By John Doyle
In my Stress Management Model, three significant practices are advocated to manage stress and navigate back to the here and now: Breathing, Mindfulness, and Meditation. There is a fourth I use daily and highly recommend for a massive range of benefits: tapping.
I accidentally came across tapping, which is the generic term, in the pursuit of a workable remedy for insomnia. It was with a great deal of skepticism I dug deeper into something that promised so much but didn’t seem to make much sense. How could tapping or rubbing various parts of the body deliver such remarkable results?
The first source was somewhat sketchy, with little detail as to how and why it works. It did, however, direct me to the founder and pioneer Roger Callahan. His book opened my eyes to the incredible benefits of tapping and started me on this voyage of discovery.
I want to share those insights and show how tapping can make a difference in so many ways, both personally and professionally. Outlined is the history and development of tapping, with a detailed explanation of one technique, EFT, that you can try out for yourself.
The other main techniques are explained to provide balance and depth with numerous reading and reference sources.
In addition, there’s a number of specific approaches honed over many years you may find helpful. They’ve been tried and tested in many areas with significant success, across a range of disciplines from sport to public speaking and interviews.
Tapping improves well-being and resilience and will enhance performance both operational and personal. It also has a profound impact on the many negative feelings, emotions, and thoughts that compromise well-being.
My explanations will enable you to use these techniques immediately to help deal with a variety of issues. In addition, they will top up your mental, physical, and emotional batteries, which will enhance your contribution to your fire department, colleagues, family, friends, and the community we serve.
Before you read on, as someone who came to the benefits of tapping in the latter part of my career, I would ask those progressive leaders and fire departments: How could you, your department, and your community benefit from these incredible techniques?
What do you have to lose?
History and Background
Tappingoriginated in the early ’80s. Based on the body’s energy systems, it involves gentle taps or rubbing body points that correspond to meridian points in acupuncture. A common analogy is that it’s like acupuncture but without the needles. It does not require a belief system to be effective. Better still, the assessment of success is determined subjectively by the person who receives the treatment. In addition, it’s tested rigorously to confirm that the problem or issue is gone.
Lots of research has taken place to evidence the benefits and provide assurance for this remarkable development in well-being. Thankfully, what was initially quite complicated has been simplified and, as a consequence, is accessible to a greater number of people. Tapping is easy to understand and can be self-administered.
There are a number of different approaches, each with loyal practitioners.
To provide a workable understanding, all the main techniques are explained in some detail. Also included is a detailed account of how to use one technique, plus some approaches I developed.
Thought Field Therapy (TFT)
The father of tapping is generally recognized and celebrated as Roger Callahan, a doctor of clinical psychology from Southern California. Dr. Callaghan was passionate about helping sufferers of emotional trauma and even keener to discover more effective therapy.
He was deeply skeptical of the stated benefits by some in his profession; in fact, he believed they were just “treating patients only so they could take a hell of a lot more misery than they thought they could!”Callahan wasn’t alone in embracing this bleak perspective. He really had a poor opinion of some fellow practitioners, particularly their intentions and motives. He was, however, desperate to make his patients well.
TFT accidentally arose out of this frustration when treating Mary, a patient in her late 30s who struggled with a severe water phobia from infancy. It was so bad that she couldn’t take a bath or even bathe her children. To drive by the ocean was impossible; she even had nightmares about water“getting her.”
He tried absolutely everything in his power for more than a year, with very little improvement. One day, he sat in his backyard near the pool; Mary started to get very agitated, and an idea came to him. Even though not trained in acupuncture, he was familiar with the principle that an imbalance in the body’s energy flow causes illness.
Mary complained of an acute unease in the pit of her stomach. Callahan knew that the energy flow or stomach meridian was located just below the eye. On instinct or out of desperation, he asked her to tap that spot and think about water. To their amazement, Mary exclaimed, “It’s gone; it’s completely gone.” She started running around the pool joyously. Callahan was terrified she would fall in, as she couldn’t swim!
