Here’s a hypnotic explanation of how tapping works

Hypnosis is a powerful tool for creating lasting change. This is due, at least in part, to two major phenomena.

The Autonomic Nervous System

Firstly, as Emile Coué explained back in the early 1900’s, we are not capable of being both calm and angry at the same time. This has since been proven through understanding how the body’s Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) works. Your ANS can either be in sympathetic mode – used for being vigilant, ready for action: fight or flight. Or it can be in parasympathetic mode – used for sleep and digestion: rest and digest. This latter mode is also connected to sex/procreation, hence why people often fall asleep after sex and why a miscarriage can result from extreme stress situations.

Some people use the metaphor of an accelerator and brake. Basically, you will always be either accelerating or braking. There might be a tiny point where you are in stasis between the two, but it is an almost impossible balance to maintain. If you imagine driving in a car, even if you are pressing both your accelerator and your brake, your overall momentum will either be increasing or decreasing.

What this means for hypnosis is that if you can be in a calm state (parasympathetic), induced by hypnotic phenomena, then you can deal with emotions, thoughts and memories that would otherwise trigger you into a state of stress or anxiety (sympathetic). And by giving yourself the experience of dealing with those stressors while staying calm, you disconnect the trigger from the stress response: called hypnodesensitisation. This then translates back into your everyday life, where you become able to experience something that previously would have upset you, and still stay calm.


Secondly, hypnosis works by suggestion. What this means is that when you are in a hypnotic state, you are better able to access your creativity and imagination. You can take on board a suggestion, for example that from now on you can feel calm when standing in front of a crowd of people. As it plays out in your mind within hypnosis, it has the strength and power of a dream: it feels real. So, you accept that this suggestion is really possible.

Obviously, your rational mind is not totally disconnected. For this reason, you won’t accept impossible suggestions: you won’t believe that you can fly. Even in dreams, there is often a part of you that remembers that this isn’t really possible. However, the dream state is a much deeper level of trance than hypnosis, so the rational mind is more disconnected than in hypnosis.

Suggestion can be seen as experiencing things within your mind that you have been unable to trust in real life. In this calmer, more creative state, you can find a way that these could be possible for you. Other aspects that help with this are building up your inner resources, having a clear plan, and ‘practising’ the new behaviour. All of these are done through suggestion – playing them through in your mind. It’s like a stronger version of visualising, which has been proven to be effective in sports performance, for example. The hypnotic trance state makes the visualisation more powerful.

How tapping relates to hypnosis

Officially, tapping falls within what is called Energy Psychology. There is a growing body of evidence around this new category. There are over 100 scientific studies, including over 50 random control trials (RCT’s: the ‘gold standard’ of science), and 3 meta studies, all indicating that this branch of healing really works.

However, links can also be made with existing mechanisms that have long been proven in hypnosis.

Tapping and the ANS

Several studies of tapping show that it reduces cortisol levels in the body, after just a single session. Cortisol is one of the main stress hormones, and indicates that the autonomic nervous system is in its stressed, sympathetic mode. So, like hypnosis, tapping brings the ANS into a state of greater calm.

How this happens has not been fully clarified.

Calming Meridians

There is some evidence that this calming effect is due to tapping on acupoints of the meridian system recognised in traditional chinese medicine. Modern science now believes it has ‘found’ these meridians and points in what is called the primo vascular system. This system links four different systems within the body: the cardiovascular, nervous, immune, and hormonal systems. Under this theory, it is the activation of this system which creates the calming effect of tapping, as well as supporting it’s influence on the mind, heart and overall well-being.

Hypnosis also influences these bodily systems: reducing your heart rate, calming your nervous system, and improving your immune system. While the mechanism of influence may not be the same, the result is very similar.

Trance States and Tapping

Another way of looking at the effect of tapping on the ANS would be to consider trance states and how to achieve them more generally. For example, shamans achieve trance states through drumming. Trance states are also achieved through rituals involving repetitive movements, such as in sufi practices. Equally, a new study looked at rocking as a mechanism to induce sleep and improve the quality of that sleep. Tapping falls within this category of repetitive movements that induce an at least slightly altered state of consciousness.

Within hypnosis, there are ways to assess a person’s degree of ‘hypnotizability’. Interestingly, though, it has been shown that you do not need to achieve a deep trance to experience positive benefits from the hypnotic state. In fact, in some instances people may ‘avoid’ change by going into a deep trance where they can no longer be reached.

Tapping, by inducing a light trance, allows for change at a subconscious level, while still keeping you very much an active participant in your own experience.

Tapping and Suggestion

As discussed above, tapping achieves some of the same results as suggestion. Tapping can put you into a light trance, which suggestion also does. Part of this may be through the combination of the physical tapping (similar to drumming or repetitive movement), and part to the words that are said while tapping. However, there are two other elements of tapping which are less often considered, and which may help foster change and healing.

Tapping as suggestion

As mentioned previously, suggestion is in part about allowing you to experience something that due to particular beliefs or issues you believe to be hard or impossible. For example, if you have a fear of flying, being guided during hypnosis through a visualisation of getting on a plane while remaining calm can convince your subconscious that it is possible to disconnect the trigger of flying with the response of fear.

Tapping induces the state of calm that will allow you to experience triggers without responding in your normal manner. Yet, it has another benefit.

The subconscious mind responds to images and metaphors, it speaks the language of dreams. And the body and its actions can be metaphors.

When you tap, you start at one point, move to another, then to a third, and so on around and around. There is constant movement. In itself, this acts as a suggestion to your subconscious mind that there can be movement, and that is a powerful metaphor in situations where you have been emotionally ‘stuck’!

The words used while tapping are also suggestions, and many different psychological interventions and modalities  – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mindfulness and Person Centered Therapy amongst others – have shown the importance of self-acceptance and self-love. So, the fact of saying ‘I deeply and completely love and accept myself’ while in the light trance induced by tapping is also a powerful suggestion.

Tapping instead of suggestion

While tapping can be a form of suggestion, both as a metaphor and in its words, there is more that it offers in the context of change work and healing.

Suggestion itself is used to induce a hypnotic state. When you see a hypnotherapist, they use suggestion to help you achieve the trance state that will most benefit your change. And they also continue to use suggestion to help you maintain that trance state.

Returning to the brake and accelerator metaphor we used at the start, the suggestions from the hypnotherapist to enter into a trance are the brake that helps you to be calm. Yet, when they are reminding you of stressful triggers, they are also applying the accelerator. In order to maintain the trance state, they also have to keep reapplying the brake during the process, so that your overall state remains calm.

When you use tapping, though, you are achieving that calm state through a physical process. This means that the words you use can all be focused on the therapeutic goal you have, rather than having to spend time on maintaining the beneficial trance state needed to access the subconscious mind.

By combining tapping with therapeutic aims, you can actually get more done in the same amount of time. You are using both words and physical actions directed towards the same goal: two for the price of one, so to speak.

Tapping into better health

For all of these reasons, tapping is a powerful tool in creating change and better health.

Tapping creates a state of calm that helps fight the stresses of everyday life. It can help you to feel better in your body and your mind through reducing the negative effects of stress, such as dis-ease and ill health.

Tapping does this in part by inducing a light trance in which you can better effect change at a subconscious level, shifting not only mental and emotional issues, but also physical ones. You might be surprised that tapping can help you sleep better, lose weight, stop smoking, and also change things such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and hot flushes. These are ‘physical’ ills which respond strongly to hypnotic change: you really can control seeming ‘reflexes’ at this subconscious level.

So, whether you want to address a bad habit, an emotional or mental health concern, or a physical issue, try tapping into a healthier future!

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