thought field therapy
What Is It?
How Does It Work?
What You Can Expect
Health Benefits
How To Choose a Practitioner

What Is It?

Thought field therapy (TFT) is a method of treating psychological and related disorders based on the belief that imbalances in a person's vital energy (or qi in traditional Chinese medicine) can cause adverse physical or emotional distress. Developed in 1981 by California clinical psychologist Dr. Roger Callahan, TFT is now used to treat a range of conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobias, anxiety, depression, addictive urges, arthritis pain, and insomnia.

In recent years the therapy has had positive results in treating the trauma-related problems that resulted from the Nairobi embassy bombing of 1998, the Columbine High School tragedy of 1999, and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In 2000, a team of TFT practitioners put together by the Global Institute of Thought Field Therapy in Delaware visited Yugoslavia to treat trauma victims in war-torn Kosovo. Both the practitioners and the patients were amazed by the results of TFT treatment, not only in reducing psychological distress but also in alleviating physical pain. The Medical Chief of Staff in Kosovo, Dr. Shkelzen Syla, subsequently wrote a letter to Dr. Callahan stating, "The success from TFT was 100% for every patient and they are still smiling until this day. . . . I have full authority over all medical decisions in Kosovo. I am . . . starting a new national program. The emphasis of the national program will be Thought Field Therapy."

Clearly the use of TFT has come a long way, considering that Dr. Callahan accidentally discovered the therapy while treating a patient named Mary, who suffered from an intense fear of water. After 18 months of treatment, including cognitive and behavioral therapy, hypnosis, relaxation training, and biofeedback, in addition to several other therapeutic approaches, Mary could barely approach a pool, and still couldn't bear to look in. She continued to complain of a sick feeling in her stomach at the sight or thought of water.

On a whim, and not expecting any real results, Dr. Callahan asked Mary to think about her fear of water while tapping under her eye using two fingers. According to body maps used in traditional Chinese medicine, the stomach meridian begins right below the eye, and Callahan hypothesized that if Mary tapped there it could restore the flow of qi to that meridian. Indeed, moments later Mary announced that the queasy feelings in her stomach had disappeared. She hurried to a pool adjacent to Dr. Callahan's office, and began splashing her face with water. Mary's water phobia has not returned to this day.

Based on his results with Mary, Dr. Callahan expanded on his discovery, developing several step-by-step sequences of body taps, or algorithms, for various conditions. Depending on the symptoms, patients are taught to perform one of these tapping sequences on themselves. Often only one session is required to permanently eliminate emotional distress in relation to a particular problem. Issues that are more complex, may require further sessions. According to Callahan, the treatment algorithms are 80% to 90% effective. Those patients who don't respond to the algorithms generally respond to an individualized diagnosis by a practitioner trained in diagnostics, raising the rate of efficacy to 90% to 95%.

Another form of TFT called Voice Technology, which allows practitioners to make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment over the phone, may work for those patients who are unable to see a TFT practitioner in person. Developed by Dr. Callahan in 1986, the technology utilizes holographic imaging to extract relevant information from the patient's voice, which carries a code reflecting the cause of the problem being experienced. According to Callahan it has a 97% success rate.

How Does It Work?

Though there are still questions about how TFT actually works, Dr. Callahan theorizes that when a person thinks of a particular emotional problem (such as a phobia), an individual thought field similar to an electrical field is generated. Callahan believes that emotional problems arise from blockages in these thought fields, which he terms "perturbations." In order to return the body's energy system to a state of balance, all perturbations must be removed.

During a TFT session, patients are asked to think about an upsetting situation and then rate the distress they feel at the thought. Depending on the emotions experienced, and the meridian(s) affected, the therapist will prescribe a certain tapping sequence. Performing the required algorithm while focusing on the problem at hand is believed to clear the emotional blockage, allowing energy to flow freely through the affected meridian(s), thus eliminating distress. Results are generally seen almost immediately, at which time the patient is "cured" of the problem in relation to that thought field. Though there are certain conditions that can block TFT from working, according to Callahan these problems are relatively quick and simple to treat (see "What You Can Expect," below).

What You Can Expect

After taking a medical history, the therapist will begin your session by asking you to concentrate on the problem that is causing you distress. You are then asked to rate the severity of your distress on a scale of one to ten. Based on the distress rating, the therapist will direct you to use either two or three fingers to tap firmly from five to ten times on specific meridian points, according to the algorithm prescribed for you.

Once this prescribed sequence of tapping is completed, you will again be asked to rate your level of distress. A further sequence, which consists of tapping a specific meridian point on the back of your nondominant hand in combination with a series of eye movements, is then performed. After completing this sequence, you again rate your distress level. The original sequence is then repeated, and after completion you rate your distress level a final time. The level of distress should decrease steadily throughout the session, and by the end, if treatment is successful, you should report no distress at all.

