Ross Pomerantz was expected to absorb every aspect of the advertising business in his entry-level, trial-by-fire job at an elite San Francisco firm. Twice a week, the 23-year-old had to deliver a research presentation to his superiors—a task that filled him with dread. Minutes before each meeting, he'd be at his desk softly repeating to himself some version of this mantra: "I'm very nervous right now that I'm going to screw this whole thing up in front of my boss, the person who gave me this job." As he spoke to himself, Pomerantz repeatedly tapped a sequence of invisible points on his face, neck, and upper chest with two fingers. OCD? Tourette's? No, a secret weapon, he says: "Some of my officemates called it my voodoo. But I'm not self-conscious, because I know it works."
Pomerantz is a devoted practitioner of a reputedly stress-reducing, focus-enhancing therapeutic practice called EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), better known as tapping. EFT has been around since the nineties, and its origins go back to pioneering work done by a psychologist in the early eighties. But in the past year or so, it has exploded beyond feel-good therapy's standard demographic—middle-aged females—to take hold of a younger, male audience attracted by its promise of fast results. (It was Pomerantz's mom, a senior vice president at Charles Schwab, who turned him on to EFT after she underwent sessions with a San Francisco "performance coach" named Robert Rudelic.) Pomerantz believes his three-minute ritual allows him to overcome the crippling anxiety that in high school earned him the nickname "the Clam" for his sweaty hands.
Rudelic, a medical exercise therapist who wrote Anything Is Possible: The Art and Science of Tapping Into Your Power, works regularly with Pomerantz and a lot of young men like him. "The pressure to measure up in the work world can be overwhelming," he says, "even though a lot of guys try to hide it with drinking or bravado." Ironically, the EFT approach to shoring up self-esteem is rooted in the power of negative thinking. "In the West, we've been taught, 'Oh, no—happy thoughts!'" Rudelic says. "But positive visualizations and affirmations don't have the lasting power of EFT."
When you identify your biggest fear or anxiety and "tap on it" using traditional acupressure points, explains Dawson Church, a Northern California researcher and the editor of the journal Energy Psychology, you are sending your brain mixed messages. The sentence that you repeat identifies what's called your MPI (most pressing issue), which elicits an arousing, painful memory at the same time the tapping is tamping down the stress response. (The traditional Chinese explanation is that you're interacting with the energy "meridians" that run up and down your body.) You are, EFT advocates say, pulling the plug on the ability of that bad memory to trigger a stressful reaction in the future—in effect, calling your fear out into the open and tapping it away. Church calls it "counter-conditioning," and in the studies he's done of some 3,000 veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome, once-haunting combat-related memories no longer trigger the fight-or-flight stress response even two years after the initial EFT sessions.
While leading lights of alternative medicine like Dr. Joseph Mercola and Dr. Christiane Northrup have championed EFT, the few academic psychologists who have bothered to study it arrive at some version of "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." Brown University psychologist Brandon Gaudiano describes the EFT research as unreliable, dominated by advocates like Church. The best independent study of EFT burst the scientific bubble, he says. The practice improved symptoms of distress, but no more effectively than when the subjects tapped on an inanimate doll instead of themselves. The research suggests EFT may have been oversold, that tapping on acupressure points may be nothing more, or less, than a handy and relaxing set of rituals. That doesn't trouble Pomerantz in the least. "EFT is kind of ridiculous in theory," he says, "but once you do it, it's hard to argue with."
Meanwhile, as many academic psychologists sit on the sidelines, young, uncredentialed enthusiasts and marketers continue to raise EFT's profile. The 30-year-old Los Angeles-based self-help guru Mastin Kipp of the popular website TheDailyLove.com has promoted EFT as a "game-changing technique." A Connecticut-based marketer, Nick Ortner, 35, has become an EFT multi-platform master. After watching his family real-estate business circle the drain, he bet everything on his newly discovered passion for tapping, maxing out his credit cards to make his documentary DVD The Tapping Solution. The DVD inspired five online Tapping World Summits, where more than half a million people have watched presentations from leading EFT practitioners. This past April, the book version of The Tapping Solution cracked the New York Times best-seller list, earning Ortner a group-tap demonstration on The Dr. Oz Show. Guys like Pomerantz believe the buzz around tapping has barely scratched the surface, given the number of young men eager to improve their performance. "Everybody's looking for that edge," he says. "The mental aspect is the biggest difference between who's successful and who's not."
Tapping 101 If you're curious to see tapping in action, there are many online instructional videos—one of the easiest to follow is "How to Tap" at thetappingsolution.com (see video above). Here are the basics of the process from Nick Ortner:
• Identify the specific problem you want to tap on: physical pain, an emotion like anger or fear, or a "limiting belief."
• Rate the intensity of feeling around the problem on a 10-point scale, 10 signifying overwhelming emotion.
• Start tapping on the outer edge of one hand (1) with the two fingers of the other hand while repeating "Even though I have this problem [fill in the blank], I deeply and completely accept myself" three times.
• Repeat a single reminder phrase such as "my anxiety" or "my interview" while tapping five to seven times with two fingers on the eight acupressure points: the inner end of the eyebrow (2); the outer eye (3); underneath the eye (4); underneath the nose (5); the chin (6); the collarbone (7); underneath the armpit (8); the top of the head (9).
• Take a deep breath and score your pressing issue again and repeat the process until you feel the relief you want.