Is ’emotional acupuncture’ the answer?

Posted on December 19, 2011


Dateline: 9 November 2011 // Posted by: Stephanie Brolsma

Story: “‘Emotional acupuncture’ helps vets: Military veterans find relief from PTSD thanks to touch therapy”

Summary: Many war veterans return from duty only to experience flashbacks of their time of service. These flashbacks are symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. According to the article, among medication and other types of therapies, some soldiers are now taking advantage of a new therapy that is derived from emotion and attachment theories.

This treatment is known as Emotion Freedom Techniques (EFT), and is thought to help soldiers release their negative emotions by tapping various points of energy on their bodies. The treatment can be described as acupuncture without needles. The article also advertises a free showing of the film, “Operation: Emotional Freedom – The Answer” for those interested in the treatment. The therapy claims to help patients change their attitude towards an emotional problem or unwanted self-experience.

Mary Stafford, a master of EFT, claims that patients feel improved within weeks rather than the months or years that other therapies might take. However, the creator of EFT, Greg Craig says,“…the problem with EFT is that it is only ‘partially’ accepted in the scientific community.”

Why is this PseudoNews? As the article states, this treatment is more or less acupuncture without the needles. Like acupuncture, EFT relies on the premise that there are points of energy along the body where tapping can be focused. When these points of energy are touched, the body can release the negative emotions that are causing the patient problems and pain. However, scientific research has shown that acupuncture points do not exist and, thus, do not have properties that would allow for the therapy to be effective. This means that the premise of EFT therapy alone makes the therapy questionable.

The fact that the article seems to be advertising for EFT as a treatment also makes it questionable as a science. Science is a practice where researchers first publicize their findings in academic papers to be reviewed by other researchers. Research on an idea must be properly publicized and criticized by people in the academic world for it to be accepted as science. This article seems to follow more of a pseudoscientific habit of science by press conference as it doesn’t reference any scientific research of EFT as a treatment and instead, seems to be written with goals of advertising for the treatment.

Finally, lack of agreement among scientists to the effectiveness of EFT as a treatment for patients experience PTSD is another characteristic of pseudoscience. For an idea to be scientific, it must be widely accepted as plausible (even it is not agreed upon) by other scientists. Disagreement among scientists on the effectiveness of EFT as a treatment for patients suffering from PTSD shows that the treatment is unreliable and not scientific.

What features of pseudoscience are on show? One of the first features of pseudoscience that can be seen is vagueness in measurement. In fact, the article does not even state how the patients are measured for their emotional health. The only reference to this measurement in the article is the patient’s own sense of their emotional health: “…instead of months or years to get better, her patients feel improved within weeks or months of starting EFT treatment.” Therefore, the patient themselves seem to be determining their health, with no other measure of their health from medical professionals to show that they have, in fact, improved. This measurement is incredibly vague as it is unlikely a patient could give an accurate, quantitative measurement of their mental health of the kind needed to support a subsequent assertion that health has improved. There could also be subjective bias in their ‘measurements’ as they may simply wish to feel better and, thus, may say that this is the case even if their health has not actually improved.

Another feature of pseudoscience that can be found in the article is an avoidance of falsifiability. The article does not give any detail as to how the treatment was tested (this alone makes the article sound pseudoscientific); furthermore, similar to acupuncture, research into the effectiveness of EFT as a treatment would be difficult to obtain. Claims about EFT cannot clearly be proven as false and part of this is the difficulty researchers have in designing an appropriate placebo control group. How does one create a double-blind experiment so that the person administering the treatment is not aware if they are actually administering the treatment? Similarly, the results would be skewed as the patient would be fully aware of whether or not they are receiving the tapping treatment and may report feeling better when, in fact, there has not been a change in their health.

The moral of the story: The use of EFT as a treatment could cause real harm to patients if they are not receiving actual treatment for their symptoms and relying on pseudoscientific treatments instead.