If there is little or no change in the severity of distress after treatment, or if the problem returns, subsequent sessions will focus on testing for the presence of individual energy toxins and treating any that exist. Energy toxins are foreign substances (such as foods or irritating fabrics) that can have a negative effect on energy fields in certain individuals. Once the offending toxin(s) is identified and dealt with independently, TFT treatment may resume.

Successful treatment may also be hindered by what Callahan terms "psychological reversal," a state in which the polarity of the electrical energy coursing through a person's meridians is temporarily reversed. The result is a subsequent reversal of an individual's beliefs and behaviors, accompanied by a negative, self-destructive attitude. Psychological reversal can be treated using a tapping sequence on the side of the hand. Once this is done, the patient should then respond to another round of basic TFT treatment.

A TFT treatment session typically lasts about 10 minutes, and if it is successful, only one session is needed. Once a perturbation is removed and energy is again flowing freely along a meridian, it is unlikely that a blockage will return to that meridian. Sessions may take longer if the practitioner is treating energy toxins or psychological reversal, or if the emotional problem is particularly complex. The cost of a session varies from practitioner to practitioner, but usually runs between $75 and $150.

Health Benefits

Though TFT remains controversial, even among alternative practitioners, an increasing number of studies and a wealth of anecdotal evidence have found TFT to be effective for phobias, PTSD, panic attacks, depression (including loss and grief), stress, performance anxiety, and travel anxiety. It may also be helpful in alleviating addictive urges, insomnia, headaches, and body pains.

A research paper published in the October, 2001 Journal of Clinical Psychology reports a correlation between successful TFT treatment and improved heart rate variability (HRV), a measurement of cardiovascular health. HRV refers to the degree of fluctuation in the length of intervals between heart beats. Low heart rate variability has been shown to be a predictor of cardiac vulnerability and mortality. Several other studies have also illustrated a direct relationship between low HRV and psychological problems such as PTSD, phobias, anxiety disorders, and depression.

In other research, a study of people with a fear of heights reported positive results with subjects who received TFT treatment in comparison to a control group that received a placebo treatment using a series of taps on meridian points not used in TFT.

Several published case studies also show promising results for the use of thought field therapy in treating insomnia. One study involved a man who suffered from insomnia almost every night. He had unsuccessfully tried a Voice Technology session before seeing Dr. Callahan himself. In just one session, Callahan taught the man the appropriate algorithm, and identified several energy toxins related to foods. Within a few days of cutting out the foods and performing the algorithm at home, the patient had his first good night's sleep in months. He has had few relapses of insomnia since, and the treatment and change in diet also improved his heart rate variability by almost 200%.

TFT may also be useful in the treatment of arthritis pain. In an article, Thought Field Therapy, Naturopathy, and Arthritis, TFT practitioner Dr. Robert Harris maintains that arthritis symptoms can often be traced to a past traumatic life event. He cites one of his clients, in particular, who developed arthritic symptoms after a car accident. The woman had received standard medical treatment, which was successful. However, a year after the accident, symptoms began to return, and worsened as time went on. Dr. Harris first performed TFT treatment to alleviate the traumatic anxiety the patient felt over the accident. Then he attempted TFT treatment to eliminate her pain. Today she remains pain free, and no longer feels anxiety about the accident.

While these examples are only a few in a growing body of evidence in support of thought field therapy, critics argue that more rigorous clinical trials and controlled studies are needed to thoroughly evaluate its efficacy. In the meantime, those who utilize and promote the therapy maintain that the extraordinary results they have achieved with TFT speak for themselves.

For information on a related therapy, see the WholeHealthMD Reference Library entry on eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

How To Choose a Practitioner

Because there are several variations of thought field therapy, it is important to check the credentials of any thought field practitioner you are considering, and to verify that they have received training in Callahan Techniques® thought field therapy. In addition, since the field is relatively new, your practitioner should be licensed as a behavioal health or medical practitioner with the training and experience to handle emotional and psychological problems.

To ensure that your practitioner is trained in Dr. Callahan's TFT technique, you can check Callahan Techniques® thought field therapy website at The website has a practitioner locator, and lists each practitioner's level of training in thought field therapy. In addition, the Find a Practitioner feature on the WholeHealthMD home page may help you locate a behavioral health practitioner who offers thought field therapy.

As in choosing any type of alternative practitioner, it is important to find a thought field therapist with whom you feel comfortable and who will give you the time and attention you need. You may want to ask the practitioner about their experience treating your specific problem, and what kinds of results were seen.


 TFT may not be appropriate for individuals who are unable to deal with high levels of stress or disturbance.  Although TFT can relieve the distress caused by trauma, this technique should be used in combination with other medical and psychological measures in an integrative treatment approach, rather than as the sole method of therapy.

Date Published: 04/19/2005
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