What Is Tapping Therapy, and Does It Work?

People practicing EFT Tapping

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The technique is basically what it sounds like, but it’s more effective than you might think.

Dealing with stress and anxiety can be frustrating, to say the least, and it can be tough to find a therapist and style that works for you — but there is a simple technique that’s been gaining popularity recently that can help calm you down relatively quickly. You might have heard of a type of therapy called the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or perhaps you’ve heard it called by its nickname, tapping. Celebrities including Whoopi Goldberg and even Queen Consort Camilla have spoken publicly about using the technique. It’s basically what it sounds like: You tap on certain points on the body in order to work through (and hopefully relieve) a certain problem. And while we concede that tapping may sound a little woo-woo, there’s more to this method than meets the eye (or, in this case, the fingertips), and there is a large body of research supporting its benefits.

The Emotional Freedom Technique, also referred to colloquially as tapping, was founded by Gary Craig in the 1990s, but the practice has roots in Roger Callahan’s Thought Field Therapy, which dates back to the 1970s. It draws on the practices of acupuncture and is similar to acupressure in that it involves touching various energy channels throughout the body — although, unlike acupuncture, there are no needles involved, making it a welcome alternative to needle-fearing folk looking for a little relief. And unlike acupressure, tapping involves a much lighter touch that is self-administered, rather than a more firm pressure applied by a massage therapist or acupuncturist.

What is tapping?

Tapping involves using between two to four fingers to (you guessed it) tap lightly on nine pressure points on the body, such as the top of the head, space under the eyes, and right under the clavicles. Guidelines say to tap between five to seven times on each spot, but the practitioners KCM spoke to say that you can linger on any body part for as long as you need to while you work through whatever feelings are coming up. Tapping can be done alone or in the presence of a therapist or practitioner. If you visit a practitioner, they will instruct you to tap on various body parts as you focus on whatever is causing you anxiety or stress and verbalize those feelings. You will also say self-accepting statements (for instance, “I’m feeling anxious” and “I deeply and completely accept myself”). The therapist would just be guiding you through the motions, not performing them on you. Tapping can also be done alone using a number of self-guided resources, and the process would work the same way.

What is EFT tapping used for?

Mary Mahoney, LCSW and EFT practitioner, has used tapping with her clients to address all types of issues, from anxiety to phobias — particularly fear of flying, which both the Queen Consort and Whoopi Goldberg used the technique for — as well as PTSD and addiction (she says smoking cigarettes is a big one).

Bonnie Azoulay, a 27-year-old New Yorker who runs a copywriting and social media business, was diagnosed with OCD at age 22. Her current therapist introduced her to tapping a few years ago as a tool to try when she was having, as she puts it, “an obsessional flare-up.” She’ll tap on various body parts while her therapist walks her through peaceful situations in a soothing voice. On her own time, she’ll often watch videos or TikToks of other people performing tapping as a way to relax, finding comfort in the slow, rhythmic movements. “I think it’s just something to ground you and stay mindful,” she tells KCM. “When things are moving so fast, when you’re working so fast, thinking so fast, it’s just a way to slow things down.” 

But tapping can also be used to tackle more specific issues. Katherine Capone, a 34-year-old massage therapist in Connecticut, tried tapping once in 2018 to work on a very particular problem: She couldn’t stand the sound of a loved one’s chewing — on a scale of one to 10 (one being bearable), the irritation was “definitely a 10,” she told KCM, adding, “It was something I was fixating on and it was ruining my time with this person.” After about 45 minutes with a practitioner instructing her to tap on certain meridians — the face, down her arms, her head — while visualizing and talking about the annoyance she would feel when thinking about the chewing, she found it stopped bothering her.

How does tapping work? 

EFT focuses on what are called meridian points, or passages in the body through which energy flows, according to Chinese medicine. The underlying belief is that applying pressure to these points can help rebalance the body’s energy, which can assuage negative emotions or symptoms. Before you start tapping, you’ll state what’s on your mind, and as you tap, you will verbalize the issue and also make statements of self-acceptance.

While it might seem like talking about an issue that’s bothering you would cause you to spiral or fixate on those negative feelings, in fact, the opposite happens. “Stating the negative when you’re tapping doesn’t reinforce it. It’s actually taking the power out of it,” says EFT tapping practitioner and trainer Jackie Viramontez. “Because you’re pairing this self-soothing with this statement or feeling that would normally totally trigger you, and you’re creating a new connection,” she explains.

EFT has no known side effects or risk, though Mahoney said that for some people, saying a negative thought out loud can be difficult. This is why it’s important for practitioners to be tuned in to their clients’ needs and for patients to speak to their practitioners or therapists before they try this technique. 

Does tapping really work?

We’ll let the research speak for itself. A study of 5000 patients found that 90 percent of patients who did tapping therapy saw improved anxiety, compared to 63 percent of patients who practiced Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (with or without medication) instead. What’s more, the study found that it only took three tapping sessions to reduce a participant’s anxiety, while it took an average of 15 CBT sessions. That’s not to say that talk therapy is not helpful, but it could be worth exploring other options if CBT or other therapy techniques aren’t working for you. 

The information provided on this site isn’t intended as medical advice, and shouldn’t replace professional medical treatment. Consult your doctor with any serious health concerns.