The EFT Tree Metaphor

Gary Craig compares an emotional problem to a forest of trees. In my teaching I like to extend this metaphor of the trees and the forest to offer my trainees a useful model that can act as a guide to help navigate through an EFT session. Our emotional forests are filled with healthy trees of joy, compassion, love and resourcefulness and yet there are also weedlike trees of fear, shame and anger that, though they may have been helpful once, have now become a problem. We can use EFT to clear these unwanted trees so that our emotional forests can flourish.

EFT Newcomers often ask “How do I find the right words to use?” Well, the beauty of this TREE model is that it helps you to craft the words of the set up phrases. I’d like to share the TREE model with you and to take you through it with the illustration of Becky and her encounter with the Rat from Gary’s excellent EFT Course DVD.

T-R-E-E spells Tree.

T is for Trunk or Trigger.

The Trunk of the tree is the bit above the ground that you can see. Every emotional arousal has something out there that sets it off, a trigger. It could be something we see, hear, touch, smell or taste or it could equally be something that we imagine or remember seeing, hearing, touching, smelling or tasting. Our emotional systems can’t tell the difference between what we imagine, what we remember and what is coming in through our senses. For Becky the trigger, the Trunk of her TREE, is the word “rat” as Gary says “what would you do if someone put a rat in this room?” Becky does not need to see a rat. It is enough for her to hear the word and imagine a rat in the room.

R is for Roots.

The Roots of a tree are underground; from the surface you can’t see them. When Becky hears the word “rat” she does not stop and think about why rats are scary or what they remind her of; she just gets scared instantly, physcially and automatically. In that moment Becky is not conscious of memories of previous experiences with rats but below the level of her awareness a little bit of her brain called the amygdala will be matching that trigger to the roots of past emotional experiences.

Somehow, long ago, Becky learned to be afraid of rats. It could be that she was surprised by one as a child or saw a rat-infested horror film when she was too young, or even that her mother was afraid of rats and she learned by imitation. We don’t know and we don’t need to. Whatever happened back then, Becky doesn’t consciously remember that now but her mind-body system does.

The memory is what we call an implicit memory and like the Roots of the TREE it is buried and not apparent from the surface. We can only see the branches of the tree – we can’t see the roots but we know they are there.

E is for Energy.

Energy is the life force of the TREE. Our energy system gets disturbed, goes “zzzt” when something here and now matches to to the Root experience.   Gary holds out his hands and says “Imagine there’s a rat right there now!” Becky’s energy system is going “zzzt”. That “zzzt” is not in response to a friendly guy like Gary standing there with his hands held out. That “zzzt” is in response to something that happened long ago and that scared her in a big way.   Gary’s words and the imaginary rat match some buried memory and her energy system goes into the pattern of that long ago experience.

E is for Experience.

When Energy goes “zzzt” we get one or more of the following Experiences:

  • an emotion, like feeling afraid, angry, ashamed or whatever;
  • a change in physiology such as tension, nausea or sweating;
  • a firmly held emotionally laden belief;
  • or a behavior such as running away, hitting out, reaching for chocolate or biting nails.

For Becky as her Energy system goes “zzzt” in the presence of the imaginary rat she experiences:

  • an emotion she calls fear;
  • physiological changes of sweaty palms and heart pounding;
  • the strongly-held belief “I am afraid of rats”;
  • the behavior running away.

The TREE chain for Becky is a Trunk, the word rat, which matches to a Root (unknown past experience) that sets off the Energy “zzzt” that she Experiences as fear, sweaty palms and running away.

Finding the Words

Now how do we use this TREE model to help craft the words to use in EFT? Well because the T, the R, the E and the E are all connected we can craft our words around any of them and get to the “zzzt”.

When Becky came up on the stage Gary crafted the words around the trigger “rat” as in “Even though I have this challenge with rats…” Becky’s EE’s, her 0-10 intensity level then changed. Her Experience was different.  When something changes we need to test and so Gary brought in a real live (pet) rat.  Was the TREE chain still linked? Did the T trigger still set off the chain and result in a problem Experience?

Well we all saw Becky happily stroking the rat and having it lick her finger. The test showed that the TREE was gone. Gary could equally well have started by crafting words around her Experience as in “Even though my palms are sweaty and my heart pounding…” (This is what we do in Chasing the Pain) or her behavior as in “Even though I want to run away…”

Very often starting with the Trunk (trigger) or the Experience will be sufficient to clear the unwanted TREE and (as with Becky’s case) after tapping a few rounds for the Trigger we can test and the chain is no longer set off. Sometimes the process seems to get stuck and then we need to go searching for the Root (what we may call the core issue).

So here are some simple guiding points for clearing unwanted TREEs.

Start with crafting some words around the Trunk (trigger) or the Experience as it happens in the present and do several rounds of EFT, checking for further aspects and getting more specific after each round, until the problem is no longer a problem.

If the problem “sticks” then look for the Roots or past experiences and tap for those until they are no longer a problem.

Then come back to the present and test: does the Trigger still give rise to the problem Experience?

TREEs generate further trees.

The Experience can feedback and act as a Trigger for a secondary TREE and so create an unwanted forest. Thus an emotional energy disturbance that is experienced as resentment can trigger further roots of resentment and set off further waves of “zzzt”s. This will be the subject of a future article.


Tapping on TREEs – a metaphor for using EFT By Gwyneth Moss, EFT Master First published by Gary Craig, EFT Founder on

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