Emotionally Focused Therapy

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy acknowledges emotional bonding as one of our deepest human instincts and  core to our fundamental human experience.  Research shows that emotionally fulfilling relationships are critical to both physical and mental health and that emotionally focused interventions have the ability to establish and recreate supportive bonds between people.

EFT was developed by Drs. Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg and has been acknowledged by the American Psychological Association as an empirically proven form of couples therapy.  Over the past 15 years, rigorous studies have demonstrated that 70-75% of distressed couples who go through EFT recover, even those who were near divorce, while approximately 90% experience significant improvement in their relationship.

EFT looks at behavior that could be called withdrawing, aggressive or generally negative and reframes it as someone’s best effort for connection and attachment.

EFT helps identify the habitual, negative dance that has taken over in distressed couples,  works to change the steps of that dance through an emphasis on emotions and their interpersonal impact and gives you a road map to help self correct in order to allow the closeness, safety and connection all human beings need in order to thrive.

EFT is grounded in an attachment framework. Attachment theory was founded by John Bowlby who found that humans have an innate need to feel attached to significant others in secure and close relationships.

Hold me Tight

YouTube - Watch Sue talk about EFT and Hold Me Tight

As couples begin to recognize and express their needs for love, support and connection that have been hidden under angry words or painful silence, they have the ability to change internalized perceptions , increase levels of emotional regulation and access increased empathy.  So, by accessing and integrating feelings in a healthy and loving way, we can literally foster new feelings of affection and hope, while at the same time helping to heal past experiences of pain. Partners begin to “listen with the heart,” one of the cornerstones of EFT – which means listening not for the literal meaning of a partner’s words, but for the feelings that lie beneath. In return, the other partner is better able to respond from their heart in kind. This is the emotional focus of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.

EFT has three phases:

I. De- escalation of negative interaction – In this phase, we define the conflict issues which result in repetitive distressing negative interactions. Underlying and unacknowledged emotions and needs are identified and accessed. The couple is able to see the cycle as the common enemy which keeps them from having a safe base from which they can talk about feelings, needs and solutions to problems.

II. Restructuring the bond – Negative cycles between partners involves a variation in which one partner tends to pursue and the other to withdraw. Underlying this distressed cycle are disowned emotions and needs within and between the partners. In phase II, emphasis is placed on identifying how each partner contributes to the pursue/withdraw cycle and the underlying disowned emotions and needs of each partner so that they can be integrated into the relationship adding to a fresh and vital sense of one another. Partners learn to communicate in ways that create safe emotional engagement. There is back and forth movement between phase I and II.

III. Consolidation – In this, the briefest phase, with increased trust and appreciation of each partner’s emotions and needs, there is a shift to new patterns of interaction which are reviewed and reinforced. Partners are able to report new ways that they handle conflict and emotions now as compared to the past.

EFT is a powerful process that helps couples reconnect with their longing which underlie states of depression, anxiety, and over/under emotional reactivity. The therapist is a “process consultant” who does not take sides with each partner. With the goal of creating a safe haven for them to reveal their feelings and needs about past and present events, the therapist facilitates the dialogue between the couple guiding the partners to look at the feelings beneath the negative patterns and to talk from that more open place. The goal of EFT is to strengthen the relationship bond in order to create friendship, security, intimacy and pleasure.

To view further references, recent articles describing EFT therapy and books on EFT, please refer to the EFT website: www.iceeft.com; Psychology Today, March/April 2003.

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