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Emotional Freedom Techniques

The "Energy Therapies"

A Critique of EMDR

EMDR and Pseudoscience


". . . stereotyping people and giving them all the same simple solutions seems to be a major characteristic of many of the odd therapies that have emerged over the years . . . The innovators found themselves doing something . . . It felt good or worked for the therapists, so they made some assumptions in order to create an ideology that would support practicing the method on others. Without much thought, and little or no proof, the technique was expanded to become a 'cure-all' for all people."
--"Crazy Therapies" (Singer & Lalich)


Emotional Freedom TechniquesTM:
What's the Difference?
    Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) was developed by Gary Craig, who possesses a degree in engineering.  Craig was originally trained by Callahan but has subsequently broken from his mentor and developed his own derivative of TFT.  The major difference between TFT and EFT is as follows:  TFT utilizes different algorithms to treat different conditions while EFT uses one "simplified" algorithm for all problems.  While Callahan asserts that different algorithms are essential to the treatment, Craig contends that they are unnecessary and that the therapist only needs to tap on the major meridians to obtain benefits. Craig explains that he developed these insights because he had witnessed several interesting phenomena with TFT therapists.  (1) TFT therapists would often tap in the wrong positions and still get positive results.  (2) TFT therapists would apply the wrong algorithms to the problem and still obtain positive results.  This may be anecdotal evidence of placebo responding. Therefore, Craig theorized, quite logically, that the importance of learning to diagnosis the perturbations and then apply the correct algorithm to the problem, which Callahan maintains, is probably unnecessary.

    So far, Craig produces anecdotal evidence to counter Callahan's anecdotal evidence.  The logical conclusion would be that perhaps the tapping does not have anything to do with correcting perturbations in the energy field.  Other explanations like placebo, exposure, expectancy, conditioning or relaxation may be the factors effecting improvement.  In other words, regardless if TFT is somewhat effective, the theory behind the results has been called into question.  To reiterate, the scientific method involves systematically testing the predictions which follow from the theory.  Callahan's theory hinges on the fact that different perturbations produce different psychological problems.  However, if tapping on different body parts produces similar results, then the results disconfirm Callahan's theory.

    However, Craig comes to different conclusions.  He uses this evidence to support the validity of a ubiquitous procedure in which the "major" energy meridians are tapped (i.e., EFT).  The logical conclusion to this line of investigation would be as follows:  treat some individuals with the simplified procedure and treat others with a procedure in which no energy meridians are tapped.  I would suspect that if anyone bothered to carry out this exercise in a controlled study, one would witness no difference in treatment effectiveness.  Unfortunately, this has never been tested impartially or scientifically.  To somewhat support these hypotheses, Carbonell (1996) found that "placebo" tapping procedures also produced a decrease in SUD in clients as did the TFT algorithm.  This is the most fruitful line of inquiry which is not being actively pursued by Callahan, Craig, or any other TFT researcher.  In fact, Craig wrote to me that he never bothered to test using placebo tapping even though it is the logical thing to do next.  Furthermore, Craig asserted that there can be no "placebo" tapping because anywhere you tap will be connected to energy meridians.  This is a classic pseudoscientific argument because Craig's theory lacks falsifiability, which takes it conveniently out of scientific investigation or validation.

    Craig also provides us with insight into Callahan's esoteric Voice Technology.  He states that he is only able to speak about aspects of the procedure that Callahan has already made public because he signed a secrecy agreement.  He goes on to describe Callahan's "inaccurate portrayal" of VT.  Craig makes several assertions concerning VT: (1) Callahan has produced no evidence that anything whatsoever is encoded in the voice.  (2) Callahan claims that VT is supported by Fourier Transform (engineering formulas); but Craig contends that Callahan refused to produce any evidence to back up this claim.  (3) VT itself is no different from procedures that alternative therapists already use.  (4) VT violates Callahan's own theory by producing various algorithms for the same person with the same problem.

    This information comes from an original TFT trainee and speaks of TFT's pseudoscientific secrets and lack of credibility.  Unfortunately, Craig uses this evidence to profit from his own theories.  I once posed the question to Craig in a personal email:  "If Callahan was wrong, what makes you think that you have the answer?"  Craig wrote that Callahan was indeed correct and that he only disagrees with some of Callahan's methods and business practices.  However, Craig still did not answer the original question because he has provided no evidence that would attest to the validity of his "simplified" algorithm.  Perhaps random tapping works just as well which would call into question the entire theory behind the process and the efficacy of the tapping.


