What Is Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)?

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a well researched, short term (approximately 8 to 30 sessions), structured therapy approach for couples, families, relationships and individuals.EFT was formulated in the early 80s by Drs. Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg.  Emotionally Focused Therapy was further developed by Dr. Johnson in that she added the attachment aspects.  Dr. Greenberg now calls his model “Emotion Focused Therapy”, and has more of a focus on power in relationships.  EFT meets the standards set out by APA for an intervention to be accepted as empirically tested and validated as effective.  EFT has been found to move 75% of couples from distress to recovery and approximately 90% showed significant improvements. 

EFT is about love – love for ourselves and the love we have for others.  It is the study of the emotions related to love and how these emotions were like a code that couldn’t be understood; that’s not true anymore.  Dr. Sue Johnson and her colleagues have spent over 30 years of researching and coming to develop ‘The Science of Love’.  Don’t worry!  Her science hasn’t turned Love into a collection of formulas and hard to understand concepts.   She has used Attachment Theory to understand relationships and in doing so she has taken us to the very core of our hearts.  She has helped us unravel the pain and confusion that happens within ourselves and within our relationships when we get stuck in our negative patterns of interactions.  These negative patterns can potentially deal a fatal blow to love.

The focus on emotion gives EFT its unique contribution to relationship therapy and is the essential transforming element in EFT.  The word emotion comes from the Latin word to move.   EFT uses the power of emotion to move clients toward new and more meaningful and loving responses to each other and away from the old stuck habits. 

What are the Goals of Emotionally Focused Therapy?

  1. To uncover and change the negative, emotional connection/pattern in a relationship.
  2. To foster the creation of a secure and connected bond.

What is The Change Process in EFT?

The Change Process in Emotionally Focused Therapy has three stages.  In the first stage, the therapist helps the clients identify both the surface and deeper feelings that result in the problem.  In looking at these feelings/emotions, the therapist helps the clients come to understand the pattern/habit/cycle that has resulted in dysfunctional responses.  The clients are encouraged to recognize that they are not the problem but that the problem lies within the negative pattern of their relationship.  The therapist helps the clients see how their negative emotions and behavior have resulted in feeling isolated from themselves or others.  EFT uses the here-and-now experience of the session to access and use emotions in order to change how people feel about themselves and how they view their relationships. The goal is to change negative patterns into more connected, loving ones (both within oneself and in the interaction with others).

In the Second Stage, the clients are taught to be more engaged or soften their approach with Self and/or Others. The therapist helps clients to express their needs and wants from a less defensive stance and to share their deeper, truer needs that have not been fulfilled.

In Stage Three, clients consolidate their new learnings and reach new solutions to old patterns with the therapist’s encouragement and support.  We now know that with EFT, your relationship can continue to grow and bring you happiness long after therapy has stopped.

In summary, if you were to watch an EFT therapist work, you would see the therapist creating a safe and collaborative relationship with clients. You would see the therapist tuning into and exploring how emotions direct the clients’ interaction and how these interactions then shape their behavior within themselves and with others.   You would see the therapist expanding emotional responses to include basic fears and needs and helping to create a new emotional connection based on these expanded emotions. Stuckness and rigidity is replaced by expansiveness and flexibility.  You would see the therapist working with individuals, couples and families in slightly different ways but guided by the principles listed above.

When is Emotionally Focused Therapy not recommended?

The basic task of the therapist is to provide a safe environment for the clients to explore relationship issues.  Because EFT helps clients move beyond their dysfunctional patterns through accessing the underlying vulnerability that clients are trying to protect, emotional safety is paramount in EFT.  The following circumstances will likely prevent the establishment of safety and trust in the therapy process:

  • If there is ongoing violence in the relationship.
  • If a partner is harboring a secret, such as an affair, and isn’t willing to disclose it. However, the EFT therapist can help the person move toward revealing the secret during the early stages of therapy.
  • If one of the partners is adamant that the other is the problem even to the point of wanting their partner to have a psychiatric diagnosis.
  • If addictions are unacknowledged by a partner. 

If you would like further information on Emotionally Focused Therapy, please go the main EFT website in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: www.iceeft.com.

Recommended Books by Dr. Sue Johnson on EFT