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Laurance Johnston, Ph.D.


The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is an extraordinarily easy-to-use, energy-psychology technique for promoting mind-body healing. After introducing the technique in Part 1, we will now discuss its potential for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition plaguing many returning combat veterans.


As summarized before, EFT is a form of acupressure-assisted exposure therapy. The EFT procedure consists of tapping on key acupressure (i.e., acupuncture) points while focusing on specific emotional issues. Interestingly, some of these points are locations we instinctively rub when under stress. If you have limited finger mobility, you can use your hands or visualize the tapping.

Although often just used to energetically deflate life’s ongoing irritants that drag us down, EFT can be very effective in treating major mental or physical trauma - such as child abuse, spinal cord injury (SCI), or combat-related events. These traumatizing incidents can be emotional minefields buried in our consciousness, waiting for the right triggers to explode and sabotage life. Basically, EFT is a behavioral desensitization technique that defuses the emotional charge on memories so they are no longer experienced as being painful or traumatic.

Although EFT has been criticized by skeptics as not being an “evidenced-based therapy,” preliminary studies suggest that it works much faster and with greater efficacy than conventional approaches.

The basic EFT-tapping procedures are simple and can be easily learned by reading or watching various, readily available resources. (Editorial note: if possible, include procedural sidebar again.) For major issues like PTSD, it is helpful to be guided initially by an experienced EFT practitioner because complex issues need to be gently peeled away. However, even in the most serious PTSD cases, many have benefitted from self-learned EFT practice. A good starting point is the book “EFT for PTSD,” authored by EFT developer Gary Craig.


PTSD is an anxiety disorder that arises after living through a shocking event in which serious physical harm or threat of such harm occurred in susceptible individuals. The incident causes a fight-or-flight, hyperarousal state that can turn into full-blown PTSD. PTSD is one of the ‘invisible wounds’ of combat, and afflicted individuals often:

1) relive the traumatizing event through nightmares and flashbacks, and have strong physical reactions when reminded of it.

2) avoid reminding activities, thoughts, feelings, and conversations.

3) are unable to remember event details, feel emotionally numb and detached from the present moment.

4) lose interest in important activities, feel alone with nothing to look forward to, can’t experience normal emotions.

5) can’t relax or concentrate; have trouble sleeping; are irritable, on guard, or angry.

6) are more prone to breakups, divorce, and relationship issues.

7) often use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate the pain and anxiety.

PTSD has been traditionally treated using psychotherapy and antidepressant medications with questionable effectiveness. Although we tend to associate PTSD with more serious traumatization, like combat, it represents an affliction spectrum encompassing anyone whose thoughts and behaviors that have been affected by a life-threatening, traumatizing situation.

Clearly, spinal cord injury, regardless of cause, falls within this spectrum. Within the SCI community, we have all heard the what-if stories concerning injuries. For example, a friend has damned himself for years because he ordered decaf coffee before falling asleep driving home. Another friend has knocked himself for 30 years for scrambling up a wobbly ladder to fix defective roof flashing before a fast-approaching storm. This is baggage no one needs to carry around forever. In other words, EFT’s healing possibilities aren’t just limited to, for example, the soldier surviving an IED roadside bomb explosion, but also can be used to deal with the seemingly mundane actions or decisions whose life-changing consequences haunt us.

Combat’s Toll

Studies are demonstrating that combat exacts a huge toll on our returning veterans:

bulletAll veterans in war zones are at risk for PTSD (Institute of Medicine).
bullet300,000 troops may require treatment for PTSD.
bullet27% of noncommissioned officers serving three or more tours of duty may have PTSD.
bulletAfter deployment, 49%, 38%, and 31% of National Guard, Army, and Marine troops report psychological symptoms.
bulletPTSD is associated with addictions, depression, anxiety, or other mental-health issues. Overall, 83% of individuals with PTSD have additional psychological disorders.
bulletAntidepressant medications are prescribed for 12% of soldiers stationed in Iraq and 17% in Afghanistan.
bulletPTSD and depression in returning veterans will cost nation $6.2 billion in the two years after deployment.
bulletApproximately 120 veterans commit suicide every week.

Such statistics underscore the problem’s severity and, in turn, the need for new solutions, one of which may be EFT. Clearly, given the technique’s simplicity, there is nothing to lose – except allegiance to failed treatment paradigms - and perhaps much to gain.

PTSD is Real

Because some have suggested that PTSD symptoms are merely the consequence of a veteran’s maladjusted personality, scientists have examined the issue in identical twins by comparing symptoms in a twin with Vietnam-combat exposure with the twin that did not. If the skeptics were correct, the non-traumatized twin would have similar symptoms due to having the same genetic makeup and upbringing. This was not the situation. The investigators concluded “the majority of symptoms reported by combat veterans with PTSD would not have been present were it not for their exposure to traumatic events.”


Dr. Dawson Church (Santa Rosa, CA) recently published the results of a pilot study treating PTSD-afflicted veterans with EFT. Subject age ranged from 26 to 61, and seven subjects were male and four female. Although nine had served in Vietnam or the Iraqi wars, two were family members with “transferred military PTSD.” Several had physical disabilities.

PTSD was measured with assessment scales and questionnaires adopted by the military. The scales evaluated a variety of PTSD symptoms, including anxiety, depression, obsessive or psychotic behaviors, phobias, hostility, paranoia, insomnia, etc. Evaluations were carried out one month before the study, at the beginning and end of treatment, and periodically thereafter.

