Enquiring minds thinking in terms of “black and white” have posed this question. Our short answer is “yes”—and “no”.
Both EFT and SET are true energy psychology techniques, and both, in our experience, work well for the right indications. The interesting thing about such techniques (and there are only about 5-6 original ones) is that they all seem to produce results in broadly equivalent fashion; the differences are in the details and method of application.
Let’s say that again up front just to be clear: SET and EFT are both effective in offering relief for emotional and physical distress, and in that respect there may be no clear differences between them; the main differences are in how they are applied.
Both SET and EFT have elements of working directly and indirectly on problems. Both are body techniques that have a large effect indirectly on the problem-thinking. Obviously the tapping points that SET and EFT have in common are not the issue here. The issue as we see it is ease of use and simplicity, particularly when applying energy techniques as self-help. And it is in the area of self-help that SET really comes into its own.
What Is ‘Direct’ Work?
• Most often done with a therapist
• Involves identifying the specific belief and “core” issue.
• Aim is to thoroughly eliminate the effects of all the triggering aspects of a problem.
• Ideally the end result is a peaceful emotional balance: The problem no longer bothers you.
• Examples are treating trauma and phobias
What Is ‘Indirect’ Work?
• Tapping without having to think or focus too much
• Tapping while problems are experienced or felt without having to know what they are
• Tapping as an activity in itself
• Tapping as “self-soothing”
• Lessening the force of problems over time
• Gaining results from tapping in other personal areas of life, and well-being
• After direct work and treatment of specific issues, tapping which is used as self-treatment to help maintain the gains
Why SET Is ‘Better’ / Benefits of SET
A different philosophy of treatment:
1. If you tone down the body’s primitive alarm responses over time, then most problems will find it harder to express through the body.
2. Problems might persist in a mental form but if they don’t bother you emotionally, what is the problem?
3. Regardless of the problem, if the intensity is lessened by tapping, then the pattern of the problem over time is interrupted, and you can function on a higher emotional level (more calm, better balance)
In SET, tapping, or meridian stimulation alone, takes a more central place and the doing of that is seen as paramount, whereas EFT has a number of more complicated processes
SET tapping is typically more indirect, whereas the focus of EFT is on direct work, identifying and targeting “core issues. Whereas SET can also be used in this more direct way, with SET results can also be achieved without needing to be clever or psychological, and SET can be used even when you don’t know what the problem is
Using the indirect tapping approach of SET for “energy toning” the effects of problems are generally felt less and less over time, and the benefits tend to accumulate
SET for self-help is simple to use and therefore typically offers more daily relaxation and body toning—the quantity of tapping is here seen as important
Over time the indirect tapping approach can bring a significant change in body alarm responses (stress) and general emotional reactivity
SET is more naturalistic and simple to use than EFT. The continual tapping practice is the one thing (in our experience) that people attending workshops recall and use consistently after being taught how to do it.
In SET, set-up statements are not required: there is no need to be clever, psychological or to have the right words, and you are encouraged to focus on the problem “in your own way”
SET can be easily added to your daily routine, and practised while doing daily tasks such as telephoning, reading and watching TV
SET is ideal as self-help, and empowering to use
The process of SET is a simple “doing” for people who need that, with simple rules
Anybody can use SET and feel ‘successful’ in different degrees—this is important for continuing use, especially with severe issues.
Tapping is available spontaneously at any time if needed—“just start tapping!”
The simple tapping processes of SET can become a lifelong practice, like building your emotional fitness
SET is Integrative—It can be easily added as a component to any therapeutic approach, by adding continual tapping to the processes being used, whereas the fixed procedures of EFT may intrude into some therapeutic processes
SET is Adaptable—you can simply “graft” tapping on to the problem as you feel it, even if you don’t know what else to do with those feelings
Why EFT Is ‘Better’ / Benefits of EFT
Simple rationale: “The cause of all negative emotion is a disruption in the body’s energy system”
There is a standard recipe and system to EFT, and this particularly appeals to people who need a more structured and standardized approach
EFT may seem more logical and active than SET, and the inclusion of additional components make it seem more comprehensive
The emphasis on direct work and finding core issues in EFT appeals to many people, whereas this is deemphasized in SET
Addressing one issue or aspect at a time in a more or less systematic manner is encouraged in EFT, whereas in treatment using SET there is no imperative to focus specifically in this way (although working on one issue or aspect at a time can be done in SET if desired); this one-at-a-time approach of EFT may be easier to think about for some people.
