Emotionally Focused Therapy
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is an approach to counseling that helps individuals, couples and families to identify the primary emotion at the core of any conflict so that needs and concerns can be expressed in healthier and more effective ways.
What is Emotionally Focused Therapy?
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is an approach to counseling that helps individuals, couples, and families to identify the primary emotion at the core of any conflict that needs and concerns can be expressed in healthier and more effective ways.
This approach was developed in the mid-80s by Canadian psychologists Sue Johnson and Les Greenburg, both renowned for their work in attachment theory. Johnson and Greenburg identified that the root of many intimate relationship issues was not just a singular cause but an interaction of adverse patterns between both people in the partnership. Johnson then sought to develop a therapeutic model that promoted positive cycles of interactions between partners, mutual safety and security, and interpersonal emotional regulation.
Though EFT is often associated with couples therapy, Johnson’s model has also been highly successful in helping individuals to better understand their own behaviors in relationships and unpack emotions as they arise. When used for individuals, EFT is known as Emotionally Focused Individual Therapy—or EFIT— and for families – Emotionally Focused Family Therapy (EFFT) but it’s nevertheless based on the same attachment theories and techniques that Johnson employed with couples.
Because this form of therapy relies on deep introspection and emotional awareness, EFT can be used to treat a wide range of relationship challenges and mental health issues. Emotionally Focused Therapy can help individuals to target trauma, anxiety, and depression, while decades of evidenced-based research have established that EFT has shown a “larger effect size than any other couple intervention has achieved to date.”
How Does EFT Therapy Work?
Emotionally Focused Individual Therapy (EFIT) is the approach we use for counseling individuals. One-on-one therapy allows you to speak to someone in confidence in a safe environment.
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is the modality we use for couples counseling. Research studies find that 70-75% of couples who use EFT move from distress to recovery and approximately 90% show significant improvements.
Emotionally Focused Family Therapy (EFFT) is the modality we use when working with families. EFFT focuses on making each member of a family unit feel emotionally secure to be able to discuss issues and concerns.
Emotionally Focused Therapy will first and foremost help you (and your partner) identify the negative cycles of thinking and behaviors you may be engaging in. By acknowledging and understanding the harmful, distressing, and distancing patterns that have developed over time, EFT can help you unpack strong reactions, intense feelings, and interpersonal tension.
EFT can help you unpack strong reactions, intense feelings, and interpersonal tension Just as all humans, you are a relational being and your sense of security depends on feeling safely connected to the important people in your life. Your brain cannot distinguish between a physical threat and an emotional threat. Therefore, when you feel disconnection in your primary relationships, it feels physically threatening and triggers the fight/flight/freeze response in your brain which can prevent you from thinking through situations calmly and clearly.
Conflict with people you care about can leave you feeling scared and alone and you can end up reacting defensively by criticizing or blaming (fight/flight) or shutting down altogether (freeze). Either way, despite the fact that your brain is protecting itself and trying to preserve connection, the message that ends up being signaled by your behaviors is that you don’t care or that you’re not invested in the well-being of the other person with whom you’re engaging.
Of course, this signal is not representative of what is happening internally—beneath all defensive actions is the tender, vulnerable place where your emotions and attachment longings originate. Emotionally Focused Therapy helps you to access and share from precisely that tender place. And when using EFT for couples therapy, you’re likely to be brought closer to one another by accessing and speaking from that place together. If the relationship has been conditioned by fight-flight-freeze reactions during moments of conflict, then more disconnection will be inevitably created. However, if you can shift the focus to the primary emotions at play, you’re likely to experience a deeper connection that fosters a mutual motivation to understand and meet the needs of each other.
An EFT therapist will help you (and your partner) get more in touch with the attachment stories that lie beneath difficult emotions so that you can have a better sense of how certain self-beliefs and relationship patterns formed. The therapist will then create a safe space to explore and communicate those emotions, giving you a clearer understanding of how they’re impacting your thoughts and behaviors on a day-to-day basis.
Once you can identify a negative cycle and externalize it so that it’s not creating so much emotional discomfort, it can serve to effectively change the dynamic with yourself and with those around you.
How I Incorporate EFT Into My Practice
As I do with all of my clients, I approach EFT sessions with a sense of curiosity and compassion. During Emotionally Focused Therapy sessions with me, you can learn to welcome, allow, and regulate even the most difficult emotions as you experience them.
EFT really helps people get to the core of their issues rather than simply treating surface symptoms. Whereas many other therapeutic techniques tend to focus on problem-solving (or conflict-resolution for couples specifically), I find that EFT really helps people get to the core of their issues rather than simply treating surface symptoms. When a primary emotion is dissected and understood, interpersonal dynamics can be shifted, allowing you to begin the valuable process of assigning meaning to your emotions. And once you have this degree of awareness, difficult emotions won’t create so much discomfort or reactivity.
As you might imagine, mindfulness is key when it comes to identifying emotions. Therefore, during EFT sessions, we will spend time checking in with your body and developing a vocabulary for the feelings and sensations you experience. In addition, we will also use other body-based techniques to help you adjust your relationship with distressing emotions or memories. Positive and lasting change can be made when you develop the skills to identify and work through the emotions that are either helping or hindering your progress.
You Can Learn Where Your Emotions Originate And How To Manage Them
If intense feelings have caused distress or interpersonal conflict in your life, EFT therapy can help you get to the core of your emotional experiences. For more information about my counseling services, please contact me via my site or call (972) 292-8679.