(by Robert Schwarz, PsyD, DCEP)
Last week, another milestone in the scientific study of energy psychology was reached when a meta- analysis of EFT studies was published. The title of the article is “The efficacy of acupoint stimulation in the treatment of psychological distress: A meta-analysis”. A meta-analysis is an analysis of multiple studies. The authors, Gilomen and Lee (2015) looked at all of the major studies using energy psychology protocols with acupoint stimulation (i.e., EFT and TFT).
The bottom line: the study found that EFT as a treatment does have a moderate effect size when compared with controls. What makes this finding even more delicious from our point of view is that it was published in a very conservative journal, the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, and authored by two people who have no allegiance to energy methods.
I would go so far as to say that this is almost the equivalent of the French Winemakers Association publishing an article titled, “California wines are almost as good as French wines”.
The article is deeply wonky and goes into a great deal of explanation about meta-analysis. It raises numerous questions about energy psychology treatment, which I will address in a moment. For those of us in the field who think scientific discourse has an important place, this article is a major milestone. Why?
- It is a meta-analysis, which cannot even be considered until enough studies in an area have been completed. Energy Psychology has now reached that point!!
- It continues the trend of increased scientific study of EP protocols, with increased methodological rigor. My position has always been that if EFT or TFT outcomes were only placebo or some non-real effect, as methodological rigor increases the results would increasingly diminish. This has not occurred in research about EP.
- The results of this meta-analysis continue to support the efficacy of energy psychology protocols. Feinstein (2012) reported that 15 out of 16 individual randomized control studies that reported on effect size found large effect sizes. Gilomen and Lee’s meta-analysis found that the average effect size was moderate. The authors comment on this difference but do not really discuss it. They are using different statistical methods. Feinstein was using Cohen’s d and Gilomen and Lee are using Hedge’s g. Hedge’s g is a newer and more stringent measure. Most psychotherapy outcome research has used Cohen’s d.
Gilomen and Lee (2015) raise important questions and concerns. They note that most of the active control groups are not full-fledged stand-alone treatments. This is true. However, this is beginning to change, such as in Karatzias et al. (2011), who compare EFT to EMDR. They suggest that perhaps there should be a study to see if EP adds something more to a proven treatment like prolonged exposure (PE). They are half right. The next major study should be a heads up comparison between EP and PE (how funny is that?) in the treatment of PTSD in vets.
Gilomen and Lee (2015) raise the issue that, to date, there has not been a good study that has been able to single out the effect of tapping on acupuncture points compared to everything else in the protocol. This is a fair argument, up to a point. There is some evidence to suggest that acupoint stimulation does add therapeutic effect to therapy (Fox & Malinowski, 2013).
Furthermore, there is the curious fact that EP treatment appears to work for so many things. From where does this robustness come? It makes great theoretical sense that it comes from working with the energy system of the body.
It is curious that this criticism continues to be aimed only at EP. Has there been a call for dismantling studies of EMDR, CBT or ACT? Perhaps there has and I just don’t know about it. For example, does anyone really know the active ingredient of CBT?
All in all, Gilomen and Lee (2015) have done energy psychology a great service. ACEP has said all along that we welcome and support scientific investigation. It is no small matter that this meta-analysis was published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry.
Viva la difference!
Robert Schwarz, PsyD, DCEP
Author, Tools for Transforming Trauma
ACEP Executive Director
Want to learn more about the latest science that supports energy psychology and explore new body-mind healing methods? Join us at the 18th International Energy Psychology Conference, June 2-5, 2016. Learn more.
To learn more about research on energy psychology techniques, visit energypsych.org/research.
Feinstein, D. (2012). Acupoint stimulation in treating psychological disorders: Evidence of Efficacy. Review of General Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028602
Fox & Malinowski (2013). Improvement in study-related emotions in undergraduates following Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT): A single-blind controlled study. Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 5(2), 15–26.
Gilomen, S. & Lee, C.W. (2015). The efficacy of acupoint stimulation in the treatment of psychological distress: A meta-analysis. J. Behav. Ther. & Exp. Psychiatry. 48 (2015) 140e148.
Karatzias, T., Power, K. Brown, K. , McGoldrick, T., Begum, M., Young, J., Loughran, P., Chouliara, Z. & Adams, S. (2011). A controlled comparison of the effectiveness and efficiency of two psychological therapies for posttraumatic stress disorder: Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing vs. emotional freedom techniques. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease 199(6), 372-378.