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EFT and trauma & PTSD

by Jacqui Footman
8 minutes
EFT and trauma & PTSD

Anyone who has investigated into or trained in Emotional Freedom Techniques to any extent will be aware that the reason for the majority of EFT's beneficial effects is its capacity to relieve the burden on the body, mind and spirit left by earlier trauma.  Anyone practising EFT will have observed how results are at their best when we are really specific in the set-up statement about the pain or painful emotion that is the target of our EFT, and will have observed how quickly a phobia, addiction or anxiety collapses once we have unearthed the specific triggering event(s) and tapped down the intensity of the emotions relating to those events.

This is the greatest blessing provided by EFT.  It underpins the great potential awaiting us when we use EFT.

Capital “T” Trauma or small “t” trauma

EFT works on the emotional aftermath of traumatic events; that includes capital "T" Trauma and small "t" trauma.  What's the difference?

Capital "T" Trauma occurs when individuals witness or are involved in an horrific event, such as events of war, murder, assault, rape, road traffic accident, any event where someone fears for survival.  Small "t" trauma can happen any or every day; it may be something that has happened earlier in life and now to the adult logical mind seems quite insignificant, but when you think about it you get the feeling that there may still be some emotional charge that has been locked into the body's energy system since that time.  It may be something that used to happen repeatedly to the point that you just got used to it in the end, but the initial impression was one of fear.

How it can affect your life

Either a capital “T”or a small “t” event may have caused decisions to be made at the time; one or two examples of the thousands possible would be
"I have to be perfect to be safe" or
"It is not safe to be noticed" or
"I am not good enough".

Such decisions would become beliefs which, at a subtle level influence a person's life, usually for the worse, in myriad ways.  The skillful application of EFT involves tracing problem issues back to such decisions and the small "t" traumatic events where they were first formed.  Tapping down the intensity of the stored emotion of these small "t" traumas can be life-changing.  The tricky bit can be locating small "t" traumas, which can take a lot of detective work - however this is work which the experienced EFT practitioner is well-trained to carry out.

An intense experience of negative emotion at the time of an event, particularly if this triggers the freeze response, can become trapped in the body’s energy system and lead to later repercussions, sometimes these can be clearly related to the event, which is a Capital “T” event and lead on to a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Such repercussions, particularly in the case of small “t” trauma may be less obvious but nevertheless have effects at many levels and may become the basis of other problem issues such as illogical fears or anxiety, which in turn might lead to addictive behaviours or even physical health problems.  EFT can hence be used for many such problem issues by tracking back to the traumatising event and reducing the associated store of negative emotion, bringing new perspectives and clarity.

The work of Dr Robert C Scaer

But why does one person survive a traumatic event psychologically unscathed whereas another will be affected.  And how can one define whether a small “t” traumatic event will be of lasting significance?  Four factors can be considered to cause any event to be traumatic but essentially all revolve, according to Dr Scaer, around the principle of whether the event in some sense represents a threat to the individual’s survival, or safety within the world with which the individual has become familiar.  The following four factors are useful to consider in defining an event that has the

capacity to traumatise:
- It is unexpected
- It is dramatic
- It is isolating, the person affected feels alone having to deal with it and
- helpless or powerless, having no strategy with which to deal with it.

Dr Scaer explains that it is the meaning the individual attaches to an experienced event that makes it traumatic, which means that many more events throughout our lives can precipitate the effects of trauma beyond those narrowly defined in DSM criteria for PTSD.

I have learned with fascination about trauma from the work of neurologist Dr Robert C Scaer, MD, author of The Body Bears the Burden, Trauma Dissociation and Disease, Routledge 2007 and would recommend this to serious students interested in these concepts and the mechanism by which trauma can lead to PTSD and even physical illness.  A useful introduction to Dr Scaer’s work is helpfully provided by Cathy and Rick at Thriving Now, where you can freely download a 45-minute interview with Dr Scaer or you can look on Dr Scaer’s website.

Published Research: EFT for PTSD

EFT practitioners throughout the UK welcomed the publication in June 2011of the first controlled comparison of EFT for PTSD published in a peer-reviewed journal by a team led by Thanos Karatzias and Theresa McGoldrick in NHS Fife. 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, Karatzias et al, was published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease.

I understand that this team chose to compare EFT with EMDR because EMDR already has a well-established evidence base and is included in the NICE Guideline for PTSD as a recommended treatment for PTSD.  The researchers observed significant therapeutic gains at post-treatment and follow-up in an equal number of sessions for both the EMDR treatment group and the EFT treatment group.  They observed similar treatment effect sizes in both treatment groups.  We can conclude from this study that EFT is similarly effective to EMDR for the treatment of PTSD.  There are however addition advantages for using EFT over EMDR; these are listed here.

Veterans Stress Project

A number of outcome studies into EFT for PTSD have been completed in the USA as part of the Veterans Stress Project and you will find details of them here .  The US Veterans Association is currently undertaking a large scale trial of EFT for PTSD in conjunction with Marshall University Medical School, the University of California at Berkeley and George Washington University.

Operation Emotional Freedom

An outcome study published in the peer-reviewed journal, Traumatology, examined the effects of one-week intensive EFT treatment for a group of veterans with PTSD.  A documentary film was also made of such a one-week intensive treatment project, where the EFT was facilitated by EFT Founder Gary Craig and several EFT Masters and experienced practitioners.  

Please go to the Operation Emotional Freedom website to see trailers of this documentary and buy a copy of the DVD to benefit veterans’ welfare.


In 1994 in a government-backed genocide in Rwanda one million people were murdered in 100 days, leaving many orphans.  

ProjectLIGHTRwanda is helping these orphans, now aged 16-25 to get over traumatic memories using EFT and other Energy Psychology techniques.  The centre reported a 90% reduction in trauma-related outbursts amongst the young residents following the EFT treatment, delivered in both group and individual sessions.  Please go to The Tapping Solution to watch this moving short video about the work with Rwandan orphan trauma victims and other trauma relief projects undertaken by The Tapping Solution Foundation.