Does EFT Thought Field Therapy Work? (Pros and Cons)

Thought Field Therapy was developed accidently as a means of treating psychological issues through a specialized series of tapping with fingers at the meridian points on the upper body and hands.

Proponents say that it can heal a variety of mental and physical ailments through specialized “tapping” with the fingers at meridian points on the upper body and hands. There is no scientific evidence that TFT is effective, and the American Psychological Association has stated that it “lacks a scientific basis”.

The original discovery of Thought Field Therapy (TFT) happened with one of Dr. Roger Callahan’s patients who had a phobia related to the water. While working with this patient around his swimming pool she began complaining of stomach pain that was related to her anxiety.

In an attempt to help her stress-related stomach issues he used acupressure over specific meridians. The results astounded both he and his patient.

Dr. Callahan gave this treatment the name “Thought Field Therapy” because he theorizes that when a person thinks about an experience or thought associated with an emotional problem, they are tuning into a “thought field.” He describes this field as “the most fundamental concept in the TFT system,” stating that it “creates an imaginary, though quite real scaffold, upon which we may erect our explanatory notions”.

What Is Thought Field Therapy?

The theory behind TFT is that there is precisely encoded information that becomes activated when an individual thinks about a problem, either subconsciously or consciously. In order to eliminate the emotional negativity, Dr. Callahan developed a system of sequencing over precise meridian points.

The idea of unblocking or balancing the flow of Chi, still important in the practice of traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture for centuries, is actually based on an offshoot of acupuncture, which is acupressure.

Acupressure is said to achieve somewhat similar results to acupuncture without the invasive use of sterilized needles, into these energy pathways in the body.

Individuals who practice acupressure do so by means of pressure over the points and those who use Thought Field Therapy do so by means of tapping over the meridian points.

Structure of Thought Fields

As described by psychologist and founder, Roger J. Callahan, thought Field Therapy is the study of the structure of thought fields and the body’s energy system as they relate to diagnosis and treatment of psychological problems.

Currently, the claimed success rate of Thought Field Therapy has not been verified or explained using conventional scientific methods, or with generally accepted theories of psychotherapy.

Thought Field Therapy practitioners believe that it is not the traumatic event, nor the person’s thoughts that are the fundamental cause of the negative emotions.

Instead, “disturbances” that contain the active information will trigger a response in the human body along neurological, chemical, hormonal and cognitive pathways. All of these things result in negative emotions which the individual feels when they relate to a specific dramatic event. These disturbances are called perturbations.

Practitioners who are trained in Thought Field Therapy are said to be able to diagnosis the energy meridians which are causing the imbalances in the body, the same system that is used in acupuncture.

Thought Field Therapy also utilizes tapping over acupressure or acupuncture points. This provides the additional energy the body requires to promote a healthy flow of electromagnetic energy throughout the body system.

Painless and Quick

The process is usually painless and quick. Practitioners have developed several different algorithms that worked well and approximately 80% of the cases as determined by case study in reports of practitioners. The remaining 20% usually require individual diagnosis and treatment protocols.

Thought field therapy practitioners do not claim that this technique works for every problem in every person. Recent studies quoted by proponents of the technique claim that the treatments success rates were close to 90% or greater for a variety of psychological problems such as anxiety, fear, traumas, painful memories and depression.

When people are first exposed to Thought Field Therapy many are skeptical because of the inability to visualize any real treatments protocols.

It may appear a bit like hocus-pocus or as if the individual is succumbing to auditory suggestion. However, in no other studies does auditory suggestion have the same success rate as claimed in Thought Field Therapy.

Mechanisms Unclear

The results can neither be predicted nor explained which makes many professionals unwilling to use the method. Some are attempting to offer alternative explanations for the effectiveness of the treatment.

A 2005 controlled study on Thought Field Therapy Voice Technology published in the peer reviewed journal The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, showed no difference between the TFT VT and randomly selected tapping sequences, which provides evidence against Callahan’s assertion that precise sequences derived from his claimed specialized technology make a difference in result.

In 2001, in an unprecedented move, the Editor of the Journal of Clinical Psychology agreed to publish, without peer review, five articles on TFT of Callahan’s choosing; these were: Callahan, 2001b and 2001c; Pignotti & Steinberg, 2001; Sakai et al., 2001; and Johnson et al., 2001. In lieu of peer review, critiques were published alongside each article.

The critics agreed that each of the five studies contained serious flaws that rendered them uninterpretable by them. They pointed out flaws which included:

  • selecting only successful cases;

  • focusing on a diversity of problems;

  • failure to use a control group;

  • failure to control for placebo effect,

  • demand characteristics and regression to the mean;

  • lack of valid assessment measures;

  • use of the SUD as the only measure of efficacy other than heart rate variability (HRV);

  • using an out of context physiological measure (HRV) in an inappropriate manner; and lack of a credible theory

One of the critics, Harvard psychology professor Richard J. McNally, noting the lack of evidence for TFT, stated that

“Until Callahan has done his homework, psychologists are not obliged to pay any attention to TFT.”

Psychologist John Kline wrote that Callahan’s article

“represents a disjointed series of unsubstantiated assertions, ill-defined neologisms, and far-fetched case reports that blur boundaries between farce and expository prose”.

One of the original authors of the non-peer reviewed studies later retracted her conclusions and has reversed her earlier favorable position on TFT.

On the other hand, the same was true when scientists first discovered bacteria as a cause for infection. When not all physicians and individuals could visualize bacterial growth, the idea was thought to be preposterous.

Thought Field Therapy is a process that is nonlinear and requires a certain amount of faith as well as an understanding that as human beings we are a compilation of both the physical and the spiritual.

While there are written instructions on how to perform Thought Field Therapy, those who are trained and have a variety of experiences are said to be able to obtain better results. However, because there are little to no side effects, it probably would not cause any trauma or harm to try these techniques on yourself, as long as you are not expecting much.

Suzanne M. Connolly Thought Field Therapy: Clinical Applications, Integrating TFT in Psychotherapy George Tyrrell Press (August 2004)

Gaudiano, Brandon. “Can We Really Tap Our Problems Away? A Critical Analysis of Thought Field Therapy”, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, August 2000

Roger Callahan, Richard Trubo Tapping the Healer Within: Using Thought-Field Therapy to Instantly Conquer Your Fears, Anxieties, and Emotional Distress McGraw-Hill Education (January 1, 2001)

Nick Ortner The Tapping Solution for Pain Relief: A Step-by-Step Guide to Reducing and Eliminating Chronic Pain Hay House, Inc. (April 21, 2015)