstacles.

Annie Jubb got tapped after she had a professional falling out with a friend. Her certified Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) practitioner tapped her fingertips on Jubb’s “energy meridians” and led her in a series of out-loud affirmations of self-acceptance. “We did a lot of tapping around self-worth and financial issues, about being a woman entrepreneur,” says Jubb, an organic foods market owner in Los Angeles. “We got to the core of it, and it was spot on.”

For San Diego social worker Jeri Wilson, the issue was her crippling fear of flying. In one session, her tapper “helped me notice the things that I was nervous about that I didn’t even realize”—like having been scared of an airplane movie as a child. Afterward Wilson was able to take a trip to Europe with her boyfriend. “I brought along anti-anxiety medicine, but I ended up losing it on the plane. It was like a sign from Godyou don’t need this.” 

Wilson and Jubb both now practice self-tapping during rough patches in their lives. “There are times in the middle of the night where you start off with anxiety,” says Wilsonbut after tapping, “it’s no big deal.”

The practice is simple: a sequence of specific knocks on the eyebrow, under the nose, on the collarbone and a half dozen other points, accompanied by mantras of self-forgiveness and positive thinking. (For instance: “Even though I ______, I deserve happiness and abundance in my life.”) 

How does it work? There is much talk in the EFT world of releasing energy blocks. (Tappees may be asked to remove watches and glasses to prevent interference with the flow.) Gary Craig, the Stanford engineering graduate and ordained minister who founded the movement in the mid-90s, believed that “the cause of all negative emotions is a disruption in the body’s energy system.” EFT is sometimes called “psychological acupressure” because it combines the theory of pressure points with intense focus on a client’s problem. The problem itself can be anything from a first world issue like wanting to lose weight to a devastating trauma like gang rape to a medical condition. 

Deepak Chopra has proclaimed EFT “healing,” and it’s beginning to make inroads among more mainstream medical practitioners. “It’s a nice set of tools,” says Cheryl Procaccini, a therapist and family counselor in Orange County and Los Angeles. It is one of many that she suggests to clients who are trying to tamp down anxiety. The technique is also gaining some popularity with therapists dealing with pain management or post-traumatic stress. There are even efforts afoot to try to get insurance reimbursement for EFT. 

Not surprisingly, between the hokey-pokey moves and the EFT movement’s sometimes extraordinary claims (such as curing malaria, arthritis or cancer) there are also plenty of skeptics. 

“It might be a powerful placebo, but it’s not science,” says James Herbert PhD, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Anxiety Treatment and Research Program at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “It doesn’t comport with anything we know from anatomy and the physiology of the human body.” Herbertwho teaches a course in the dangers of pseudoscienceadds that the notion of a flow of energy through the body with access through specific points is particularly dicey. “The type of physical energy that physicists, engineers and electricians talk about is measurable by an instrument,” he says. But “there is no way to measure the kind of energy that supposedly emanates from these chakra points that tapping talks about. It’s purely a metaphor.”

Not everyone cares, as long as the technique calms them down and reframes their problems. Says Jubb: “The power of a placebo should never be discounted.”