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Published research on EFT’s effectiveness commences appropriately enough with a carefully executed study that addresses irrational fears. When Australian psychologist, Steve Wells, and his associates decided to investigate the use of EFT they chose to look at its effect on specific phobias of small animals such as rats and mice and insects such as spiders and cockroaches that often cause distress in humans.
The ensuing research, commonly known as “The Wells Study”, opened a door to research in energy psychology and I (P. Carrington) am proud to have taken part in the preparation and writing of the journal article on the Wells Study that was eventually published in a leading peer-reviewed journal, The Journal of Clinical Psychology. It was a long and at times difficult journey to reach publication but it was one well worth having taken.
Here is how the Wells study was constructed and what it showed.
Because research protocol demands that if possible a method studied be compared with another method so that we have benchmarks against which to measure its effectiveness, Steve Wells and his research team decided to compare the effects of EFT with those of a deep breathing technique which would also address the fears of small animals and insects in their participants. The deep breathing method they designed included identical reminder phrases and almost all the other components of the standard EFT protocol, the only major difference between the two techniques being the fact that during EFT the participants tapped on meridian end points, and in the comparison condition they did not tap at all.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the research suggests that deep breathing is in itself quite beneficial for the treatment of these types of phobias, a fact which, in fact, made it difficult for EFT to come out ahead in this experimental contest (think how easy it would have been to show EFT’s superiority if, say, the comparison group had watched a videotape instead!). Despite this handicap, however, EFT surpassed the breathing technique on four of the five measures used (both treatments produced similar results in pulse rate). The differences between the two techniques were striking and statistically highly significant.
How well did this improvement hold up over time? In the crucial test which measured how close a person dared to walk toward their feared object, the EFT participants held onto their gains much better than did the deep breathing subjects when the groups were retested again 6 to 9 months after they had learned their respective techniques. Those people who had become less fearful right after learning EFT, tended to continue to act less afraid of their feared animal even after a long passage of time during which they had not been using EFT. In other words, the beneficial effects of EFT turned out to be remarkably lasting.
What is particularly striking about this finding is the fact that all 35 participants in the study had received only one single 30 minute session of EFT, or of diaphragmatic breathing.. Because they were not taught to use these techniques during the long waiting interval, it is quite remarkable that the improvement obtained through EFT was maintained and even possibly intensified as long as 9 months later when these subjects were again asked to approach their feared object.
In summary, the Wells study showed that EFT is an effective and long lasting treatment for specific phobias, even when it is administered only once and for only 30 minutes.
Wells, S., Polglase, K., Andrews, H.B., Carrington, P., & Baker, A.H. (2003). Evaluation of a Meridian Based Intervention, Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), for Reducing Specific Phobias of Small Animals. Journal of Clinical Psychology, Vol. 59(9), 943-966
To download a copy of the full journal article go to: http://www.eftdownunder.com/docs/EFTStudy.htm .
The Wells Study Replicated
When new research is published, the scientific community tends to be skeptical until another group of researchers in a different laboratory are able to reproduce the results of the first study, showing that it was not just chance alone that produced the original results.
Dr .A. Harvey Baker, Professor of Psychology at Queens College in New York City, set out to accomplish the task of replicating the Wells Study. He decided to design a study which would match as closely as possible the conditions of the Wells study, yet be even more stringent. It is always possible to improve on any piece of research and Dr. Baker and his research associate Linda Siegel did so with their new study.
Since it is preferable in research to have not only a comparison group as Wells did, but also a no-treatment control group against which to compare the results of the method being studied, Baker and Siegel added a third group in which participants were asked to sit in the laboratory for the same duration as that of the EFT condition, either studying or passing the time by reading magazines provided for them, none of which dealt with fears. Adding this control group was designed to show whether the mere passage of time would improve subjects’ fears without their having practiced EFT or any other therapeutic technique.
In addition, the researchers chose as their other active condition, a more commonly used method for handling fears than the diaphragmatic breathing technique used in the Wells Study. This method closely approximated Carl Rogers’ nondirective counseling approach, and they called it the Supportive Interview.
The 31 people who participated in this new study were randomly assigned to one of these three experimental conditions, and the study added the feature of having the person testing the subjects be "blind" as to whether each subject had been taught EFT or one of the other two conditions. Another important difference between the two studies was the fact that the average interval between the initial testing (before subjects learned EFT) and the final testing, was 1.38 years, almost twice as long as the waiting period in the Wells study.
Just as Wells had done, Baker and Siegel purposely did not instruct their subjects to practice EFT during the waiting interval ––they were allowed only one 45 minute treatment session. It is therefore interesting that although the initial effects of EFT did show some shrinkage over time, they did not disappear during the lengthy time interval between the original testing and the follow-up one, one and one third years later.
The results of the Baker-Siegel study and the Wells study therefore show that EFT has not only immediate but long-term efficacy. EFT’s usefulness for a specific phobia has now been replicated in two independent studies conducted in geographically very distant parts of the world.
A. Harvey Baker, Ph.D. and Linda Siegel, (2003) Can a 45 minute session of EFT lead to reduction of intense fear of rats, spiders and water bugs?” –– a replication and extension of the Wells et al. (2003) laboratory Study. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology. Baltimore, MD.
A. Harvey Baker. (2008) An Updated Analysis of the Results of the Baker-Siegel Study. Personal Communication to the Author.
EFT and Post Traumatic Stress
Moving into a different area of research, a Canadian study targeted the physiological effects of EFT as well as its psychological ones.
Posttraumatic stress can be serious complication following any form of accident. In a study published in The Journal of Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine, a Canadian research team consisting of psychologists Paul G. Swingle and Lee Pulos, and Mara K. Swingle, chose to study 9 victims of motor vehicle accidents who were reporting severe traumatic stress following these accidents. These people suffered from intense anxiety when having to ride in a car, nightmares, headaches and other symptoms typical of those who have experienced a traumatic incident.