A Journey into the Absurd:
The Energy Therapies
    TFT and EFT are both examples of what is being referred to as "Energy Therapies" because they utilize "energy healing".  Offshoots of TFT include Tapas Acupuncture Technique (TAT), Getting Thru Therapy (GTT), Be Set Free Fast (BSFF), Emotional Diagnostic and Treatment Methods (EDxTM), and Whole-Life Healing (WLH).  For example, Fred Gallo, Ph.D., inventor of EDxTM, is yet another former Callahan trainee who broke off to market his own approach.  These "treatments" seek to capitalize on the success of TFT and generally incorporate a hodgepodge of non-validated techniques including treating the body's "energy fields".  Not surprisingly, they are generally developed by individuals who are at the outer-edge of psychotherapy and often (but not always) lack accepted training in the field.  Needless to say, these approaches are completely non-validated and seemingly idiosyncratic to their inventors.

    The energy therapies also fall into another category of non-scientific treatment approaches that are called the "Power Therapies".  Proponents of these therapies claim to be able to produce seemingly miraculous results in a short period of time and report much success in treating anxieties and traumas.  Talk of instant cures is not uncommon with these approaches.  Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR), Visual/Kinesthetic Dissociation (VKD), and Crisis Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) fall into this category.  Again, controlled studies find that these treatments do not live up to their claims because they either produce no real benefits or no improvement over traditional methods.  Richard Gist, Ph.D. reports evidence that CISD, which is used as a treatment for crisis workers, doesn't help and may produce adverse effects.  Most, like EMDR, probably produce their effect by traditional means and then add useless elements to seem new.


EMDR: Vying for Position
   Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was originated by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D.  Dr. Shapiro graduated from the Professional School for Psychological Studies, which at the time was unaccredited and is now defunct.  Shapiro theorizes that a trauma causes a disturbance in the information processing system that results in psychological problems such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It is claimed that EMDR procedures result in the reprocessing of the trauma. Scott Lilienfeld, Ph.D. (1996) reports that the general procedure is as follows:  the client visualizes the traumatic event and gives a SUD rating.  The client also provides a negative statement that accompanies the distressing image and then provides a statement that is more desirable.  Next, the EMDR therapist has the client visually track his/her rapid finger-waving while the client continues to hold the traumatic event in their mind. Clients then "blank out" the initial image, breathe deeply, and supply a SUD rating. The procedure is repeated until the SUD rating decreases.

    The major problem with EMDR is that it uses some standard cognitive-behavioral techniques and adds the additional component of eye movements.  However, there now exists several controlled studies which have demonstrated that removing the eye movement component of EMDR does not effect the treatment's efficacy.  In addition, other forms of stimulation seem to produce the same effects (e.g., tones).  In other words, the finger-waving, which is the only thing that makes EMDR truly unique, is probably superfluous to the treatment's effectiveness.  EMDR seems to work mostly through ordinary imagery exposure which is a validated cognitive behavioral technique.

    One can certainly see the parallels between EMDR and TFT.  The structure of the procedures is nearly identical.  Substitute finger-waving for finger-tapping and you get TFT.  Another similarity is that they both have attempted to appear scientific but share many qualities of a pseudoscience.  The difference between the two is that EMDR has been subjected to scientific investigation whereas TFT has not.  Unfortunately, this has not stopped EMDR from gaining an ever-widening support base regardless of the evidence against it.  Perhaps serious investigation into the claims of EMDR began too late, after it gained a foothold.  Will psychologists allow this same pattern to play itself out with TFT?

Science and Pseudoscience in the Development of Eye Movement
Desensitization and Reprocessing: Implications for Clinical Psychology

(Full Text Article)

    Herbert, J. D., Lilienfeld, S. O., Lohr, J. M., Montgomery, R. W., O'Donohue, W. T., Rosen, G. M., & Tolin, D. F. (in press). Science and pseudoscience in the development of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Implications for clinical psychology. Clinical Psychology Review.


The enormous popularity recently achieved by Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) as a treatment for anxiety disorders appears to have greatly outstripped the evidence for its efficacy from controlled research studies. The disparity raises disturbing questions concerning EMDR's aggressive commercial promotion and its rapid acceptance among practitioners. In this article, we: (1) summarize the evidence concerning EMDR's efficacy, (2) describe the dissemination and promotion of EMDR, (3) analyze the nature of pseudoscience, (4) discuss the pseudoscientific features of EMDR, (5) describe the pseudoscientific marketing practices for EMDR, (6) analyze factors contributing to the acceptance of EMDR by professional psychologists, and (7) discuss practical considerations for professional psychologists regarding the adoption of EMDR into professional practice. We argue that EMDR provides an excellent vehicle for illustrating the differences between scientific and pseudoscientific therapeutic techniques. Such distinctions are of critical importance for clinical psychologists who intend to base their practice on the best available [scientific] research.


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