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Articles & Ideas


When EFT Doesn't Seem to Work

Important Note: This article was written prior to 2010 and is now outdated. Please use my newest advancement, Optimal EFT. It is more efficient, more powerful and clearly explained in my free e-book, The Unseen Therapist™.  Best wishes, Gary

Hi Everyone,

Stefan Gonick has expanded on some of my ideas about what to do when it appears that EFT is not working.

Hugs, Gary

By Stefan Gonick

(Please note that this article was based on an article written by Gary Craig called "When it doesn't work...." found in the Frequently Asked Questions section of the EFT website and includes most of his original text.)

When properly applied by an experienced practitioner, EFT has a very high success rate, usually over 90 percent. However, the initial success rate for newcomers usually starts around 50 percent. When EFT doesn't seem to be working, one or more of the following factors are usually involved:

1. The Set-up was not performed completely enough (Psychological Reversal)

2. You are trying to apply EFT to more than one thing at a time

3. The problem is being approached too generally or globally

4. The problem is still not specific enough

5. You need to get more clearly in touch with the issue

6. Original memories need to be addressed first

7. A second issue is interfering

8. A "secondary gain" (hidden benefit) is interfering

9. A "blocking belief" is interfering

10. Your feelings about the issue are interfering

11. A deeper issue is interfering

12. You are switching aspects during the tapping

13. Outside input is needed

The Set-up was not performed completely enough.

The Set-up is that procedure within The Basic Recipe that corrects for Psychological Reversal (PR). When PR is present it blocks the whole process from working. So, if you aren't getting anywhere, the first thing to try would be to tap the Karate Chop point harder or rub the Sore Spot more vigorously while veryemphatically saying the affirmation (even yelling it).

You are trying to apply EFT to more than one thing at a time.

EFT works by tuning into a problem, activating the associated energy disturbance, and tapping on the meridian points to clear the disturbance. It is, therefore, very important to tune into only one problem at a time. Otherwise, your attention will be split, the intended energy disturbance may not clearly be activated, and the tapping may not work very well or at all. It is a common mistake for beginners to do this.

For example, a person may have carpal tunnel pain in both wrists. It might be tempting to tap on "even though I have pain in my wrists". This probably won't work very well. Instead, you would need to tune into and treat each wrist separately in order to get good results.

A corollary to this is that you may sometimes be accidentally trying to apply EFT to more than one thing at a time without realizing it. This can happen when you are distracted and are thinking about something else while you are tapping on your problem. This can also happen when a second issue gets activated while attempting to address an original issue, even if you are not overtly aware of it. Examples of this phenomenon will be discussed later in this article.

The problem is being approached too globally.

It is very important to be specific where you can. Some people tap on generalized anxiety (averyglobal problem) and wonder why their results are either temporary or non-existent. The reason is because global items such as generalized anxiety, self image problems, persistent anger, childhood abuse, etc. are comprised of numerous specific past events. The sum total ofall of one's specific fears, rejections, traumas, guilt, etc. evolve into such global problems as generalized anxiety and self image problems.

Approaching the problem too globally is a fairly common error by newcomers. Usually we need to break a global issue down into its specific parts and neutralize each of them independently.

For example, let's say that a woman experienced repeated physical abuse by her father. Tapping on "even though my father physically abused me" probably won't work very well. Instead, it would be important to tap on specific individual memories of his physical abuse, one at a time. Fortunately, after clearing some of those memories, the EFT "generalization effect" kicks in and neutralizes all of the rest of them.

The problem is still not specific enough.

Sometimes you think that you are being specific when you still aren't being specific enough. For instance, say you had a fight with your boss during the day and you were left feeling very angry. So, you get home and try to tap on "even though I am very angry at my boss". That sounds pretty specific, doesn't it? It's not a global issue, and it is naming a specific feeling. It may possibly even work. If it doesn't, you will want to get more specific about the issue. What specifically are you angry about? "Even though I am angry that my boss didn't acknowledge my good efforts" may be much more effective.

Often, getting more specific in this way will also remind you of similar early experiences in your life. Those early experiences may be the true root of the intensity of your current feelings. Addressing those early memories may heal the real issue once and for all. It also may be necessary to treat them first in order to get relief from your current upset (see the section "Original memories need to be addressed first" later in this article).

You need to get more clearly in touch with the issue.

When EFT doesn't seem to be working at all or very well, it may be that you are not clearly enough in touch with the issue. One of the first things that I try when EFT doesn't seem to be working is to get even more specific about what I am tapping on. For example, I was helping a friend with her addiction to Coca Cola. We started with Gary's classic "even though I crave this Coke." After a couple of shortcut sequences her craving only went down from a 10 to a 9.5 (not very satisfying). I then asked her what she specificallycraved and/or loved about drinking Coke. She said that she loved how the flavor burst over her tongue. So, we tapped on "even though I love how the flavor bursts over my tongue," and her craving went down by 2 points. We ultimately had to tap on five different aspects of what she loved about drinking Coke in order to get to a 0. Getting minutely specific in this way helps the person get more clearly in touch with their experience of the issue so that the energy disturbance is more accessible and amenable to tapping.

Another general way to help a person to get more clearly in touch with an issue includes asking her how she experiences the issue in her body. Gary often asks the question "how do you know that you are at an 8" as a way to get at the bodily experience of the issue. This is so helpful that I start all of my tapping sessions with the question, "how are you experiencing that issue in your body?"

You can also invite the person to get in touch with more aspects of the issue at the beginning. For instance, if the person describes the problem without mentioning any emotions, you can ask what emotions he is feeling when thinking about the issue. The more thoroughly a person is in touch with the problem being tapped on, the better EFT works.