Every aspect of her fear was tested until even the nightmares had gone. Although dumbfounded, Callahan began to research and develop this technique. It took quite some time to find the right tapping sequences, or algorithms, to be effective with all patients. After two decades of research, he routinely produced results with success rates unparalleled in the field of psychology. TFT was born.
I came across his totemic book Tapping the Healer Within by accident. My overactive mind was wired into the awful cycle of insomnia that affects so many. In Paul McKenna’s fantastic I Can Make You Sleep, a short section uses tapping to reduce the anxiety of not sleeping.
My curiosity was sparked. It was on reading this book that I discovered the incredible effects of tapping. Interestingly, most books on tapping provide a means for effective self-treatment, without recourse to a qualified therapist–positive practical help for those who suffer any form of negative emotions.
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
Callahan’s monumental breakthrough alongside another pioneer psychiatrist, John Diamond, and clinical psychologist Fred Gallo, applied the technique to other conditions. Great strides were made with anxiety, phobias, depression—indeed, most mental health problems. They discovered it was particularly effective with treatments of resistant conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
TFT has complicated, elaborate methods with detailed tapping sequences. One of Callahan’s students, Gary Craig, worked with Dawson Church and others to simplify Callahan’s method. This simpler, more understandable application brought new hope to a wider group of sufferers. Called Emotional Freedom Technique or, simply, EFT, it showed that we can be freed from any unnecessary, unwanted negative emotions.
Craig, in collaboration with Adrienne Fowlie, published an online manual for those who wanted to learn EFT. After Craig retired in 2009, Church wrote a manual available on EFTUniverse, a comprehensive and immensely helpful free download.
I studied Dawson Church’s EFT Manual (2013) intensely. It is much more detailed than the online version with extensive content that supports treatment for most conditions. It’s a superb book that assisted me to personally help hundreds overcome their debilitating conditions.
Until recently, most research showed that PTSD was incurable. The damage done to war veterans, their families, and the wider community is almost incalculable. EFT provides a matchless breakthrough to this area of mental health. Because it deals with the traumas based on the mental recollection, it effectively neutralizes those memories to eliminate suffering and pain.
After only six sessions, without drugs or harsh treatments, 86% of veterans showed dramatic reductions in their symptoms (Church et al 2013). Follow-up sessions confirmed improvements are permanent. I couldn’t agree more with Church’s statement that “EFT stands as a beacon” against the bleak backdrop of prolonged and hopeless suffering.
EFT and its derivatives now bring hope and peace for those who never believed they could be free from suffering or deeply damaging emotional conditions. It can even manage chronic pain.
On a personal level, I’ve used EFT to treat many conditions successfully, PTSD included. In fact, I used it on my son, who serves our country in the military, on his return from an operational tour in the Middle East. He had only been back a couple of days when he started to show some classic signs of PTSD. Fortunately, he recognized that he needed help. Even I was surprised–it only took a few sessions to clear the problem. In common with the research, no sign or symptom has returned.
Many sufferers have a deep debt of gratitude to those pioneers. The wider the knowledge to spread this life-changing technique, the better. It’s simple and practical and works every time.
Simple Energy Techniques (SET)
All techniques and practices are eventually simplified. As Craig and Church refined TFT, Steve Wells together with David Lake did likewise and developed SET. It’s very simple, gentle, natural, and effective and is particularly good for self-help.
He studied with Gary Craig and was well-versed in EFT. They found that the sequence for tapping wasn’t necessary. The simpler the process, the easier it was to administer. Without the need to remember all the details of EFT, it’s easier to access the issue and resolve it.
Wells discovered it was the emotional attachment to negative issues, problems, or blockages thast was the real issue. Release the bond to the thought, feeling, or belief by tapping; as a consequence, mental well-being dramatically improves.
For example, it could start as a belief such as, “I’m not good enough, I’m useless.”
