EFT TAPPING FOR ADDICTIONS
by Lisa M. Reid, LCSW
Can you imagine using EFT Tapping instead of a substance to ease your stress and anxiety? Many people are not aware that emotional or physical pain can lead to substance use. Feelings such as fear, loneliness, anger, worry, sadness, pain, and others can trigger us to seek comfort and relief from the emotional or physical distress.
EFT Tapping can be useful in helping us deal with a variety of issues, including curbing urges. Urges are sensory messages from our body formulated by our mind that tells us we are need something. Research shows that Acupressure / Meridian Tapping / EFT reduces psychological distress, and specifically anxiety and obsessive compulsive symptoms.
The stigma around addictions (food, shopping, drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, porn, love) says that poor self-control is the root of the problem. The truth is, addiction is often not a choice. It is more of a compulsion, a behavior that, once started, cannot be stopped.
EFT Tapping research and information on Addiction and Cravings can be found at EftInternational.org.
MEET MATT WAGNER, LPC
To help us learn more about how EFT Tapping curbs urges, I spoke with Atlanta-based therapist and counselor Matt Wagner, NCC, LPC, CAADC. Matt is a Licensed Professional Counselor with experience in substance use and addiction counseling. He specializes in working with adults struggling with active addiction and early recovery, as well as family members and loved ones who are affected by someone’s addiction. Matt sees clients in person as well via Telemental Health (Video Conferencing). The following is based on two interviews with Matt about his work.
Matt first discovered EFT Tapping while working as a counselor at an outdoor wilderness substance abuse treatment program in North Carolina. A field guide at the program introduced him to EFT Tapping. This was Matt’s first exposure to EFT Tapping, and he recognized its effectiveness in grounding clients.
Years later in Matt’s career, he moved to Georgia and discovered there was a local EFT Tapping group in Atlanta. Remembering his first experience, he was curious to see if there was more to Tapping. He attended Melissa Lester Olson, LCSW’s monthly community EFT group, held then in midtown Atlanta. After attending this group, Matt became interested in the efficacy and flexibility of EFT Tapping as a therapy tool. And while his initial goal was to see if Tapping could help his clients with substance abuse issues, at this very first meeting Matt experienced personal benefits from Tapping. Turns out, Tapping Works.
GETTING PAST THE ‘WOO WOO’
Because EFT Tapping is relatively new (30 years or so) many people are still unaware of the well-documented physiological and neurological mechanisms at play with this simple acupressure technique. Most are also unaware that there is a significant body of peer-reviewed and published research supporting the mechanism involved in EFT and its effectiveness. In his very first group experience, Matt reports “feeling shifts” and noticed something changing with his own “punishing voice and inner critic.” In his initial group, attendees paired off and practiced together. Matt quickly noticed cognitive shifts and realized he was being quite hard on himself and was avoiding aspects or feelings about himself that he hadn’t been aware of before.
Matt’s perspective before Tapping was that he had built in protective coping mechanisms to avoid certain thoughts and feelings. This is what he had learned throughout his life and it was simply how he understood himself. As he was Tapping, he was amazed at how he began to experience a sense of “acceptance and willingness to sit with” what he had previously avoided. He was able to “make space for it and be with it.”
At this point in our interview, Matt shared that he now understands the shift he experienced was a neurological shift, and that Tapping “downgrades the stress response and deactivates the fight or flight response.” He explained that his mind would unconsciously activate his fight or flight response when he found himself in unfamiliar situations or confronting beliefs that didn’t know how to process. With Tapping, he experienced that what may begin as initially scary becomes not so overwhelming.
Matt’s curiosity was peaked after his first personal group experience with EFT Tapping; he was ready to learn more both for himself and for his clients. He continued to participate in the group and found it tremendously useful both personally and professionally. Initially, he was eager to do it the “right way” and worried he might be doing it the “wrong way.” He noticed that he got caught up in self-critical thinking, such as “I’m going to screw this up and not do it correctly.” With guidance from his group, he learned that he was trying too hard and getting too much in his head; the more he got out of his head and allowed himself to be connect with himself internally, the more effective Tapping became.
With more of his own work, he became more comfortable explaining it to others, which then led him to become more comfortable leading others in the use of EFT Tapping for various purposes. At this point, Matt decided to bring EFT into his work with clients. Matt did not try offering it to everyone, recognizing that not all tools, no matter how effective, are right for every person. Some clients prefer more traditional talk therapy and problem solving. But some clients were very open to energy work and found Tapping in the moment useful and grounding. Matt feels best knowing that he he has built a solid rapport and trusting relationship with a client before introducing Tapping. He recognizes that if he tries introducing Tapping too soon, some clients might find it off-putting. It’s important to Matt that he develop a relationship with a client before introducing them to EFT Tapping.
