'Tapping Therapy' promoted on NHS despite lack of compelling evidence

Media claims about the effectiveness of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) are largely false, an investigation by The Henry Mayhew Foundation revealed. Despite this, doctors and academics are promoting EFT on the NHS, a move one expert has called “irresponsible.”

On 15 January the Daily Mail reported: “Experts are calling on the NHS to start using a new self-help technique, called tapping, after its effectiveness in treating a number of conditions was proved.” A day before, the BBC ran with the more cautious "Tapping therapy helps patients with depression", calling it “very effective.” Dr Ben Goldacre and others criticised the claim on Twitter.

'Tapping Therapy' or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) involves tapping with the fingertips on acupunture pressure points while saying positive statements. It claims to treat a range of conditions from phobias to post-traumatic stress disorder.

The media reports appear to recycle a Staffordshire University press release mentioning two studies into EFT. One is unpublished, so we cannot verify its findings. The other study conducted in 2013 by Antony Stewart, Professor of Public Health, and his team, looked at EFT's effectiveness in treating various emotional conditions, specifically anxiety, depression and anger. 39 people received EFT therapy over 13 months and most showed an improvement.

The authors claim the results "highlight the successful role of EFT in reducing a wide range of physical and psychological disorders.” However, the paper says “the limitations of the study design ... precludes the ability to infer its results to the wider population,” which means EFT was not proven effective.

André Tomlin, Chief Blogger at The Mental Elf and MD of Minervation Ltd, an evidence-based healthcare consultancy told us: "Unfortunately their chosen study design cannot support these conclusions and they have overstated the findings of this small-scale service evaluation." He says "there are a number of reasons why their study is not compelling evidence and they list many of these themselves (no control group, small sample size etc)." He adds "The safety and efficacy of mental health treatments are usually best evaluated in a large-scale randomised controlled trial. The authors themselves recognise this and state that they are planning such a trial, which they hope will provide an unbiased answer to their research question."

One study has found that tapping 'meridian points' was no more effective when compared to a placebo. While not conclusive, it suggests that the benefits of EFT are not uniquely caused by the 'tapping of meridians', contrary to what Gary Craig, EFT's founder, claims. The therapy's effectiveness can be explained by practices it shares with more established therapies such as desensitization and distraction or the breathing technique used in EFT.

Peter Kinderman, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Liverpool told us natural recovery and the placebo effect can explain EFT's effectiveness. A study into major depression shows half of people recover completely within a year without intervention.

Professor Stewart says "A growing number of studies suggest EFT is an effective and safe treatment." With a predicted increase in demand for mental health services and a decrease in NHS resources, he thinks "the use of EFT should now be extended to other NHS Trusts." Dr Ian Walton, mental health lead for Sandwell and West Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Group says, “The effective use of EFT demonstrated in this study has not only influenced counsellors and therapists in Sandwell to be trained to use this method … , but also local mental health charities."

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) told us “considerably more research into this intervention would be required before it would be possible to draw any robust conclusions.”

Professor Edzard Ernst, an expert on alternative and complementary medicine, told us: “I have researched the evidence for EFT for some time. The currently available trials are by no means compelling. As the treatment lacks plausibility, and as we have no independent replications of the existing studies, it is in my view irresponsible to advocate EFT as a routine treatment for any condition.”

We put our findings to Staffordshire University who said, "We stand by the content of the full press release."

The Daily Mail has not replied to requests for comment.

Our full report is available here: trueorfalse.me/2014/03/04/c...

Staffordshire University’s full response to our article: trueorfalse.me/2014/03/11/s...

Daily Mail: "Alternative 'tapping' therapy could be used by the NHS to treat anxiety and depression" - dailymail.co.uk/health/arti...

BBC News: "Tapping therapy helps patients with depression" - bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-b...

Staffordshire University Press Release: "Alternative tapping technique good for mental health" - staffs.ac.uk/news/alternati...

True or False? is a project of The Henry Mayhew Foundation, investigating inaccurate and misleading reports in the mass media.

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  • So, the conclusion here, from the point of view of the NHS, seems to be "we have no idea whether this works, but since it is unlikely to have an overtly negative effect, we might as well play around with the idea."

    If the NHS using this was controlled and made part of a wider study, then that would be logical. To just recommend it and spend money on it when the effectiveness has not been proved seems a bit idiotic

  • "We stand by the content of the full press release."

    Is this what we have come to expect from learned institutions? No debate, no attempt to defend the claims, just more of the same. Irresponsible and idiotic. No better than the Daily Mail. I thought the universities had progressed from their origins as religious seminaries founded on faith.

  • You can read Staffordshire University’s full response to our ‘Tapping Therapy’ article: trueorfalse.me/2014/03/11/s...

  • I still think they have misused the word `proven'. They seem to think that truth or falsehood are dichotomous, when there is always uncertainty in science. In addition, to place reliance on one unpublished study and another uncontrolled study, and call that evidence, is not science. The response is the usual weasel words from from PR spin doctors. OK, call these studies exploratory and a reason for further research, but don't use them to justify deploying the technique in clinical practice.

  • You have hit the nail on the head. Using the word 'proven' gives the impression of certainty when the evidence does not support this. The level of evidence used to 'prove' EFT's effectiveness is pretty poor. Reading the press release, I was struck by how inconsistent it was as it openly contradicts itself.

  • This is truly outrageous and it gets worse. The authors of this paper have also published a pilot on "Matrix Reimprinting (MR)" in the NHS matrixreimprinting.com/. The paper is even lower in quality than the EFT paper yet makes the same claims.

    All but one of the authors run a business based on these therapies and Dr Ian Walton runs private training at Staffs Uni in Hypnotherapy and the discredited NLP in a quid pro quo for providing NHS facilities yet the paper fails to mention this obvious clash of interest.

    MR is a derivative of EFT and NLP claiming that memories are not in fact stored in the brain but in a body field, which its inventor, Karl Dawson, calls "The Matrix" its based largely on the Rupert Sheldrake' s claims of Morphic Fields and Recovered Memory Therapy. Here's a link the Skeptics Dictionary description: skepdic.com/news/newsletter...

    Here are a couple of quotes from Mr Dawson to pain the general picture:

    "Bipolar disorder in Women is a Sexual Frustration conflict which (usually) goes back to sexual abuse in childhood. In men bipolar disorder is a territorial conflict."

    And from his FAQs

    "WHAT IF I CAN’T REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED?

    A Matrix Reimprinting practitioner will be able to help you uncover blocked memories, and get resolution on issues where you can’t remember what happened. It is advised that you carry out this work with a practitioner for your own safety and wellbeing."

    And they want this taught and practiced in the NHS. I have a copy of the paper on PDF if anybody is interested, but here's a link to the abstract.http://energypsychologyjournal.org/can-matrix-reimprinting-be-effective-in-the-treatment-of-emotional-conditions/

    I have another PDF of a paper from Brandon Gaudiano investigating lack of critical thinking skills of practitioners of Energy Psychology here's the abstract rsw.sagepub.com/content/22/...

    Apologies for the rant but the smug arrogance of these people, who are quite clearly promoting their own business interests, at the expense of the NHS made me quite angry. In the meantime I'm more inclined to go with Jimmy Wales' comments on energy medicine than with anything a Staffs Uni professor who doesn't appear to even hold a first degree in anything has to say.https://www.staffs.ac.uk/staff/profiles/as23.jsp

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