Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a systemic and structured approach to couple therapy, formulated in the 1980’s by Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg. This short term (8-20 sessions) experiential and systemic form of therapy is now one of the most researched, delineated and empirically-validated approaches in the field of couples therapy. It has demonstrated powerful clinically significant effects with various populations (Johnson, 2003, JMFT 29, 365-385). Over the last twenty years, a substantial body of research validating the effectiveness of EFT has been developed. Studies find that 70-75% of couples move from distress to recovery, and approximately 90% show significant improvement. For more information on this research please access our Resources page. EFT is an empirically supported treatment which is now being taught in university training programmes and treatment centers.
EFT is effective with many different kinds of couples as well as families and individuals, and with a variety of cultural groups. The attachment frame of EFT provides a healing approach to partners in relationships as well as families and individuals suffering from depression, post traumatic stress, and chronic illness.
EFT presents a comprehensive theory of adult love and attachment and a process for healing distressed relationships. It recognizes that relationship distress results from a perceived threat to basic adult needs for safety, security and closeness in intimate relationships. This experiential/systemic therapy focuses on helping each partner reprocess the emotional experience underlying the rigid negative interactional patterns that keep them stuck. Through a series of well-defined stages the therapist takes the couple from conflict deadlock to creating new bonding interactions.
Grounded in attachment theory, this approach recognizes the primacy of emotion in organizing both inner experience and key interactional patterns in primary attachment relationships. Emotion is seen as a powerful agent of change in the therapy, not just as a manifestation of relationship distress. By expanding clients’ emotional experiences around core attachment needs and structuring change events to shift the cycle of negative interactions, EFT therapists work to help partners create a more secure bond in their relationship.
Strengths of Emotionally Focused Therapy
- EFT is based on a clear understanding of marital distress and adult love. It is supported by Attachment Theory and empirical research.
- EFT is collaborative and respectful of clients. Alliance is key because it creates a safety that is healing in itself, is egalitarian, and non-pathologizing.
- Change strategies and interventions are specific and address recurring patterns of negative interaction as well as the underlying emotions that drive these patterns.
Goals of Emotionally Focused Therapy
- To move from relational distress to a more secure bond between partners.
- To expand and re-organize key emotional responses—the music of the attachment dance.
- To facilitate a shift in partners’ interactional positions so that they can move toward increased accessibility, responsiveness, and safe engagement with each other.