PARTS OF SELF WORK
Matt uses a variety of methods and interventions in his work, and has found that EFT Tapping shares commonalities with Internal Family Systems (IFS) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). In both of these modalities there are parts of Self and roles of the Self that surface, much like that in EFT Tapping. He finds the EFT Tapping and these other modalities focus on the process of observing and experiencing what bubbles up rather than rationalizing or judging or using a direct cognitive component. In an example he offered of someone doing Inner Child Work, Matt noted that often inner child issues relate to being unseen, neglected, ridiculed or smothered. With EFT Tapping, a person gains a new perspective rather than direct inner child work; Tapping allows the inner child to express itself. This allows the person to be present with their thoughts or feelings and then be curious about them. This enables clients to gently work through a difficult emotion or experience. A cognitive shift can then occur in a gentle, less direct way.
EFT AT HOME
EFT Tapping doesn’t have to be done with a therapist or other facilitator. That is the incredible nature of Tapping. It can be done anywhere or anytime someone wants to regulate their own nervous system. Matt stated that plenty of his clients do their own EFT Tapping work outside of therapy sessions. Some ask to Tap in session, as they find when they Tap at home they don’t always notice significant shifts. Matt believes that it is possible that by doing it with other people, we are more accountable and our shared energy fields promote holding the space in a mutually supportive way. There is also a clinically researched effect in EFT Tapping called “Borrowing Benefits” that supports this experience.
Disclaimer: It is very important that if you choose to participate in Tapping at home and/or with a professional, you understand that you take total responsibility for the benefits and risks to your own well-being. EFT is still considered an “Integrative, Complimentary and Alternative Medicine” (I-CAM) technique. EFT tapping can be a very powerful too, but it is not a substitute for medical care or substance use treatment. Consult a medical professional if you have issues with addiction or substance use.
Matt indicates that in addiction, when we have a craving, in the moment we are “deciding” whether or not to act on that craving, it is not really a choice. Cravings are often automatic “fight or flight” brain responses to a distressing situation or stimuli and our body responses are reactions we are often unable to “think away.”
Matt once believed his work in addictions could be a way to save people, but he has come to learn, much like the teachings of AL-ANON (Alcoholics Anonymous support program to help friends and families of alcoholics) that there are limits to what others can do; the responsibility for each person’s well-being is their own. In therapy, he is helping others discover this for themselves. Matt has learned that with substance abuse treatment it is important “to let go” and not have our own expectations for a client, but to support them in doing their own work, and help them see their blind spots. He used the analogy that “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Matt sees now that “relapse” is a part of recovery for a small percentage of people.
HOW EFT FITS IN
Matt uses EFT tapping to help clients connect with their cravings and gain awareness so that when they come to the uncertain moment of deciding if they want to be sober or use, they are ready to make that choice. He prepares clients to anticipate that they will have cravings again and to expect “not if, but when.” They are given information to help them “observe the Self.” He educates clients about experiencing cravings, and helps them to recognize the “flight or fight” response mode. And with support, clients can be prepared. He further explains that it’s the difference between reaching for what you really need and reaching for what you know. Often a substance user will tell themselves, “I can curb this craving if I just have one beer, one line, one drink or one shoot up.” The mind believes that one time will fix me and then all it does is reinforce the cycle. They key to recovery is the disruption to choose something different. When the brain goes into “fight or flight” mode, there is a release of cortisol (stress hormone) and this makes the body uncomfortable and strengthens the craving.
With EFT Tapping, we can create the disruption. Tapping downward regulates the parasympathetic nervous system response, reduces cortisol by up to 49% and helps lessen the overwhelm and uncomfortable craving experience. This diminishes the “fight or flight” messages, and allows space for choice.
Like the 12-STEP programs, SMART recovery programs, and CELEBRATE recovery programs, along with Al-ANON, having a community in place is essential, Matt says. Groups are essential supports, however when using, people aren’t always around other people. This is where Tapping can become an essential tool, anywhere they are whether at home, their car or in public…anyone can Tap. They can go into a bathroom stall and tap for 5-10 minutes. EFT Tapping is a beneficial technique, and can be used when and where the client is. Within just a few short minutes, anyone can release the overwhelming feelings.
