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Reexamining the effect of emotional freedom techniques on stress biochemistry: A randomized controlled trial

Citation (APA style): Stapleton, P., Crighton, G., Sabot, D., & O’Neill, H. M. (2020). Reexamining the effect of emotional freedom techniques on stress biochemistry: A randomized controlled trial. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(8), 869—877. doi:10.1037/tra0000563


Objective: In a direct replication of Church, Yount, and Brooks (2012), this study examined changes in stress biochemistry and psychological distress symptoms in 53 participants randomly allocated to one of three 60-minute group interventions: Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), psychoeducation (PE), and no treatment (NT). The Symptom Assessment−45 (SA-45) was used to assess psychological distress symptoms.

Method: Salivary cortisol assays were administered 30 min pre- and postintervention to test cortisol levels. The original study by Church et al. indicated the EFT group showed statistically significant improvements in anxiety (−58.34%, p < .05), depression (−49.33%, p < .002), overall severity of symptoms (−50.5%, p < .001), and symptom breadth (−41.93%, p < .001). The group also experienced a significant decrease in cortisol (−24.39%) compared to the PE group (−14.25%) and NT group (−14.44%).

Results: The present results indicated the EFT group experienced a significant decrease in cortisol greater than the original study (−43.24%, p < .05), but these results were not mirrored by subjective reports of psychological distress. The EFT group reduction in cortisol was significantly different from that of the PE group (−19.67%) and, as expected, the posttreatment cortisol level detected among the EFT group was lower than that of the NT group (2.02%); however, there was not a statistically significant difference between the two groups. Additionally, there were no significant improvements in cortisol reduction among the NT and PE groups.

Conclusions: Findings support the original study indicating EFT to be an efficient and effective brief treatment for reducing biological markers of stress.

Keywords: stress biochemistry, psychological distress, Emotional Freedom Techniques, EFT, psychoeducation

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