How many words should we use when we do EFT?

Increasing your effectiveness with EFT, part 82.

Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), also known as “tapping”, is a powerful tool designed to help you diminish and release unpleasant emotional reactions and limiting beliefs. We do that by tapping on specific “acupoints” in the face and torso and repeating phrases related to the issue we’re addressing.

Is there an optimal number of words to use when doing EFT? The answer is more nuanced than a simple yes or no, which is what we’ll explore today.

As I’m currently doing the advanced level of certification with EFT Trainer Jules Vandermaat, I’ve learned that there are three distinct approaches to the number of words used in EFT. This depends on the emotional intensity and how ‘regulated’ we or our clients are during the session. 

These levels are 1) Basic EFT, 2) Sneaking Up, and 3) Silent/Orienting Tapping. Let’s break each one down.

1) Basic EFT

When a person’s emotional intensity is rated 7 or below (on a 0-10 scale), suggesting they are within their window of tolerance, Basic EFT is the ideal approach. This is the EFT technique that allows for the highest level of detail and specificity.

As we know, EFT works best when we focus on something specific. This ensures we don’t take on too much at once, allowing us to be laser-focused with our tapping. It also helps us “tune in” to how we are feeling about the issue and uncover the different emotionally charged aspects that need to be addressed.

As mentioned in previous articles, when doing Basic EFT, we want to first identify a specific event, such as a recent or future time when the issue we are addressing shows up in our lives. Then we want to identify how it makes us feel (what’s the main emotion), why we feel this way about this event; in other words, what aspect of this event triggers these feelings, and where in our bodies we feel this emotion (if anywhere).

The structure of the setup statement while tapping on the side of the hand is then: “Even though I feel (emotion), when thinking about (event), because (what about the event is making us feel that way), and I feel this in my (body location of the emotion, if it’s felt in a specific part of the body), I acknowledge this is where I’m at right now”.

For example, “Even though I feel sad, when thinking about the argument I had with my girlfriend yesterday, because the look on her face made me think that she doesn’t love me anymore, and I feel this sadness like a heaviness in my chest, this is just where I’m at right now”.

For the reminder phrase, to keep it as simple as possible you can just name the emotion, or if you want, to help you remain “tuned in”, you can alternate between the emotion and what about the event is making you feel that way. For example, “this sadness”“remembering the look on her face”.

2) Sneaking Up

Now, if the emotional intensity is higher than that, sometimes it can be too uncomfortable, unpleasant or dysregulating to tap using so many words and details like we do in Basic EFT.

In this case, we can cut down on how many words we use by using the EFT technique known as “Sneaking Up”. When we use this technique to address a specific event, we “zoom out” by only mentioning the emotion we are feeling, and we leave out any details about the event, why it makes us feel that way, and where we feel that emotion in the body.

Therefore, while tapping on the side of the hand, the structure of the setup statement should be: “Even though I feel (emotion), thinking about this (or “thinking about this situation”), this is just where I’m at right now (or any other balancing statement that you like)”. 

For example, “Even though I feel sad, just thinking about this, this is just where I’m at right now”. 

Notice how we are not mentioning any details whatsoever about the memory or why it makes us feel that way. We are not naming any physical sensation either. For the reminder phrase we can just name the emotion, in this case, “this sadness”.

After tapping a few rounds of “Sneaking Up”, the emotional intensity is likely to reduce enough that we can then look at the event in more detail (“zooming in”) with Basic EFT.

3)Silent Tapping/Orienting Tapping

Sometimes however, just thinking about the event or situation becomes too emotionally overwhelming, where the person becomes dysregulated, meaning, they can’t even speak anymore. Maybe they are feeling an intense and uncomfortable physical sensation, such as a knot in the throat, they feel sick in their stomach, or they feel like it’s difficult to take a breath. This means they are now outside of their “window of tolerance”. 

Using the “cup of tea analogy” I mentioned in a previous article, the cup of tea (what we focus on while we tap) is now too hot to touch. 

In this case it’s best not to use any words at all (about the emotion or the event) and to instead use silent tapping, where we tap through the points without any words. If we are the practitioner guiding a client through a few rounds of silent tapping, it can be useful to name the points out loud (as in “let’s tap now on the top of the head”, “let’s tap now on the beginning of the eyebrow”), so that hopefully the sound of your voice acts as a cue of safety that helps co-regulate the client’s nervous system, besides the tapping itself.

As you do that, you can also invite your client to notice the sound of your voice, the sound and sensation of their fingertips doing the tapping, to notice their feet on the ground, to look at anything pleasant in the room that they are in, etc. This is known as “Orienting Tapping”, which helps orient the person to the here and now, by gently inviting them to shift their attention away from the distressing event/memory, and instead towards something that’s hopefully more pleasant or neutral.

Usually, after a few rounds the emotional intensity subsides, and the person goes back to being regulated within their window of tolerance. We can then ask them if they feel comfortable going back to continue working on the memory or event we were addressing, or perhaps they prefer to imagine putting it in a safe container in their imagination and leave it for another time.

In conclusion

So these are the 3 levels of “how many words/details” to use when doing EFT, depending on what the situation calls for. If, for example, you are feeling very regulated and the emotional intensity is only a 4 out of 10, then you probably won’t be very effective if you try to use Sneaking Up or Silent Tapping in that moment. It will be challenging to “activate” or bring up the emotional charge that you want to address with EFT since there’s not enough detail (not enough emotional charge in the phrases that you are using) for you to be “tuned in”. Instead, you need to be more specific by using Basic EFT.

On the other hand if you try to use Basic EFT (with all the specific details it entails) when the emotional intensity is 9 or 10 out of 10, chances are you might not even be able to articulate the words, making the process less safe and gentle than it could be. 

Before I start a round of tapping with a client, I assist them in formulating the setup statement by asking questions about the issue or event they want to address. I then ask them “do you feel comfortable using all the words you just said or would you prefer us to first do some ‘Sneaking Up’ by leaving out many of those details?”.

Knowing these 3 levels of specificity (Basic EFT, Sneaking Up and Silent/Orienting Tapping) can be useful whether you are tapping by yourself or with a client. If you are tapping by yourself though, remember that if you suspect the emotional intensity might become too high to tap on your own, perhaps because you want to address a complex issue or a traumatic memory, it’s best to enlist the aid of a certified practitioner, such as myself or anyone else whose style you resonate with.

That’s all for today! I’m Bruno Sade, a compassionate, open-minded clinical psychologist, and certified EFT practitioner. I’m dedicated to helping you break free from negative emotional reactions and cultivate a balanced, resilient mindset. My approach is flexible and tailored to your individual needs and preferences. Your experiences, beliefs, and background are always honored and respected in our work together.

What did you think of today’s topic? Any questions or comments about this article, or suggestions for future topics? I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below or by sending a private message.

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