Prince Harry, Fearne Cotton and Lady Gaga are just a few of the celebrities who swear by the healing power of tapping.
EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) involves tapping your hands on your body, or moving your eyes from side to side while replaying the traumatic event. Recalling the event at the same time as doing something mundane such as tapping on the chest creates a new default for that memory, which helps our brains deal with trauma.
The therapy is available on the NHS as a treatment for post traumatic stress disorder. Lady Gaga was diagnosed with PTSD after being sexually assaulted at the age of 19, and experiencing chronic pain, for which she sought help through EMDR. Kate Garraway used it to support her when her husband Derek Draper was hospitalised with severe Covid complications and Prince Harry has spoken candidly about how tapping therapy helped process his trauma of losing his mother.
Tapping is nothing new (in fact it's thousands of years old) and EMDR isn’t the only therapy to use it. Other forms include EFT (emotional freedom technique) and its newest offshoot Rapid Tapping was coined by coach and practitioner Poppy Delbridge, and in her new book Tapping In, £9.99, she argues you can use it as a tool to manifest the life you want.
Why is tapping so right for now? “Tapping is extremely rapid in terms of the results,” says practitioner Poppy Delbridge. If you find talking therapy difficult or stressful, it can be a powerful alternative. “EFT has been proven in studies to be more effective at lowering anxiety and stress than traditional talking therapy, so it’s proving to be very effective in this time of high collective uncertainty, " she says.
Jameela Jamil has said that she loves it because it required little effort from her, unlike therapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, during which she needed to check in with herself regularly. She claimed that it cleared her fear of the dark, which she's had since childhood, in just two sessions.
We asked practitioners to explain the differences and benefits of tapping therapy.
What is EMDR?
Prince Harry's method of choice, EMDR was invented in 1987 by senior research fellow Dr Francine Shapiro at the Mental Research Institute in California. It is based on the idea that the mind can heal from trauma by using external stimulus (in this case, tapping) to allow the brain to process the traumatic event and help with healing. During a session, you’re asked to hold aspects of a memory in your mind while doing a physical repetitive action, such as tapping your chest.
In Jameela's case, she watched a light on the wall move back and forth rather than tapping. According to Sanja Oakley, the psychotherapist who treated Prince Harry, it works like this: "By getting someone to move their eyes or tapping themselves, it pairs the recognition of the trauma with a powerful memory of being safe [ie in the therapy room]," she said in a documentary he co-produced with Oprah. "So you can think about the traumatic event without the emotional distress."
Jameela spoke about EMDR with Russell Brand on his Under The Skin podcast back in 2019. “EMDR truly removed the emotion that was linked to the traumatic memory. Things I used to find terrifying are now boring to me," she said. "EMDR is so boring and uneventful that you feel like you’re being robbed of your money. You just watch [a light] go back and forth for an hour with a therapist, while the therapist asks you to recount distressing memories. You feel sick and you feel physical pain and you feel very distressed and as you’re looking at the movement the feelings start to dissipate and never come back."
EMDR sounds simple enough, but should always be practised with a trained professional. Despite it being offered by the NHS, not everyone is convinced. "It's equivocal whether EMDR is based on empirical data or is indeed pseudoscience," psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dr Tara Swart told us." Although there are anecdotal cases of success, I am not a proponent of EMDR as a psychiatrist and neuroscientist." Just because a celebrity has shared their experience, doesn't mean it's right for everyone, she says.
Psychologist Dr Meg Arroll agrees. "In the UK, the primary treatments for PTSD are psychological therapies such as CBT and mediations, or a combination of both. Other modalities such as Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) are sometimes used but the mechanisms of this treatment are still in question."
The NHS website agrees the mechanisms are not fully understood. "It's not clear exactly how EMDR works, but it may help you change the negative way you think about a traumatic experience."
What is EFT Rapid Tapping?
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is an alternative therapy for anxiety, stress and emotional blocks with more than 100 studies behind it. It's said to rebalance your energy by tapping lightly with your fingertips on certain meridian points all over the body. One study showed that eight out of ten PTSD veterans have been cured with six sessions of EFT tapping, says Poppy.
To fit into our modern fast-paced lives, Poppy created Rapid Tapping, a sped-up version of EFT. It involves quickly tapping your body for about two minutes to change your emotional state and to manifest the changes you want to invite into your life whether that's a new job or relationship. It's loved by presenters Fearne Cotton and Laura Whitmore.
“By working with our energy system to move on negative feelings, tapping removes and clears negative blocks, which are feelings that come from events,” explains Poppy.
Rapid tapping works by reducing the emotional intensity associated with uncomfortable memories or emotional blocks, Poppy tells us. “I experienced trauma in my own life with the death of my father and the breakdown of my marriage, all in my twenties. Tapping helped me deal with these by specifically working on the imagery and memories I held onto unknowingly.”
Chinese medicine tapping
Hayou Method founder Katie Brindle is also an advocate of tapping, which has been practised in Chinese medicine for more than 5,000 years. It's done all over the body along meridian lines, either with a closed fists or using a Bamboo Tapper. (The tapper scooped the Self-Care Hero award in our Get The Gloss Beauty and Wellness Awards 2020) .
“If you do it with vigour, it stimulates your circulation, giving you an instant hit of invigoration. If you do it gently and slowly, you’ll find it very relaxing, " says Katie in her book Yang Sheng: The Art of Chinese Self-Healing.
Tapping on specific points along the meridian channels is said to restore a good flow of qi (energy)." Studies show it may have great after-effects on both mental health and immunity. In fact, it's even been called 'stem cell qigong' by Mantak Chia, a Taoist master," says Katie.
Tapping with a bamboo stick is a stronger way to tap that with your fingers and it relieves stress in the muscles to unblock the meridians and stimulate lymphatic drainage, Katie says. She recommends a one-minute tapping ritual to perform at least once a day to wake up your circulation and stop you feeling tired and sluggish.
“With a loose fist of cupped hand rapidly and firmly pat down the inside then up the outsides of the arm. Then, pat down the outsides and up the insides of the legs including onto the feet,” Katie says. “Pat in a circle around your abdomen, your lower back, all over your head and finally between your breasts.”