After the first round of tapping, the belief may change to a thought or even feeling. Tapping must continue until all negativity is eradicated. The event, incident, or trauma doesn’t disappear. However, a neutrality emerges and acceptance that it happened is now gone, with no more mental or emotional investment needed.
I had the privilege to be trained by Wells on a UK visit from his native Australia. The simple, gentle nature of SET makes it particularly effective for complex trauma.
Provocative Energy Techniques (PET) and Intention-Based Energy Process (IEP)
Wells has also developed Provocative Energy Techniques (PET) and Intention-Based Energy Process (IEP) with his close friend and mentor Frank Farrelly.
PET addresses the multilevel nature of emotional problems with warmth, humor, and spontaneity. Wells believes it represents a radical departure from the usual therapy training and approaches. It humorously plays devil’s advocate to side with the subject’s negativity that prevents change. PET challenges your ability and will to change by highlighting how you’re wrongly locked into the situation.
PET is especially effective when combined with coaching. I tested it out on a couple of close friends who were most impressed but asked, “Where’s the provocation?” My reply was, “That’s how Steve does it.” Their retort was that he’s obviously not been “Doyled.” I think that’s an affectionate term to describe my coaching technique!
IEP is fascinating, as it sets intentions to command one’s unconscious mind. Emotional attachments, the root of the problems, are then released to access the inner strength and resources for positive change.
Unlike the wording of EFT and SET statements, IEP uses a single cue word to set the intention. When the busy mind is bombarded with multiple thoughts, the cue word directs the enormous unconscious mind, which already has the solutions.
I’ve used IEP on many occasions with remarkable results, no doubt helped by its absolute simplicity.
One noble aspect in the world of tapping, unlike academia, is the lack of preciousness. Mutual support abounds to evangelize the benefits as wide as possible. Each “expert” is well respected, and most have complimentary and reciprocal relationships. Obviously, they all have their own ambitions and objectives but without the self-centered narcissism of some learning areas.
No one claims to be the sole source or authority on tapping. The variety of approaches constructively spreads the word. All the books, articles, and contributions to tapping contain a healthy permissiveness and respect for each other.
Equally, many medical studies support the body of evidence for tapping. Many scientific studies now demonstrate tapping’s effectiveness and efficacy. All the major tapping Web sites direct those interested to the relevant published papers in peer-reviewed journals, in addition to thousands of stories written by people who’ve recovered from a wide variety of physical and physiological challenges using tapping.
Regardless of clinical trials, perhaps the only true proof is one’s subjective experience. The important question surely is, “Does it work?” rather than “How does it work?”
This is my explanation:
“Tapping is based on the body’s energy systems where all negative emotions are caused by a disruption of energy. Stimulation of the acupoints or meridians on that system removes those blockages to return balance.
Bong-Hang Kim, a North Korean Scientist, discovered a vascular system in 1962 where ducts (called Bong-Han ducts) follow the central nervous system. Stimulation by tapping is not only a pacifying action but transmits a signal to the amygdala, hippocampus, and hypothalamus to stop the production of adrenaline and cortisol, which activates our fight, flight, or freeze response.
That response is activated by threat, real or not. Even a negative memory will produce that physical reaction, with all the damaging consequences from the release of those neurochemicals.
Tapping stops that chemical injection and, as a consequence, the brain and mind reframe that memory to remove any negativity. This cognitive reframe is a product of neural plasticity, discovered by 2000 Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel, where the body can change neural pathways. The only part of the brain that can’t be rewired is the amygdala; otherwise, we wouldn’t have survived as a species.”
Tapping stops the fight, flight, or freeze reaction (sympathetic state) to eliminate negative emotions and acts as a fantastic relaxant. When the body returns to that relax and respond state (parasympathetic), it can then digest all the nutrients to fully recuperate.
It’s a superb tool to access the present, be mindful, plus a great transition into meditation. Tapping quiets that busy mind to arrest the overthinking that leads to worry and stress. Combined with breathing exercises, it’s the perfect natural antidote to the challenges of the complex modern world.