Subjects received several 60-minute EFT sessions daily for five days. At the end of the intervention, they were given an instructional DVD so they could continue the practice at home. Before treatment, the average PTSD score was 62 on a scale ranging from 85 (most severe) to 17, meaning the subjects had a high baseline level of PTSD. After the sessions, the average PTSD score decreased to 23, a huge reduction. After 30 days, 90 days, and one year, the scores were still only 32, 33, and 33, respectively. The data implied that EFT is an effective tool for persistent, long-term PTSD alleviation.

Other studies indicate that EFT exerts specific physiological effects. For example, it reduces cortisol, a hormonal marker of stress. It also induces a shift in brain waves. Specifically, before EFT, abnormal brain waves were observed when thinking about the traumatizing event, whereby after treatment, a more neutral pattern emerged.  

One subject’s experience is recounted in the sidebar.

Because these are pilot studies with a limited sample size, results cannot be over extrapolated. Fortunately, larger studies are being initiated at several major research institutions, including the Columbia Pacific Medical Center (San Francisco) and Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

A Personal Reflection (from Church D. Traumatology, 16(1), 2010)

“I’m a Vietnam veteran and I suffer from PTSD. At the VA I was also diagnosed as bipolar or manic depressive. I have nightmares, I spent since 1997 in hospitals and institutions I take meds for bipolar, it’s hard to get any alternative treatment at the VA. My world wasn’t that great, everything in my life was a major challenge. When I came to the EFT event I had no clue what I was walking into…”

“One of my bad Vietnam War memories involved an enemy attack where I had to pull bodies out of the rubble. I talked about it at the EFT event and the intensity was so bad I had to leave the room because I felt I was going to puke. Now that EFT has been done on it, I can think the same incident with little or no intensity. It is no longer part of my dreams. That’s a kind of freedom I never thought I would have. Other war memories have faded as well…”

I’ve been doing EFT ever since. The changes in my life are 110 percent totally different. Once you start EFT it’s a totally different way you handle things. Everything like sleep and nightmares and even suicide thoughts all come into a place where a total turnaround happens. I can’t explain it...”


Clearly, combat veterans have much to offer society through the insights and greater awareness they have gained from their challenging experiences. I, myself, have felt honored to have worked with so many of them over the years. Perhaps EFT is one tool that will help transform their traumatizing experiences into needed understandings that, as Buddhist Scholar, Thich Nhat Hanh stated, can illuminate the way for the whole nation.

“Veterans are the light at the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. If veterans can achieve awareness, transformation, understanding and peace, they can share with the rest of society the realities of war. And they can teach us how to make peace with ourselves and each other, so we never have to use violence to resolve conflicts again.” – Buddhist Scholar, Thich Nhat Hanh





1) Start by picking the issue, attempting to be as specific as possible. For general, amorphous issues, dissect them into component parts and work on each separately.

2) Assess issue intensity on a scale from zero to 10 (most intense).

3) Create a reminder phase to repeat while tapping. For example, if you have fear of giving talks, your reminder phrase might be “public speaking.”

4) Locate the EFT “tender spot” by going to the base of the neck where a tie is knotted, and then go down three inches and over three inches. This area is sometimes tender when rubbed because of lymphatic congestion.

5) While rubbing the tender spot, state the following affirmation three times “Even though I have this fear of public speaking [or war memory, fear of flying, alcohol craving, etc], I deeply and completely accept myself.”

Tapping Sequence

Using several fingertips, tap 7-10 times at each of the indicated locations (see illustration) while repeating your reminder phase. The tapping points proceed down the body, making them easier to memorize.

Face and Body: 1) Beginning of eyebrow on each side of nose, 2) Side of eyes, 3) Under each eye, 4) Under the nose, 5) Middle of chin, 6) Beginning of collarbone where the sternum and first rib meets, 7) Four inches under each arm, and 8) One inch below each nipple.

Hands & Fingers:  Tap the 1) outside cuticle edge of your thumb at the base of the thumbnail, 2) thumb-facing edge of each finger (except ring finger) at fingernail base, and 3) the fleshy outside edge of the palm used to deliver a karate chop (To save time, tapping can be consolidated, e.g., the outside edge of your right thumb can be used to tap on the outside edge of your left thumb, etc.)

A longer EFT version includes tapping on the hand’s gamut point (see illustration) while carrying out various eye movements, counting, and humming tunes. Although sounding strange, different parts of the brain are stimulated with each of these actions.

Finally, reassess the intensity of the issue again and repeat the cycle.

Acknowledgments: Special thanks are extended to all my EFT teachers, especially John Freedom.



1)  - a comprehensive EFT website listing many resources (including free “get-started package”).

2)  – Iraq Vets Stress Project helps veterans access low-cost EFT.


EFT for PTSD, Gary Craig, Energy Psychology Press, 2008.


Operation: Emotional Freedom – The Answer. Skywriter Communications, 2010 (available at and elsewhere) - a moving documentary demonstrating EFT’s life-affirming potential.

Select Articles:

1) Gilbertson MW, et al. Is trauma a causal agent of psychopathological symptoms in posttraumatic stress disorder? Findings from identical twins discordant for combat exposure. J Clin Psychiatry 2010; 71(10).

2) Church D. The treatment of combat veterans using EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques): a pilot protocol. Traumatology 2010; 16(1).

3) Diepold JH, Goldstein DM. Thought field therapy and QEEG changes in the treatment of trauma: a case study. Traumatology 2009; 15(1).

4) Dinter I. Veterans: Finding their way home with EFT. Int J Healing & Caring September 2008.

Adapted from article appearing in February 2011 Paraplegia News (For subscriptions, call 602-224-0500) or go to