Saturday, 30 October 2010

Nicola Phoenix the Finger-Tapping Psychologist

This is Nicola Phoenix, who describes herself as a "trained and experienced Psychologist".

Nicola promotes a quirky finger-tapping therapy called the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).

EFT is widely touted as a treatment for anxiety and phobias.

Despite its pseudoscientific leanings, there's some evidence that EFT can treat anxiety - but only because it seems to act as a distraction for the mind. (It's thought that acupuncture can reduce back pain for the same reason.)

Inevitably, Nicola goes a step too far in her flyer (available here and here).

The flyer claims EFT can treat serious conditions like depression, irritable bowel syndrome, addictions and migraines.

I've had a look for some scientific evidence to support these impressive breakthroughs, but I've drawn a blank. Maybe the ASA can help!

"I write to complain about a flyer I picked up at the CamExpo exhibition in London on 24th October this year.

The flyer promotes the "Emotional Freedom Technique", a service offered by "Nicola Phoenix".

I suspect that the flyer may be in breach of the British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (CAP Code). I can provide the original flyer by post, if necessary.

1. Nicola Phoenix describes herself as "a trained and experienced psychologist". She offers a number of "holistic based [sic]" therapies.

2. The flyer reads:

"Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT)...EFT can bring very powerful and rapid relief, releasing longstanding [sic] chronic problems..."

3. (i) The flyer continues:

"How Does EFT work? ... Gently tapping the energy meridians, whilst tuning into the issue/situation causing emotional disturbances, the body's energy system is balanced. Disturbances to the flow of energy are removed."

(ii) EFT was invented by the American Gary Craig. The "technique" consists of rapidly tapping on specific areas of the body which its practitioners imagine correspond to "meridians".

(iii) A number of studies have been conducted upon EFT, but I have found few which could be described as rigorous clinical trials.

(iv) One significant placebo-controlled trial of 119 subjects, who described themselves as suffering from anxiety and phobias, has been published [1]. The study found:

"The results of the present study indicate that EFT was effective in decreasing fear in a nonclinical population. However, EFT was no more effective than either a placebo or modeling control procedure..."

4. The subject of my complaint is the conditions which the advertiser claims EFT can treat.

5. (i) The flyer reads:

"EFT is applicable to emotional and physical problems. It can bring relief from many problems including - Addictive Cravings - Anxiety & Panic Attacks - Headaches & Migraines - Compulsions - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - Irritable Bowel Syndrome"

(ii) The flyer continues:

"It has been found to assist depression, insomnia, addictions caused by traumatic incidents or painful childhood memories"

(iii) With the exception of the claim to bring relief from anxiety (which has been established in the above-quoted study), under Section 12.1 I challenge whether the advertiser can substantiate her claim that EFT can treat any of the named conditions.

6. I confirm I have no connections with the advertiser. I confirm I am not involved in legal proceedings with the advertiser.


[1] Waite W, Holder M. Assessment of the Emotional Freedom Technique.


  1. You sad little man

  2. Hi Nicola!

    Don't be shy. Come back and say hello!

  3. Hi there it's not always possible to find scientific answers to why things work, if you're constantly and only barking up that tree them there is a lot in life you could be missing out on, it's sometimes funny to be cynical and put others down but is often more fulfilling to open up and embrace and enjoy some of the mysteries of life.
    EFT completely cured me of smoking, instantly, I don't know why? it just did, and I am happy to accept it as a mystery with a positive ending I've tried it in other things and had unexplained success with those less cynicism might teach you things you didn't know and possibly bring more joy into your life. Best wishes :0)

  4. Hi Anonymous,

    Thanks for stopping by. As you say, it's not always easy to find scientific answers for why things work, but that's not the most important question.

    The really important thing to know is if things work. For example, if EFT is an effective treatment for nicotine addiction, it would be fairly simple to design a trial that will demonstrate its efficacy. Only when it is found to be effective, can we start thinking about why it is effective.

    You suggest that less cynicism might teach us new things but, in fact, the opposite is the case. It is only because people have been sceptical, and demanded rigorous evidence, that any scientific progress has been made at all.


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