This claim is by David Feinstein, pH.D. in Acupoint stimulation in treating psychological disorders: Evidence of efficacy [.pdf]

Essentially it is a claim that stimulating acupuncture points during the mental exploration of an emotional problem rapidly produces desired changes in the neurochemistry involved in that problem [pg 18 on source above].

This is allegedly the cornerstone of "energy psychology" - but I find no convincing, peer reviewed, empirical experiments on the field. All I could find was one article that doesn't seem to claim proof, positive or negative, for the "field."

Is there any truth to the claim, supported by a peer-reviewed medical publication?

  • "Changing brain chemistry" is so vague a statement that I'd confidently claim taking a breath changes brain chemistry. Or, not taking a breath. – jona Oct 6 '14 at 20:46
  • @jona fair enough; the claim being "produces desired changes" – Raystafarian Oct 6 '14 at 20:47
  • Well, what changes in brain chemistry do you desire? Our knowledge about brain chemistry is, as I said, vague. Too vague to answer this question. I'll attempt an answer based on the literature in question though. – jona Oct 6 '14 at 21:02

Since brain chemistry is an incredibly complex, vast, and, most importantly, unknown topic, nobody can answer the question itself. Brain chemicals show interdependencies much beyond our current understanding, especially with regards to psychological states and conditions. So we cannot answer the question much beyond saying: maybe. But what we can do is evaluate the specific claims the author (Feinstein) makes, and see what the references he is providing for them state.

Feinstein provides two references to studies he interprets as discussing the beneficial effect of "acupoints" on brain chemistry.

The second, Church, D., Yount, G., & Brooks, A. (in press). The effect of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) on stress biochemistry: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease., is reported to show that "the treatment significantly reduced cortisol levels". This is indeed what Church et al. report; cortisol levels fell on average by ~25%. It fell by only ~15% in the alternative treatment group (a therapeutic interview). However, it also fell by 15% in the control (no treatment) group, so basically, they compared "EFT" (supposedly similar to "acupoints") to something that had no meaningful effect on cortisol. However, in itself, touching leading to cortisol decrease is not surprising, as e.g. massages lead to lowered cortisol levels - by, it seems, on average over 30%.
Furthermore, cortisol is not a prototypical "brain chemical". Its main effect is probably regulating blood sugar, and generally nutrient metabolism. It can be used as an index of stress, but a slight and short-term decrease in cortisol is not necessarily what I'd universally consider a "desirable change in brain chemistry". However, it can be a used as a proxy of transient relaxation.

The first reference is much more vague; Feinstein writes:

Biochemical effects of acupoint stimulation are also being identified, with neurotransmitters, endorphins, and other brain chemicals apparently being influenced by tapping (Ruden, 2005).

Looking up Ruden, we find:

we would like to speculate about a potential mechanism for tapping of the fear response

And that is indeed what he does. Ruden speculates, which is okay, but that's the extent of it. He cites no direct research on the question itself, reports no actual empirical results of direct tests of his ideas. So, "do acupoints decrease desirable changes in brain chemistry"? Maybe.

Finally, let it be said that the Feinstein paper presents some truly horrible statistical methods and is an insult to the idea of meta-analysis.

  • Thank you for the response! Essentially, what I wanted to ask was "is there any real proof for the energy psychology field" - but that's way too broad of a question. – Raystafarian Oct 7 '14 at 11:15
  • It sounds like the usual quackery to me. This reviewer agrees. But, I see nothing problematic in a relaxing touch session, so there's certainly worse out there. – jona Oct 7 '14 at 15:09
  • Yeah, everything I look for is put out by the "pro" side of the table. I can't find anything on the American Psychological Association either. Thanks. – Raystafarian Oct 7 '14 at 15:17
  • Here is another devastating review. – jona Oct 7 '14 at 15:40

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