Tapping can remove chronic pain. All the techniques have a ‘chase the pain’ procedure. Physical pain is absolutely real, but the mental mechanisms magnify and exaggerate them due to unresolved emotions. The first response to pain is chronic tension and spasm of the muscle. As the muscles tense up, blood flow and oxygen levels reduce and the pain increases.
Second, the nerve’s hypersensitivity produces adrenaline and cortisol for fight, flight, or freeze, which increases sensitivity, so everything hurts more. The pain causes general anxiety, which releases more hormones, and the vicious cycle continues.
One of the best books on this subject is The Tapping Solution for Pain Relief by Nick Ortner. He explains the science of pain and how to clear those negative emotions to eliminate the chronic nature of that awful condition.
Tapping acts just like an energy gym. Daily tapping delivers benefits just as other healthy routines.
By just tapping every day without any purpose or problem, it generates a massive boost to physical and mental well-being. In that relaxed state, tapping works on any issues at an unconscious level. Try it for no more than 15 minutes every day to fully recharge mental, physical, and emotional batteries.
Wells tells of a retreat conducted for high-performing executives where tapping was used to improve performance. On a break, they visited a tropical forest. One of the delegates saw a snake. She had a phobia of snakes but surprisingly had no reaction at all to the creature–cured without any intentional tapping intervention.
I tap every day, even when I’m out walking or even waiting in traffic, and can personally vouch for the effectiveness and benefits not just for me but those in my life.
The following contains an explanation of how to try tapping, in this case EFT.
Included is some context to enhance understanding.
Many thanks to Steve Wells for the images taken from eftdownunder.com.
In most EFT treatments, the sequence of tapping starts with the Side of Hand Spot (or Karate Chop Point), then to Eyebrow Point, and moves down to finish Under Arm. Some include the Top of the Head.
SET, IEP, and PET use any points in any order.
The tapping points on the hand are great during exercising or even when sitting quietly.
The Gamut Spot can be rubbed in a circular motion.
If there is any doubt, just tap anywhere in any order and keep tapping until the issue subsides. Tap hard enough to feel it but not so it hurts. Also be aware if you’re tapping too fast, as that may contribute to any anxiety. Look to tap 20-30 times every 15 seconds. Check out the various YouTube videos to see how others tap, but find the rhythm that you’re comfortable with. Each round should be about 45-60 seconds, or until there’s a change in the thought, feeling, or belief.
Manage Your Inner Seven-Year-Old and Other Negative Emotions
This specific example will concentrate on where the majority of negative emotions originate. It will illustrate some context of where tapping can be effective. This is because the majority of responses to threats are influenced by traumatic experiences from childhood. Essentially, all current reactions result from what happened at seven years old, or thereabouts.
Children develop what I call programmes to compensate for life’s unfairness or to get attention. A baby cries to meet its needs. Risk expands with age; without the security of parents, protection is down to the individual. Children are not strong enough to fight dangers or run away; the main protection is to freeze. Body movements are limited so as not to attract predators.
When scared or hurt as a young child, powerlessness was deeply hardwired. Subsequent negative experiences activate survival instincts that stimulate threat avoidance.
The subconscious demands action to avoid or mitigate threats. Constant commands are reinforced by ridiculous exaggerations until something is done.
Escalation of threat is almost instantaneous. Being confronted by the worst possible case scenario increases already high stress levels.
This rapid escalation is another result of the programmes developed when very young. Awareness of this influence helps to an extent. However, if already in fight or flight, it is very difficult to stay rational and probably too late to respond sensibly.
It’s always much better to prepare for potential consequences.
Neuroscience Scientist Daniel Levitin in his great TED talk “How to stay calm when you’re stressed” explains how to avoid making critical mistakes in stressful situations. When stressed, cortisol is produced to increase heart rate and boost physical capabilities but completely clouds judgment.
The brain switches off because there is no need or time to think. Survival is down to instant reactions. It comes from the time when humans were hunters and hunted. Too much time to think may result in death, as a predator’s only thought is that you’re dinner!
