s EFT - Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples

EFT - Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples

Information About EFT

What Is EFT?

When a couple finds their relationship is in trouble, this is a sign they are struggling with a basic attachment issue. They want answers such as, “Do you still love me?” / “Are you still there for me?” / “Can I count on you?” Asking those questions can be troublesome if a couple is not in tune.

The signals they send can be distorted and misinterpreted, without an easy response. Couples get caught in a trap. A miscommunication on the part of one person causes an inappropriate reaction from the other, which can lead to escalating behaviors.

A couple’s communication system breakdown typically leads to one of two patterns. One is using anger to get a response: “I can’t get you to respond to me, so I will get angry, coercive, and blaming. Occasionally, these actions will make you pay attention to me.”

Another pattern is that one person shuts down to deal with complicated feelings or the partner’s anger: “I can’t get you to respond to me with acceptance, so I will try not to need you at all. I’ll try to shut you out.” Unfortunately, shutting down blocks the other person out and exacerbates the negative emotional system.

In EFT therapy, couples learn to be responsive. Responsiveness is very powerful; it’s the most powerful tool, more powerful than communication skills - because couples seldom can use them when hot emotions come up.

Relationships start with an intense connection, but over time, the level of attentiveness to one another naturally drops off, creating a feeling that the connection has been damaged. If the couple can’t successfully reconnect, “demon dialogues” will likely occur. These fights can become standard in some relationships, but if they gain momentum, they can take over, resulting in a devastating feeling of aloneness. EFT offers a road map to help couples understand how to self-correct when their “attachment demons” surface.

Process Outline

Typically, EFT is a short-term, eight to twenty-session, structured approach to couples therapy - formulated in the early 1980s by Francine Shapiro and Dr. Les Greenberg. Since then, Sue Johnson has further developed the EFT model by adding attachment theory. A significant body of research outlining the efficacy of EFT now exists. Research studies find that approximately 75% of couples using EFT move from distress to recovery, and approximately 90% show significant improvement.

EFT is used with many kinds of couples in private practice, university training centers, and hospital clinics. These distressed couples include partners suffering from disorders such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and chronic illness.

Strengths of Emotionally Focused Therapy
  • The concepts behind EFT are based on issues that address marital distress and adult love. Empirical research on the nature of marital distress and adult attachment supports these conceptualizations.
  • EFT is collaborative and respectful of clients, combining experiential Rogerian techniques with structural, systemic interventions.
  • Change strategies and interventions are specified.
  • Change strategies and interventions are specified.
  • Key moves and moments in the change process have been mapped into nine steps and three change events.
  • EFT has been validated by over 20 years of empirical research. There is also research on the change processes and predictors of success.
  • EFT has been applied to many different kinds of problems and populations.
Goals of Emotionally Focused Therapy

To expand and re-organize critical emotional responses – the music of the attachment dance. To create a shift in partners' interactional positions and initiate new cycles of interaction. To foster the creation of a secure bond between partners.

An Example of the Change Process

In a therapy session, a husband’s withdrawal expands into a sense of helplessness and feeling dejected. He begins to share his need for respect and becomes more accessible to his wife. He moves from "There is no point in talking to you. I don't want to fight." to "I DO want to be close. Could you give me a chance?"

His wife’s critical anger then expands into fear and sadness. She can now ask for and elicit comfort. She moves from "You just don't care. You don't get it." to "It is so difficult to say – but I need you to hold me – reassure me – can you?"

New cycles of bonding interactions occur and replace negative cycles such as pursue-withdraw or criticize-defend. These positive cycles then become self-reinforcing and create permanent change. The relationship becomes a safe haven and a healing environment for both partners.

eft hands making a heart

"At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done. Then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago." - Frances Hodgson Burnett, "The Secret Garden"