Epigenetic Effects of PTSD Remediation in Veterans Using Clinical Emotional Freedom Techniques: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study

Am J Health Promot. 2018 Jan;32(1):112-122. doi: 10.1177/0890117116661154. Epub 2016 Aug 12.


Purpose: To assess the feasibility of measuring changes in gene expression associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment using emotional freedom techniques (EFT).

Design: Participants were randomized into an EFT group receiving EFT and treatment as usual (TAU) throughout a 10-week intervention period and a group receiving only TAU during the intervention period and then receiving EFT.

Setting: A community clinic and a research institute in California.

Participants: Sixteen veterans with clinical levels of PTSD symptoms.

Intervention: Ten hour-long sessions of EFT.

Measures: Messenger RNA levels for a focused panel of 93 genes related to PTSD. The Symptom Assessment 45 questionnaire, Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, Insomnia Severity Scale, SF-12v2 for physical impairments, and Rivermead Postconcussion Symptoms Questionnaire.

Analysis: Pre-, posttreatment, and follow-up mean scores on questionnaires were assessed using repeated measures 1-way analysis of variance. A Student t test and post hoc analyses were performed on gene expression data.

Results: Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms declined significantly in the EFT group (-53%, P < .0001). Participants maintained their gains on follow-up. Significant differential expression of 6 genes was found ( P < .05) when comparing the expression levels before and after the intervention period in participants receiving EFT.

Conclusion: Study results identify candidate gene expression correlates of successful PTSD treatment, providing guidelines for the design of further studies aimed at exploring the epigenetic effects of EFT.

Keywords: EFT; PTSD; emotional freedom techniques; epigenetics; gene expression; veterans.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • California
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / genetics*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / rehabilitation*
  • Veterans / psychology*