Levitin strongly advocates putting plans in place before the event. A great term used is pre-mortem, the opposite of post-mortem. Think ahead to what should be done if the situation requires action. In other words, do what should be done before the event because at the time of crisis, mental resources are limited.
When Preparation and Awareness Don’t Work
All is not lost. There are many simple and practical techniques available that really help. Meditation and mindfulness are fantastic.
My work with clients includes a number of techniques. One of the best is EFT, but use SET or IEP should a gentler approach be required.
The EFT approach is detailed as follows:
It starts with two questions defined in your own words:
- What is the problem?
- How would you know when it’s gone?
The first is to identify the issue. The second is more important–to understand the context of what freedom from those negative emotions would mean.
The permission to consider that possibility of emotional freedom is hopelessly ignored, as those demons seem to be so powerful and impossible to lose, but tapping can shift them.
To deal with the problem, the four main modalities are asked:
- what do you see,
- hear, and
- feel? (This is he most relevant of the four!)
Any thoughts or emotions generated by worry, stress, and overthinking are manifested in the mind and body.
A common complaint with anxiety, in particular, is, “I’ve got butterflies in my stomach, but their wings have steel tips”–a fantastic metaphor and so accurate. This feeling is due to blood being diverted from the viscera organs to the arms, legs, heart, and lungs.
Symptoms–General or Specific?
First, concentrate on the symptoms of the problem, the main effect and particularly the most recent experience. Two options are normally presented–either general or specific.
If general, it may be a vague, yet powerful feeling, but nothing that can be pinned down. A specific response is normally pronounced, difficult to ignore, and therefore the best start to the treatment.
Better still, can the symptoms be accurately described, especially feelings in shape, size, texture, color, and temperature? If successful, without exception, significant improvements will occur from the first session.
After that, progress continues but at a slower pace and scale. At this point, or earlier if necessary, the recollection of past events is vital. Questions about the first experience, any such emotions, and specifically feelings are superb indications of the real issues.
Removal of blockages created by past events frees the negative emotions that compromise lives, sometimes for many years. The results are often dramatic and stunning, the relief immeasurable.
To know it’s only a safety programme adopted from a young age is significant but, in most cases, insufficient to remove the problem.
Remembered events expose the mental trauma–the more vivid, the better.
Then tap gently on the acupoints repeatedly but firmly for about 45-60 seconds.
The presence of negativity is essential–i.e, stress, anxiety, anger, helplessness–anything that isn’t wanted.
Where Is It?
What can be seen, heard, thought, and most importantly felt?
Where is it in the body? What is the shape, size, texture, color, and temperature?
The medical Subject Unit of Distress (SUD) is used to measure the intensity of disturbance, discomfort, or pain on a 0-10 scale, with 10 the highest.
There is no 11 (fans of Spinal Tap will get this).
When the measurement number is determined, then tap on the fleshy side of the hand used for a karate chop. Use 3 or 4 fingers, gently but firmly, for 20-30 seconds.
Has the SUD measurement gone down? Have any feelings changed? It’s OK if they go up; what’s important is there is some change. Even if the issue briefly gets worse, that’s good, as that means there’s movement.
Repeat the process until the SUD comes down below 2. If in doubt keep tapping.
The principal way to measure the effectiveness of tapping is to test it. The fact that interpretation is subjective is largely irrelevant if it works. It’s tempting once early results deliver improvement to stop tapping and welcome partial success. It’s easy to accept any progress when the issue may have troubled someone for many years.
However, any therapist worth their salt will test and retest to confirm the total elimination of the residual blockage and negative emotion. Self-administration should be no different, as there is no reason not to expect a full recovery.
Perhaps the best way to test is to imagine watching the trauma in a movie. Play it in slow motion, with the contrast and color as sharp and vivid as possible. Have the volume turned up loud with the screen the size of a wall.
