What is Emotionally Focused Therapy? Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) is a type of psychotherapy that is meant to help people change their behaviors and thoughts related to their emotions. It is based on the premise that emotions can be changed as a result of learning new skills and acquiring new understanding, with the goal of increasing positive feelings and decreasing negative feelings. The goal of EFT is to reduce emotional distress, strengthen emotional health, improve relationships, increase satisfaction in life, and cultivate personal strengths.
Emotionally focused therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on the emotional aspects of a person. It was developed by Dr. Sue Johnson, a psychologist and clinical researcher from Canada. The theory behind emotionally focused therapy is that unresolved childhood losses create instability in adult lives. They do this by interfering with our ability to communicate with others, resolve conflicts and enjoy intimate relationships with others. In order to help people recover from these losses, therapists help the client identify the underlying emotions related to the loss, connect those emotions to present-day relationships and teach new ways of communicating those feelings in an empathetic way
This theory is based on the three-phase model of change, which states that recovery is accomplished through three phases: Mobilization, Working Through, and Termination. Phases one and two are present in any therapeutic relationship. Phase three usually begins after the client recovers from stage one or two. During the first phase of recovery, memories of past losses are surfaced and expressed through intense emotional reactions to current situations. The therapist helps the client by helping them understand their feelings and understanding how they can overcome these intense emotions. These painful feelings are referred to as “the grief work”. This grief work occurs during the working through the stage. This stage occurs when the client starts to resolve their grief. During this stage, the client develops true positive emotions and connections with others. The final phase is termination, which is when the client has recovered from previous losses and can function in a healthy way. When the client has recovered, the relationship between the therapist and the client ends.
A lot of research has been done to support the effectiveness of emotionally focused therapy. The Center for Marital and Family Studies currently recommends Emotionally Focused Therapy to be considered for couples who are having difficulty resolving conflict and feel alienated from each other (Center for Marital and Family Studies). There have been multiple studies that show that emotionally focused therapy is effective at helping couples overcome their relational problems. An advantage of emotionally focused therapy is that it is never a one size fits all technique. Therapists gain a deeper understanding of the client and treat them based on what they have learned about the client.
The therapist tailors their approach to the needs of the client, which is more effective than having a predetermined, cookie-cutter approach to treating clients with similar problems (New Beginnings). One disadvantage of EFT is that it is difficult for couples to implement some of the skills taught in treatment into their lives. Many clients struggle with implementing these new skills because EFT can teach them how to communicate more effectively but does not give them any guidance on how and when they should use these new skills. This leaves clients feeling frustrated because they do not know how to translate their new skills into action.
A therapist can use EFT to teach you how to communicate with your partner more effectively. Often, couples do not realize that their communication styles are contributing heavily to their relationship problems; they feel like the issues stemming from the relationship are beyond repair. EFT may help couples see that it is their communication patterns that are causing their problems and ultimately help them resolve these issues (New Beginnings). This issue of communication is especially prevalent in marriages where one or both partners have been victims of emotional or physical abuse from a previous marriage or relationship. A significant portion of the population has been exposed to domestic violence during their childhood.
A 2011 study found that over 20% of female college students have been exposed to some kind of domestic violence whereas an astonishing 49% of males have also experienced some form of domestic violence (Punch). EFT is a tool that can help people who have been exposed to this type of abuse learn how to communicate effectively with their partners. Emotionally focused therapy has also proven effective at helping children who are experiencing parental conflict exhibit better communication skills, as well as empathy towards one another (Wicks).
A study done by Wicks found that children who had not received any type of treatment for their relational issues were still exhibiting poor relational behavior after 4 years. This study suggests that if children do not receive any type of treatment, they are likely to continue having poor communication skills and thus continue to exhibit poor relational skills throughout their lives. Wicks also found that children who had received affirming, support parenting displayed fewer relational problems at 4 years in follow-up assessments when compared to children who were reported by their mothers as being non-affirming, authoritarian parents.
This study suggests that a factor that might contribute to a child exhibiting better relational behavior is supportive parenting from their parents. Emotionally focused therapy is a form of therapy that has been used to help couples experiencing major relational difficulties. It has been proven to be an effective way to help couples overcome their problems and get to the root of how the relationship became unhealthy in the first place (Center for Marital and Family Studies). EFT can essentially be described as a form of communication therapy aimed at improving communication skills, resolving conflict, and strengthening the connection between partners by looking at past, unresolved life experiences that might explain why these issues have come up in a couple’s relationship (Center for Marital and Family Studies). One of the core concepts within EFT is making sure that both partners feel heard and understood by their partner. One of the most important aspects of EFT is to help partners communicate in such a way that each partner feels respected and heard by the other.
A therapist can help teach you how to communicate more effectively with your partner, which will ultimately lead to a stronger, healthier relationship. If you are struggling with communication in your relationship, one of the most beneficial things you can do is talk to your partner and come up with a plan to work on it together (What Works). Once you start working through these emotions and having regular communication with your partner, hopefully, this will lead to a happier and healthier relationship (What Works).
Couples who work with their therapist will be able to speak out about the issues they are most concerned within their relationship and understand why these issues are occurring. They can also begin to work on communication skills so that both they and their partner feel more comfortable about communicating with one another.
EFT is typically used together with a therapist as a form of couples counseling. It is a process that allows clients to learn about themselves, learn new ways of communicating with each other, and ultimately learn how to solve conflicts within the relationship (Center for Marital and Family Studies). Couples who sign up for couples counseling often have intimate, often painful experiences that stem from interpersonal problems in the relationship.
This might include infidelity, resentment, and conflict (Callahan). EFT is a way to help resolve these problems and move forward in the relationship (Callahan). Oftentimes people who work with their therapist to use EFT will learn how to talk to each other about how they feel, listen to each other without getting defensive, and also work through the past events that ignited these problems altogether.
EFT is a tool that can be used as a form of couples therapy as long as both partners are willing to work together with their couples counselor. If both partners are willing to go into therapy then it can be very beneficial for the relationship because they can begin working on communicating together and resolving the problems at hand.