As we begin this brief history, it is useful to imagine early tribal humans living in caves. Accidents, injuries, and disease were a part of their world, too, but they had to make do literally what they had available “at hand.”
When we humans hurt, our instincts lead us to hold, rub, and comfort the part that is in pain. Caring members of our tribe would reach out as well, offering the comfort of their touch in times of distress.
Over thousands of years, certain individuals with a keen interest in bringing relief and healing to others studied what worked. They laid their hands on the body. They explored. They felt the life energy beneath their fingers… pulses, rhythms, and flows.
They observed what restored balance and well-being… and what did not. These early healers were open to ways to support and accelerate the healing process, and they passed down their discoveries from generation to generation. No doubt, tribes with deeper knowledge of healing practices had a survival advantage over others.
In 1991 a well-preserved mummy, now named Otzi, was discovered frozen in a glacier near the Italian border with Austria. He is estimated to have lived over 5,000 years ago. Evaluation by scientists has shown that Otzi appears to have suffered from back pain and arthritis, and he had been “treated” using non-ornamental tattoos on and near points that today would be used for acupuncture treatment of Otzi’s medical conditions.
Moving forward in time to around 3,500 years ago, the Ebers Papyrus from Egypt (1550 BC) describes channels in the body that closely approximate known meridians, the lines of energy flow upon which the acupoints are located.
Animals, too, have acupoints and meridians. One possible reason that the Indian (Sri Lankan) elephant was successfully tamed (while the African elephant was not) is that acupoints were worked out that calmed the beasts and enabled them to be communicated with and trained.
The earliest known complete text on acupuncture is the Huang Di Nei Jing or Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (Warring States Period 476-221 BC). This appears to be a compilation of all acupuncture knowledge to that time and is still the basis for modern acupuncture. The meridian channels, 365 acupuncture points, types of needles, and indications and contraindications were all documented in detail. Yet, even earlier signs of acupuncture development in China exist, including archaeological evidence of stone needles dating back to 1700 BC.
Acupuncture affects the flow of energy in the body, and it is the “disrupted” flow of energy in the body that leads to dis-ease and distress. Clearly, stimulating the acupoints for health purposes has a long history dating back to the Stone Age or even earlier. In the thousands of years since, the Chinese in particular have continued to use acupuncture as an integral part of their traditional medicine.
The medical practice of acupuncture, however, requires extensive training. Acupuncture is NOT for self-treatment.
Felix Mann helped spread acupuncture from Asia to the west. He was the author of the first comprehensive English language acupuncture textbook, Acupuncture: The Ancient Chinese Art of Healing first published in 1962.
It’s appropriate to stop here and recognize that an entirely unique paradigm of medical treatment going back thousands of years was condensed and no-doubt imperfectly translated from Chinese to English through this book. No book alone is adequate training in such an ancient, hands-on healing art. However, what such incomplete disclosures can evoke in a true scientist is a sense of curiosity. Is there a way to take this information and apply it in new and useful ways?
Such a scientist was George Goodheart, Jr., a chiropractor. A lifelong student, he was curious about all forms of healing. He learned about acupuncture in the early 1960s, reportedly from studying Mann’s research on acupuncture meridians. As he palpated the body with his fingers to find the causes of pain, it was a natural step to try tapping on the meridian points with his fingers.
Goodheart explored the connection between the meridians associated with certain body parts and illness in the body. He became aware that the emotional state of the patient affected the response and strength of the muscles. In 1964 he advanced earlier research and developed a method of muscle testing that is now called Applied Kinesiology.
Then in 1966 he wrote a manual on strengthening muscles that were shown to be weak while holding certain meridian points. (Phil Mollon, Psychoanalytic Energy Psychotherapy, p.32)
John Diamond, a psychiatrist, became one of Goodheart’s students in 1973. He began using muscle testing as part of his practice and found he could identify core psychological issues more quickly. He would use affirmations while stimulating certain meridians to help his patients get emotional relief. He delineated through testing with clients which particular emotional state was associated with each acupuncture meridian.
By 1979, Diamond’s model had expanded to integrate aspects of psychiatry, psychosomatic medicine, kinesiology, preventive medicine… music, art, and humanities… alongside stimulating meridian acupoints… truly a holistic approach.
