You may have encountered EFT or Emotionally Focused Therapy if you have researched therapy types. This well-known approach is based on John Bowlby’s attachment research from more than 50 years ago. Bowlby found that humans and higher primate animals appeared to have an innate need to feel attached to and comforted by significant others. The therapy was developed around 1908 by Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg, primarily as a therapy for couples. EFT is an experiential therapy, rather than a behavioral therapy, that focuses on exploring the client’s emotional experiences in session to create meaningful change. Because EFT is based on attachment, the science of emotional bonding, it is useful in any relationship context — from individuals to families to couples. EFT does not focus on pathology or diagnosis as a central point of treatment; instead, it works to change common patterns that keep couples stuck to create safety and secure attachment between partners.

How does Emotionally Focused Therapy work?

EFT can be beneficial for relationship distress, conflict, or disconnection. This therapy is especially effective in cultivating trust and improving communication. Couples who work with an EFT therapist find ways to increase their understanding of unmet relationship needs, longings, and fears. Partners in active relationship distress or conflict can most benefit from this therapy.

Experiential vs. Behavioral Therapy

EFT is an experiential therapy that aims to work with clients in their present-moment experiences rather than the past. However, EFT explores how the past might impact the present-moment experience. EFT therapists focus on exploring their client’s underlying emotional vulnerabilities, which may drive negative patterns that keep them stuck. EFT therapists then choreograph and guide conversations between partners in session to create greater emotional safety. Conversely, behavioral therapy may include work on behavioral change, learning new skills, or homework. These are all valuable tools, but behavioral therapies do not always “dive deep” emotionally. The limitation for some clients is that it can be difficult to effectively apply the skills learned in behavioral therapy without addressing the underlying emotional challenges.

Simply put, EFT helps clients to explore their pain and share it with their partner. EFT helps listening partners access compassion and respond with kindness. Emotional pain often underpins recurring conflicts and poor communication patterns in many couples. Thus, exploring emotional pain is typically more effective than combing through the content of various conflicts. Couples “graduate” from therapy when they feel confident in their abilities to reach and respond to one another without their therapist’s help.

How is EFT structured for couples?

Emotionally Focused Therapy is a short-term structured therapy, which means it has a defined timeframe. While EFT often has 8-20 sessions, there is no limit on how many sessions a couple may attend. One meta-analysis shows that “90% of couples who go through EFT significantly improve their relationship, and 70-75% of couples no longer fit criteria for relationship distress following treatment.” 

The EFT Roadmap

EFT therapists follow a “roadmap” of steps and collaborate with couples to reshape relationship distress into a more secure emotional bond. The roadmap consists of three stages, outlined below.

Stage One: De-escalation

In the first stage of EFT, your therapist helps you and your partner identify negative patterns within your relationship. The de-escalation stage helps to make sense of where you and your partner are getting stuck or disconnected. Your therapist may explore patterns based on the science of attachment styles, including anxious, avoidant, and secure. You and your partner will learn to recognize emotional blocks to find a secure connection and understand your and your partner’s internal experience during conflict.

Stage Two: Restructuring

In the second stage of EFT, your therapist helps each partner explore and share vulnerable emotions. Your therapist also helps the receiving partner to show compassion in response. During the restructuring stage, partners learn how to reach for one another. This technique creates a different pattern for the couple — one in which each partner is more vulnerable, attuned, and responsive.

Stage Three: Consolidation

In the last stage of EFT, you and your partner can see how you have grown throughout the therapeutic process. You’ll notice new ways of reaching and responding to one another. With knowledge, practice, and the support of your therapist, you’ll be able to solidify changes to your communication patterns. New positive patterns are self-reinforcing, and couples are discharged from therapy when they feel confident in their abilities to continue the patterns on their own. 

Need a bit more help? 

Sometimes the need for support extends beyond self-help. Schedule an appointment today if you want to meet with an EFT therapist. We offer virtual and in-person sessions. Our therapists are available if you live in Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas. Contact us to get started.