How Art Therapy and Emotional Freedom Technique Can Help Patients When Words Alone Fail – UC San Diego Extension

written by Lisa Falls, MFA, MPS, ATR-BC
Art Therapy Instructor
UC San Diego Extension


Art therapy can be used in conjunction with Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) to create a profound emotional healing effect. EFT can help a person to integrate, accept and/or release the negative emotions, work with healing physical issues, and it promotes the calming of the brain and body. The therapist can, in turn, use art therapy to monitor and guide the EFT process. Once the client has been taught the EFT procedure, they can self-administer the technique outside of the therapist’s or trainer’s office as issues arise in their life.

Art therapy, as defined by the American Art Therapy Association on their website, is a mental health profession in which clients, facilitated by the art therapist, use the creative process and the resulting artwork to “explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem.” Art therapy studies have shown that art making causes reduction in stress and an elevation in mood (Bell & Robbins, 2007).

EFT consists of the simple stimulation of particular acupressure points. This process, also known as Tapping or Meridian Therapy, is combined with specific language that addresses the issues of concern. EFT focuses on the profound effects of the body’s subtle energies using the theory that the cause of all negative emotions are disruptions in the body’s energy system. Tapping on specific meridian points releases the energy blocks, allowing the energy to flow more freely, thereby promoting the balancing of the body’s energy system and decreasing the effect of negative emotions and distress in the body. Meridian points correspond to particular parts of the body and emotions.

David Feinstein, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and former faculty member at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, says that this retrains parts of the brain, including the limbic system, and can actually alter the neural pathways, resulting in the elimination of conditioned fear pathways in the amygdala. The new understanding provided by the Harvard neuroimaging studies (Hue, 2009) is that stimulating specific acupoints generates signals that instantly reduce arousal in the amygdala, the alarm system that triggers the flight or fight response. This is supported by recent scientific discoveries regarding neuroplasticity: “It’s now at least plausible that therapeutic interventions can be developed that quickly alter the neural pathways maintaining emotional and behavioral patterns that were once protective (like trauma-based hyperarousal) but have become dysfunctional” (Feinstein, 2010). Research has shown positive results with the use of EFT, including a study by Dawson Church, Ph.D., that measured a reduction in the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, resulting in a decrease in the severity of anxiety, depression, and general psychological symptoms (Church, 2012).

The following images depict the effect of Tapping with an art therapy client, the first drawing before the tapping session, the second after.

The client was guided to tap on particular points on their body while thinking about the identified issue and making statements about the issue, leading to a lowering of the level of distress associated with the particular issue and related aspects.

Through the art making we were able to identify the changes toward an improved reaction to the stressor, after the EFT process.

The use of Tapping during the course of art therapy can assist in the identification and understanding of problematic areas and aid in transforming the client’s experience away from trauma, low self-esteem and other blocks toward integration of one’s challenges and the enjoyment of life. The client’s artistic expression elucidates their mental state and, through repetition, can track their progress. This in turn provides the therapist with information to guide further healing efforts. Further, once the client has been trained in EFT by a therapist or other tapping coach, they can engage in self-guided practice as a coping tool outside of the office, whenever challenges in their daily life arise.

These concepts are further explored in the course Art Therapy and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT ™) as Powerful Tools for Healing and Change.


Bell, C. E., & Robbins, S. J. (2007). Effect of art production on negative mood: A randomized, controlled trial. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 24(2), 71-75

Church, D., Yount, G., & Brooks, A. J. (2012). The effect of emotional freedom techniques (EFT) on stress biochemistry: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 200, 891- 896. doi:10.1097/NMD.0b013e31826b9fc1

Feinstein, D. (2010). Energy Psychology; Snake Oil or Designer Tool for Neural Change? Psychotherapy Networker, Vol. 34, No. 6

Hui KK, et al. (2009). Acupuncture modulates the limbic system and subcortical gray structures of the human brain: evidence from fMRI studies in normal subjects. Human Brain Mapping, 9(1):13-25

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