Look for any peaks in any negative emotion, again based on what can be seen, heard, thought, or felt. Measure the SUD with any above a 2-3 and tap till the number comes right down. Be exhaustive in checking then tapping on any negativity. The objective is to watch the full scene, in slow motion, with complete neutrality.
Tapping doesn’t remove the memory; it’s all about the cognitive reframe, to look at it with complete indifference. Be sensitive to some of the lesser emotions such as sadness, embarrassment, or shame. They are just as corrosive and should be eliminated.
Any negative event, memory, thought, image, sound, feeling, or belief should have no more power. Nothing should prevent complete immersion in the present moment to stop the full enjoyment of this incredible journey of life.
EFT self-administered will deal with the majority of those negative emotions or at least provide some relief. For more deep-seated issues, a specialist may be needed.
There are a number of YouTube videos about EFT or other tapping with some great Web sites that explain this incredible technique. Check out Brad Yates, Dawson Church, Nick Ortner, Steve Wells, and me!
As indicated, I’ve been tapping for several years and using the variety of techniques to deal with the negative emotions of thousands. In almost every single case, there’s been definite measurable improvements; the majority have been life changing. Tapping requires no emotional or mental investment to be successful.
My nonnegotiable criteria for engagement are twofold:
1, Be open minded, as the journey may go to places that have not been previously experienced and even down some dark rabbit holes.
2, Be honest with yourself. Such is my experience. It’s easy to detect when individuals are not candid with themselves.
The appetite for healing, inner peace without suffering is helpful. Tapping isn’t a placebo–it works and delivers incredible results. I am, however, sensitive to those who have negative expectations and perceptions of any treatments. Nocebo is the counterpart of the placebo effect and will make any success difficult to achieve, but they have been less than the fingers on one hand.
What follows are techniques and approaches I’ve developed, tried, and tested with numerous clients–all based on the various approaches outlined above but nuanced to deal with issues and problems.
Without exception, when applied with discipline and commitment, they work and will help those who wish to enhance their experience of life and want to stop suffering. I would strongly recommend you try them out for yourself.
I encourage you to tap every day for a minimum of 15 minutes. It can be done anytime such as when exercising, watching TV, or sitting outside. Tapping delivers greater resilience that recharges mental, physical, and emotional batteries, which significantly assists the ability to deal with the ups and downs of life.
Like all good habits, it requires practice and shouldn’t be burdensome to get grooved into a daily routine. But, like everything that is good for the body and mind, it is an investment that repays manyfold. It works for me and has made a massive difference to my enjoyment of life and happiness.
Doyle, John. (2022) Relax, Don’t React for Less Stress, Better Performance, and Well-Being. Fire Engineering Journal December Issue.
Callahan, Roger J. (2001) Tapping the Healer Within: Using Thought-Field Therapy to Instantly Conquer Your Fears, Anxieties, and Emotional Distress.
Church, Dawson. (2013) The EFT Manual.
Church, Dawson (2007) The Genie in Your Genes: Epigenetic Medicine and the New Biology of Intention.
Church, Dawson. (2018) Mind to Matter: The Astonishing Science of How Your Brain Creates Material Reality.
McKenna, Paul. (2009) I Can Make You Sleep.
Wells, Steve. (2016) 100%Yes: The Energy of Success.
Wells, Steve. EFTDownUnder: www.eftdownunder.com/energy-techniques/what-is-emotional-freedom-techniques-eft/.
Ortner, Nick (2015) The Tapping Solution for Pain Relief: A Step by Step Guide to Reducing and Eliminating Chronic Pain.
Howard, Jessica. (2014) EFT For Sports Performance.
Hanson, Rick PhD (2011) Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice At A Time.
JOHN DOYLE is a coach and mind therapist specializing in stress and the mind. A 36-year veteran of the fire service, he served as chief fire officer of the Cleveland (UK) Fire Brigade from 1997 until retiring in 2010. He worked in some of the busiest fire brigades in greater Manchester, including the Kent Fire Brigade.