Acupressure Boosts Effects of Psychotherapy in New Research

A new study shows that acupressure, one of several components in a stress-treatment approach known as Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), is key to the method’s efficacy. The study,1 authored by psychologists Rachel Rogers and Sharon Sears of Fort Lewis College, was published in the November 2015 issue of the Energy Psychology journal and confirms similar findings by other researchers. EFT is an evidence-based approach to treating stress and other quality-of-life issues that has grown in popularity in recent years.

The finding is significant because it suggests that the results obtained using the method are not solely due to the inclusion of conventional psychology methods in its protocol. EFT uses techniques drawn on well-known treatment approaches, such as cognitive therapy and exposure therapy, in combination with self-applied acupressure. Dozens of studies, including one recently published in the prominent Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease,2 have shown Clinical EFT to be effective in treating depression, PTSD, and other common disorders, but the method’s multi-component approach has raised questions about the nature of the results. Some researchers have wondered whether the positive results seen with EFT might not simply be due to its inclusion of tried and true psychology techniques, with any increased treatment effect perhaps being caused by a potential placebo effect from the participants’ self-tapping. Rogers’ and Sears’ Fort Lewis College trial joins a growing body of other “dismantling” type studies that suggest this is not the case.

“It’s incredibly helpful in psychology to know which aspects of an approach are active in bringing relief to clients,” said Rogers of the work. “We’re happy to have contributed to that kind of clarity with regard to EFT.”

The study was conducted with 56 college students who were randomly assigned to one of two groups, an EFT group or a “sham” group. The sham group experienced the same verbal stimuli as the EFT group, but its members were instructed to tap on body points considered inert from an acupressure standpoint. Both groups received a single, 15-20 minute treatment session using the same standard script in conjunction with self-tapping on either real or sham acu-points. The investigators’ use of a sham-acupressure group as opposed to a no-acupressure group is significant because of the need to rule out a placebo effect—if the simple act of tapping were inflating the treatment effect, it would inflate it for both groups.

But that was not the case. Although the groups’ levels of common stress symptoms were essentially the same before treatment, after treatment, symptoms were reduced in the EFT group by 39.3% while symptoms in the sham group were only reduced by 8.1%, suggesting that the stimulation of true acu-points is an active component of EFT treatment, and not a placebo. What’s more, the statistical significance of the study was very high. Statistical significance measures how confident researchers may be that the results seen with their sample are similar to results they would obtain if they tested the population at large. Findings are generally considered significant when there is less than a one-in-twenty likelihood that the results are due to chance. This study’s p value, which was less than .001, indicates a one-in-one-thousand likelihood that the results were due to chance.

The National Institute for Integrative Healthcare (NIIH) is a leading-edge nonprofit dedicated to therapies, to research, and to education in the fields of Energy Medicine and Energy Psychology.

  1. Rogers, R. & Sears, S. (2015). Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) for stress in students: A randomized controlled dismantling study. Energy Psychology, 7(2), 26–32. doi: 10.9769/EPJ.2015.11.1.RR
  2. Clond, M. (2016). Emotional Freedom Techniques for anxiety: A systematic review with meta-analysis. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 204, 388–395. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0000000000000483