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'Tapping' therapy can relieve anxiety, stress - researchers say

July 16, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Christine Cramer used to suffer from such severe anxiety she was unable to perform tasks like doing her taxes or driving over bridges.

"I became paralyzed with fear," Cramer said.

Brittany Watkins suffered from such serious food cravings, it was ruining her life.

"Every time I was stressed or emotional or upset, I would always look for sweets to make me feel better," Watkins said.

Both women were gripped by fears, but both say they are now free of them thanks to an alternative psychotherapy practice called Emotional Freedom Technique, otherwise known as "tapping."

The idea behind it is to stimulate certain acupressure points in the body while you focus on what's stressing you out.

"It tells your body that that stressful thought you're having isn't a real threat to your survival, and once you break the association in your mind between the stressful thought and the fight or flight response one time, it stays broken," said Dawson Church, the research director at Foundation for Epi Genetic Medicine.

The Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT, was introduced in the 1990s, but recently has surged in popularity. About 500,000 people attended a worldwide tapping summit last year.

"I believe within a few years we'll see it in many hospitals, many mental health clinics," Church said.

However, critics of EFT question whether it really works. Tapping practitioners have published some studies showing positive results, but they were small in scale.

In a study slated to be published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, researchers found that stress hormone levels dropped 24 percent after tapping. No drop was found in the control group.

But not all researchers are convinced. A study in Canada found that while tapping acupressure points did show a significant decrease in anxiety and fear, tapping other parts of the body, or even a doll, offered similar results.

The American Psychological Association (APA) said more large-scale, peer-reviewed studies must be done.

"Has this tapping therapy been proven effective? We don't think so at this point," said Rhea Farberman, executive director for Public and Member Communications at the APA.

Whether it's the placebo effect or scientifically proven, it doesn't matter to Cramer and Watkins. What does matter is that they've both used the technique to help manage anxiety and stress.

"Rather than popping a pill, we can tap a couple acupressure points and immediately neutralize any negative, negative symptom we have. That's amazing," Watkins said.

The APA says stress and anxiety can be serious issues for some people, but are also highly treatable via proven techniques, like cognitive behavioral therapy. They suggest sufferers seek out a mental health professional with proper training and well-established techniques. They do not consider EFT one of these well-established techniques.


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