Many clinical examples exist over a decade of how to utilize EFT
Gary Craig’s DVD’s are an excellent resource for learning EFT and the art of delivery
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Why SET Is ‘Lesser’ / Criticisms of SET
The simple tapping approach of SET may look too trivial and minimal to really help
When using SET for indirect work the active mind may persist with disturbing thoughts, and people can be distracted by such thoughts rather than checking in with their feelings
The mind might not ‘realise’ right away that the feeling of the problem state has changed, since the associated thoughts may persist anyway
When using SET tapping indirectly for self-help it can sometimes take longer for results to manifest and they may be more subtle. This may also be true if the therapeutic approach being used is more general
The SET concept of energy toning seems to conflict with other theories as to how tapping directly might work and the assumed importance of locating and treating “core issues”
Why EFT Is ‘Lesser’ / Criticisms of EFT
Magic thinking abounds due to expectations drummed up by some EFT websites and claims of some practitioners, leading many people to expect a rapid result or a ‘quick fix’
People often have a lot of trouble “finding the right words to say” in their own EFT set-up statements or reminder phrases.
Many people become unsure if they are “doing it right” or even that sometimes it can be done at all (which may be correct as often we need the help of others to change)
It is easy to believe that with EFT you have to be your own therapist—and somehow to do it all yourself
Typically, when EFT doesn’t work, the person blames themselves for not making progress or still having some of the problem (although this criticism could apply equally to SET depending on how it is presented by the practitioner)
EFT is seen as a ‘separate’ activity to ordinary living and requires time and dedication
The concept of having to identify “core issues” can lead many people on a never-ending search for THE right issue to focus on
Using EFT can taper off and fall away as the problem diminishes since it is being used only remedially
Some people with major problems may think they can’t really help themselves much away from the practitioner’s rooms especially where the practitioner taps on or for clients
EFT is a revolutionary technique that has helped hundreds of thousands of people but it can’t always be used directly by yourself, nor for everything. You can try—but often it’s too hard for the ordinary person.
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Criticisms that May Apply to both EFT and SET (especially when used only for self-help)
Whilst both SET and EFT may both be ideal for self-help, this may not be the total answer for many people, who will still need regular, direct work on specific problems with the help of a therapist. Applying EFT or SET at length for self-help when the real direct work of personal growth has not been done won’t deliver a great result. That defies common sense.
Working effectively on major problems of depression, social phobias, and compulsions (for example) can often be very difficult, and this leads to doubts, especially if you have been lead to believe that self-help using EFT or SET should be enough to treat these problems. A person with any of these conditions will need plenty of therapeutic help to deal with the real-world issues that have swamped them. They will need direct work with a therapist until they are steady and functioning on a higher level. EFT or SET can be part of that but may not be the only part. EFT and SET will be invaluable in follow up and maintenance of gains.
A common clinical request is for an EFT session for a lifelong problem—with the hope that this single session will fix it. It is worth stating that some people need years of focussed help—and tapping—to achieve emotional freedom. And that this is normal. Some problems will respond to tapping alone but major ones are likely to need everything you can throw at them, including the person’s having a reason and purpose for living, a spiritual source, a support system and the time and motivation to accept help.
Neither SET nor EFT is ‘better’ or ‘worse’. The question is confusing since both have their place.
The best energy technique for any person is the one that they are going to use and have confidence in. The nature of this use will depend on their understanding. Just the relaxing aspect of SET means a better life for most personal users. For therapists it doesn’t really matter, both SET and EFT (and all the other energy techniques) have compelling results in direct work for fear and anxiety-based problems. For individuals and those interested in self-help, we think SET has a clear advantage.
If you consider that for most of a person’s life they will be helping themselves and others with what they know, then SET is a great gift because the blocks to using it freely are minimal—and then it will be used! And if you agree that most people in the world in need of help won’t be having therapy, then SET as self-help is an ideal simple, usable gift for them to use to deal with as much hurt and anxiety as they can.