Matt indicated that he tries to build rapport with clients first, before introducing Tapping. But some clients report selecting him as their therapist precisely because he uses EFT Tapping. He believes that developing a level of trust, safety and comfort is useful so that when, or if, he introduces Tapping as a coping tool, they may be more open to trying it. Tapping can bring up big feelings very quickly so it is important to provide clients with all the information they need to decide whether to try it (Informed Consent). It is also important to make certain that clients understand what Tapping is not (Disclaimers). If a client isn’t ready for EFT when it’s introduced, they may be more resistant to trying it again in the future. Some people are simply not open to Tapping because it takes them out of their comfort zone, and that is acceptable too.
It’s ok to be skeptical! Matt has found that even his biggest skeptics sometimes circle back and become open to trying Tapping later. Often, Matt notices the resistance has more to do with their discomfort in being vulnerable. Matt explained that the use of Tapping as an intervention in treatment means making space for clients to experience themselves in the present and allows them space to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. People simply want to feel better and Tapping facilitates that.
Matt offers his clients the following script as a way to ease into Tapping: “I’m going to make room for this and be open to experience the present here and now.” This invites his clients to reorient themselves to the present moment which is often what substance use helped them to avoid.
Thanks to Matt Wagner, LPC, for sharing his knowledge and insights on using EFT Tapping with addictions and substance use. In addition to his work with addiction, Matt treats clients with Chronic Pain, Anxiety, Depression, Grief, Men’s Issues, Anger Management, and other interpersonal issues. Reach Matt at email@example.com, or via his website at mattwagnerlpc.com.
WANT TO TAP ON A CRAVING?
Using Tapping for substance cravings can sometimes surface deeper issues. For this reason, we recommend that tapping on an urge to use a substance be started with a professional.
Cravings are common and we often hear people talk about “willpower.” But often cravings are related to deeper issues that are still very active inside of us emotionally.
However, we are going to show you a way to use EFT Tapping and stay in the present moment, connected to all of your physical senses. This will reduce the likelihood of over-activating your nervous system and getting overwhelmed.
Think of a food you’d like to “part with.” If it’s accessible to you now, go grab it! If it’s not, we will use a technique called “imaginal exposure.”
We are going to use the basic EFT Tapping protocol, which you can review here.
Ready? I’m going to use M&M’s for my example…We are going to focus on each Sense – 1 at a time.
LOOK at your item.
- Create a Set-Up Phrase for Tapping on the Side of the Hand about what the item LOOKS LIKE to you – Ex. “Even tho (now here state the problem) these M&M’s are so colorful and happy looking, I’m eating too many; (Now add a validating statement.) “This is how I feel.” or “I accept myself anyway.” or “I’m a good person anyway.” Tap on Side of Hand while stating your Set-Up Phrase.
- Rate the intensity of what you notice 1-10. How colorful and happy are the M&M’s to you on a scale of 1-10? For me, it’s right up there, around an 8 out of 10. Trust your instinct with the ratings. It’s just to help you notice any changes that happen.
- Tap on the rest of the acupressure points, stating only the aspect of the problem you are focusing on. “So happy and colorful looking, M&Ms are so happy and festive looking, like a party, they look like a party all by themselves. M&M’s are a party, something to celebrate, they look happy, it makes me happy to look at them.”
- Keep Tapping until the intensity of this aspect of the M&M’s is no longer compelling to you. You should be able to rate it at a 2, 1, or ideally a 0. Many different things can happen while we Tap. We want to encourage you to stay focused on the immediate sense you are focused on (to avoid getting too deep into feelings, stories, memories, etc – these are best when working with an EFT Practitioner, not on your own.)
Once that sensation is no longer compelling to you at all, move on to your other senses:
What you may notice is that your perceptions of your senses around this item actually change, shift and even become totally unappealing. You might also notice some resistance bubbling up, if you aren’t quite ready to part with the substance. And there is a way to use EFT to process that ambivalence.
But for now we’re keeping it simple. And we hope that you give this exercise a really good effort. You may need to Tap over and over again on the same substance. Some cravings are based in very complex individual experiences. Others may vanish rather quickly.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in 2018:
58.8 million Americans has a mental disorder and/or substance use disorder
19.3 million (7.8%) of American adults (aged 18 or older) battled a substance use disorder (SUD)
Among those with a substance use disorder:
3 in 8 (38.3% or 7.4 million) struggled with illicit drugs
3 in 4 (74.5% or 14.4 million) struggled with alcohol use and
1 in 8 (12.9% or 2.5 million) struggled with illicit drugs and alcohol.
9.2 million (3.7%) of people 18 + years had BOTH a substance use and mental health disorder.
SAMHSA.gov -Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
SAMHSA Help Line- 1-800-662-HELP (4357); TTY: 1-800-487-4889
National Institute on Drug Abuse (National Institute in Health)