Background: The manual stimulation of acupuncture points has been combined with components of cognitive and exposure therapies into a clinical and self-help approach known as Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). More than 40 clinical trials and four meta-analytic reviews of EFT treatments have demonstrated large effect sizes with a range of conditions, including pain, PTSD (in both civilian and military veteran populations), phobias, anxiety, and depression. Objective: This review describes the approach, with a focus on PTSD in veterans and service members, provides an overview of how EFT is most commonly applied, and outlines obstacles and cautions related to its implementation. Methods: Peer-reviewed clinical trials and meta-analyses of EFT in the treatment of PTSD are assessed to identify the characteristics of the approach that render it suitable for the treatment of PTSD. Results: The literature demonstrates that remediation of PTSD and comorbid conditions is typically accomplished within brief time frames, ranging from one session for phobias to between four and ten sessions for PTSD. Clinical EFT has been shown to regulate stress hormones and limbic function and to improve various neurologic markers of general health. The epigenetic effects of EFT include upregulation of immunity genes and downregulation of inflammation genes. Six dismantling studies have indicated that the acupressure component of EFT is an active ingredient and not placebo. Conclusions: Seven empirically supported strengths of the approach were identified that make it especially suitable for use with veterans and active military: (1) the depth and breadth of treatment effects; (2) the relatively brief timeframes required for successful treatment; (3) the low risk of adverse events; (4) the minimal training time required for the approach to be applied effectively; (5) the simultaneous reduction of physical and psychologic symptoms; (6) the utility and cost-effectiveness of clinical EFT in a large group format; and (7) the method's adaptability to online and telemedicine applications.
Keywords: Emotional Freedom Techniques; PTSD; acupuncture; anxiety; depression; pain.