The researchers administered both psychological tests and physiological measurements to these accident victims. In their first contact with the participants, they used what is called a QEEG which recorded and analyzed brain waves to determine the effects of EFT treatment on brain activity associated with specific mental and physical states. They also administered a series of psychological tests to the participants.
After they were studied in the laboratory, the participants received two one-hour sessions of EFT. Following these treatments, they were given take-home treatment instructions for use during the duration of the research project in which they were asked to practice EFT five times a day for the first week, and fewer times per day thereafter.
When they were initially tested (before they had learned EFT) these subjects’ average subjective ratings of distress had been 8.3 on a 0 to 10 point scale of intensity when they were thinking about their accident (with 0 being completely at ease and 10 being as anxious as the subjects could imagine being). However, after they had been treated with EFT, their average intensity rating had come down to 2.5 on the Intensity Scale, showing a marked improvement in their distress ratings after experiencing EFT.
After an interval of between 70 and 160 days had passed following the EFT treatments, the participants were then retested on a neurophysiological level and again filled out the same psychological questionnaires they had filled out before they had learned EFT. At this time, the group as a whole showed a significant improvement as measured by the questionnaires. However these measurements also revealed an unusual division among the 9 participants with regard to how well they retained the effects of EFT. Although all participants had recorded a positive change immediately following their EFT treatments (a change that showed only one chance in a thousand of being by chance alone) the improvements did not hold up over time for all the participants. For 5 of the 9 participants these changes held up excellently, but for 4 of them they did not remain on retestl
The results from the brain mapping analyses at the time of the follow-up testing corroborated the results of the psychological questionnaires. Again, the group seemed to split roughly in half with regard to those whose improvement held up well and those for whom the improvement had vanished.
Unfortunately in this study no assessment was made of how well the participants had complied with the rules of the study by doing EFT regularly at home. Compliance (or lack of it) may have been the deciding factor here in terms of who did and didn’t benefit from EFT over the long term. It will be up to future research to tease out the answer to this.
Swingle, P., Pulos, L. & Swingle, M. (2005). Journal of Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine. 15, 75-86..
Using EFT for Seizures in Children
In another study, Dr. Swingle used EFT as a treatment for children diagnosed with epilepsy. The subjects were 25 preschool children who were at high risk if they took anti-seizure medication because of their very young age., Their parents were anxious to find a method of controlling the seizures that did not involve medications and were eager to have their children participate in this study.
The children admitted to the study were administered EFT by their parents every time each day that the parents suspected a seizure might occur. The results were striking. Dr. Swingle found significant reductions in seizure frequency among these very young children, as well as extensive clinical improvement in the children's EEG readings after exposure to two weeks of daily in home EFT treatment.
Dr. Swingle cautions, however, that, as with many other relaxation techniques, EFT may cause an occasional patient to experience exacerbation of their seizure condition rather than to lessen it. Fortunately he has a identified a means of counteracting this rare adverse side effect by having the patient listen to a specially designed audiotape each time before they use EFT. This strategy seems to reduce or completely eliminate the danger. The tape can be ordered from Dr. Swingle whose contact information is given below. While this side effect may be rare, prudence would suggest that this caution should be exercised.
Swingle, P, & Swingle, M. (May, 2000) Effects of the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) method on seizure frequency in children diagnosed with epilepsy. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Contact: Dr. Paul Swingle. Phone: 604-608-0444
Using EFT With Large Groups of People
A larger scale study of EFT’s effects studied 102 persons and I (P. Carrington) was present when a portion of the study was conducted.
At that time I was attending one of Gary Craig’s major EFT conferences and watched with interest as psychologist Jack Rowe diligently sought out the participants who had signed up for his study — most of the people in the room actually — to hand them their test forms for the SCL 90-R, a highly respected measure of psychological distress. His purpose in doing so was to study the effects of EFT on the stress levels of the audience. In particular, he wanted to find out whether any effects that might emerge would hold up when these people were retested six months later.
Jack's article reporting these results was published in the journal, Counseling and Clinical Psychology. Here, in brief, is what he did, and found.
The SCL-90-R test was administered to the participating workshop members on 5 different occasions. The participants first took the test one month before the workshop commenced (it had been sent to them in the mail); again at the beginning of the workshop: at the end of the workshop: and again one month, and then six months after the workshop. This test can be re-administered numerous times and retain its validity as a measure of current level of stress, one of the reasons it was chosen for the study.
What exactly did Jack Rowe find?
The results of the study showed a highly significant decrease in all measures of psychological distress as assessed by the SCL-90-R from pre-workshop to immediately after the workshop was finished. There was such a large drop in stress levels that it could have been obtained by chance alone only 5 times out of 10,000,. Equally important, however, were the findings from the 6 months retesting which showed that the decrease in stress observed right after the workshop held up strongly at this later time. Although slightly attenuated at this time as might be expected, the gains made at the workshop were still holding up, with the improvements still highly significant statistically (5 chances in 10,000 of these results being by chance alone).
As in all research, there is more to be done by future researchers There was no official comparison group of similar people who did not learn EFT, and Gary Craig himself conducted the sessions. Would another group leader have obtained similar results using this technique? This is the type of question we typically find in research, and at the time of this writing another group of researchers are beginning to replicate Jack Rowe's findings. Their study will undoubtedly give us some of these answers when completed. As it stands, the Rowe study supports the other research which shows that EFT is a technique that has long lasting results.
Jack E. Rowe.. (2005). Counseling & Clinical Psychology Journal, Vol. 2 Issue 3, 104-111.