Original memories need to be addressed first

Sometimes, when we try to apply EFT to feelings about a current upset, it works fine. When this is not the case, it usually means that today's "charge" is really due to earlier similar formative experiences in our past. In that case, EFT usually works better and faster by applying it to those earlier experiences first. Then the current experience will either already have been cleared up or be amenable to clearing with tapping. You can look for early memories by asking yourself what the current situation reminds you of from your past. For instance, consider the example above where the person was angry that his boss didn't acknowledge his good efforts. Is it possible that his father and/or mother didn't acknowledge his good efforts? Might there be significant pain associated with those experiences? Clearing those memories will go a long way to clearing the upset with the boss.

A second issue is interfering

Another consideration when EFT doesn't seem to work is to look for another issue that is hiding beneath or associated with the presenting problem. This is the presumption I make when I am making no progress after getting more specific and more fully in touch with the issue. I start looking for interfering issues. In this case, the second issue usually needs to be addressed first before progress can be made on the original issue. The presence of the second issue may simply be a distraction, splitting your attention, or it could represent an issue in conflict with the original issue. Various types of interfering secondary issues will be discussed in the following sections.

A "secondary gain" (hidden benefit) is interfering

A secondary gain is present when there is a "hidden benefit" or "hidden loss" to having or retaining the original issue. Examples of secondary gain include, "this issue keeps me safe," "I don't have to risk failure," "I get to avoid doing certain things by having this issue," and so on. Once you identify the secondary gain, you can tap on that directly. You should then be able to clear the original issue or problem more easily.

An example of this might be a woman struggling with weight loss. A hidden benefit of being over-weight might be that it "protects" her from unwanted sexual attention. Her fear of unwanted sexual attention will have to be addressed first before weight-loss issues can be successfully addressed.

A blocking belief is interfering

This is similar to the concept of secondary gains in that another issue is interfering with making progress on the current issue. So far, every time a new person has contacted me with the story that she/he has not been successful applying EFT to his/her own problems, there has been a blocking belief interfering. Once we identify and clear the blocking belief, EFT works swimmingly. Examples of blocking beliefs include, "nothing will help me," "I'm afraid that I am doing this wrong," "I don't deserve to get over my problems," "I can never get over my problems," and so on.

Your feelings aboutthe issue are interfering

Sometimes our feelings about the issue we are trying to work on interfere with making progress. For instance, I was working with a yoga teacher with pain in her hip. Her pain level initially went down from an 8 to a 6 but wouldn't go any lower after two more rounds of tapping. I asked her how she feltabout the pain in her hip. She said that she felt like an idiot for having this injury since she's a yoga teacher with great flexibility. We then tapped on "even though I feel like an idiot for having this injury" and her pain dropped to a 3 after just one round.

Another example was when I was working with a client on an emotional issue without initial progress. I asked her how she felt about having the issue. She said that she felt shame about having the issue. We tapped on the shame first, and then progress on the original issue went smoothly.

A deeper issue is interfering.

Specific categories of issues interfering with EFT were covered in earlier sections (i.e., issues of secondary gain and blocking beliefs). However, there are many types of deeper issues that can interfere with a current issue. Larger issues generally arise from upsetting experiences early in life. When an important issue is "hiding" behind a lesser presenting issue, the whole process seems to falter. This is because the real issue is not being addressed. You might try simply asking yourself, "If there was a larger emotional issue here, what might it be?" If your first response is, "I don't know",then just guess. You'll either be right or uncover another important issue to work on. Then, try tapping on the larger emotional issue by clearing painful memories associated with it. Finding deeper issues on one's own, however, can sometimes be hard. That's where a good therapist can be helpful.

You are switching aspects during the tapping

It is sometimes the case that you are actually making good progress even though the level of upset stays high. This can happen when there are multiple aspects to the issue and as each aspect is cleared, another one comes up. Check to see if the part that was originally bothering you still does. It may be that you are now focusing on a different aspect. If so, then EFT is working fine. You just need to clear each aspect that comes up until you are done.

Here's an example. Suppose a person still exhibits trauma symptoms from an auto accident 20 years ago. When asked what bothers them about the accident the person says, "The headlights!! The headlights!! I can still see them coming at me." EFT is then applied to the headlight emotion and the person is then asked if the accident still bothers them. The person says, "Yes."

Unless one investigates further here, it would appear that the person is making no progress and that EFT "didn't work." If, instead, the person is asked, "Do the headlights still bother you?", the typical response will be something like,"No, but I can still hear the screams in the car." Do you hear another aspect? Sure. Now it is the screams in the car. Once that is relieved you may run into other aspects such as guilt for going too fast, anger at the other driver, etc. Each one needs to be cleared.

When nothing works, get help

Sometimes we can't discover on our own why EFT is not working for us. This is because we can't see ourselves objectively and are too close to the problem. In this case, it can be very helpful to work with a therapist to uncover the block and clear it. I have done this a number of times with clients who were not initially getting success with EFT. It typically only takes one session to discover and clear the block.

Aside from clearing blocks to EFT working, trying to work on really big issues, however, may need the assistance of another person. It can be too difficult to see ourselves clearly enough when dealing with deep issues to do the work completely on our own. We may also feel that we need the supportive presence of another person in order to tackle the really big stuff. The good news is that tapping assignments between sessions greatly speeds up the healing process.

Once you master all of these concepts and potential interferences to EFT working, you'll find your success rates greatly increase. At this point in my practice, it has been a long time since EFT has failed to work for me.

Stefan Gonick


Explore our newest advancement, Optimal EFT™, by reading my free e-book, The Unseen Therapist™. More efficient. More powerful.