Roger Callahan, a psychologist, studied Applied Kinesiology with Goodheart’s group, including John Diamond. He was a pioneer in cognitive and behaviour therapies and had been doing psychotherapy for 30 years prior to his “ah-ha!” moment in 1979 with his client Mary:
Callahan had been working for a year and a half with Mary, a patient of his who had such an overwhelming fear of water that she could not even get into a bathtub without it precipitating an anxiety attack. Although he had tried every anxiety reduction technique at his disposal with her (including suggestion, placebo, clinical hypnosis, behavioural therapy, rational-emotive, systematic desensitization, distraction techniques, progressive relaxation, client-centred therapy, and exposure), the progress had been slow and discouraging. Mary couldn’t even approach the swimming pool on the grounds of his office, or allow water to contact her body, without suffering.
One day while they were working on this fear in his home office, Mary complained about a feeling in the pit of her stomach whenever she thought about water. As it happens, there is an acupuncture point located directly beneath the eye which, according to traditional acupuncture, is linked to the stomach meridian.
Dr. Callahan asked her to tap on that point. He did this on the assumption that this might balance a possible disturbance in her “meridian energy system” and thereby lessen her stomach symptoms. He had no idea that it would have profound implications for the future of his practice and for psychology.
Mary agreed to tap under her eyes… and when she did so a totally unexpected thing happened. Instead of merely experiencing relief from her stomach symptoms, she called out in surprise that her fear of water was suddenly gone! Callahan didn’t take this too seriously at first because it seemed so unlikely, but then he watched her get up and run toward the swimming pool!
At this point he actually became somewhat alarmed because he knew Mary couldn’t swim, so he ran after her to make sure she didn’t fall into the pool. Mary let him know that she did remember that she could not swim (healthy and normal caution), yet she felt surprisingly free of the panic. When she walked near the edge at the deep end of the pool, an area she had never been able to approach before, she began splashing water on her face. It turned out, as strange as it seemed, the process of tapping under her eyes while she was talking about her fear of water, had eliminated her fear on a permanent basis.
Callahan decided to explore the possibility of using strategic tapping on certain meridian points to treat other phobias as well. While not all the phobias responded to the tapping procedure as rapidly as Mary’s had (although some did!), this experience marked an important turning point for a new era of energy psychology.
Callahan Techniques eventually became known as Thought Field Therapy (TFT) and are still in wide use today. With TFT the client thinks of the problem while tapping the specific points and monitors the emotional intensity using Subjective Units of Distress (SUDS). During his exploration, Callahan found that some patients had what he called Psychological Reversal (basically a resistance or fear to getting over the problem… whether conscious or not).
He found that affirmations or tapping on the small intestine meridian on the side of the hand (our Karate Chop point) while thinking about the issue would normally resolve this. He also developed the collarbone breathing technique and 9 Gamut procedures for unusual cases. (Mollon p.52) Callahan found that there were certain patterns of tapping points that worked well for specific problems. He published these tapping algorithms so muscle testing or other advanced forms of diagnosis were no longer required in all cases.
Several of Callahan’s students investigated simplified versions of his procedures, exploring whether muscle testing and his version of “diagnosis” were necessary.
Patricia Carrington is one of these early tapping pioneers. By 1987, Carrington had developed and was using for her patients and in workshops a “single algorithm” tapping method which she called Acutap. This method intentionally did not use any diagnostic procedure such as muscle testing. She simply asked people to tap on all of the acupuncture end-points each time they did a round of tapping.
Using this method, Carrington was able to help her clients in ways that had never been possible before. During the years since, she has continued to be a leader in the field of meridian tapping, and her Choices Method played a key role in bringing client-centered positive choices into the tapping process.
Gary Craig, who developed Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), was also a student of Callahan. In 1995 he released his own tapping techniques which involved tapping all the meridians in sequence… without concern for the order. He added the reminder phrase, spoken at each tapping point. He also emphasized that there can be many aspects to an issue, and he introduced reframes, questioning, and other story-processing approaches that would be familiar to anyone who has studied Neural Linguistic Programming (NLP). He also encouraged people to allow the words to flow “though them” as they tapped rather than getting stuck on doing it the one “right” way.
Craig makes the point that he was a Stanford-trained engineer, not a mental health or medical professional. Against the strongly held opinion of many traditionalists, Craig felt that tapping could become a “universal healing aid” and wanted to share this information with everyone… so people can try it and see for themselves whether tapping relieves their emotional and physical pains. By making the tapping process simpler, providing a free manual to all who wanted it, publishing a free email newsletter with case studies, and offering for sale a comprehensive library of EFT instructional videos, Craig was a leader in spreading the word about tapping to the general public. (Gary Craig retired in 2010 and released EFT into the public domain.)