Couples In Step Hearts

What is Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples?

emotionally focused therapy: benefited this couple

Emotionally Focused Therapy  is meaningful change for the long haul, not just problem solving in the immediate moment.

From cradle to grave relationships form the core of human experience. Humans are happier and healthier in nurturing and emotionally responsive relationships. The longing to be loved is the driving force behind all our connections.

But sometimes wanting and intention isn’t enough, and couples struggle to live peacefully even while longing for connection. Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is for couples who want to break away from the cycle of arguing, blaming, silence, and frustration. It is for couples who want to reconnect.

There could be a multitude of factors in a relationship that erode the emotional connection between partners: infidelity, sexual challenges, disagreements over parenting or careers, problems with extended family, addiction, etc. Underlying all of these issues are partners who are upset that their needs for validation, affection, and approval are being ignored or dismissed. The result is disconnection from the person we depend on most for our needs for approval and closeness. We feel alone and wonder if we should even stay together. Or we shut down and try to numb ourselves from the pain disconnection causes.

Intuitively we know that children have an inborn need and innate ability to bond, or attach to their caregivers. Fifty years of research on the parent-child bond has irrefutably demonstrated that children thrive when they are safely and securely attached to their parents or caregivers.

Thirty years ago attachment researchers turned their attention to adult love relationships. With each passing year research is conclusively establishing that adults too, thrive when they are deeply bonded to other adults. This research forms the bedrock of EFT.

EFT therapy is credited to Dr. Susan Johnson, Ph.D., a Canadian researcher, clinician and academician. Until 2010 Dr. Johnson’s work was only available in professional journals. Since then  Dr. Johnson has published two books written for the general public: Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love and Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships.

EFT therapy books: Hold Me Tight, Love Sense

How Effective is EFT Couples Therapy?

From the time Dr. Johnson published her first outcome study in 1985 until today, EFT is the focus of extensive research. Dr. Johnson herself remains a prolific researcher and she continually encourages others in the research field to research various aspects of EFT. The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT) maintains a list of EFT research—you can see that list here.

A meta-analysis is one of the gold standards in scientific research. It is a statistical process that combines the results of multiple scientific studies. There have been a number of meta-analyses for EFT. The first was completed in 1995 and the most recent was completed in 2019. The findings of the meta-analyses have been very positive of EFT.

EFT has also received the stamp of approval from Division 12 of the American Psychological Association (APA). This division is responsible for evaluating the empirical support for mental health treatments. Emotionally Focused Therapy has received the Division’s highest rating— “strong research support”. Research on EFT is ongoing and the APA website has listed some of these clinical trials on its Emotionally Focused Couple’s Therapy page.

EFT for couples. Founder Sue Johnson receiving Order of Canada

In 2017 Dr. Johnson was invested into the Order Of Canada for her pioneering work on Emotionally Focused Couple’s Therapy.

Dr. John Gottman, North America’s best-known marriage researcher, with whom Irene Oudyk-Suk, the founder of Couples In Step, has also trained, writes that “EFT is a proven road map to the process of change in couples therapy.”

How Does Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy Work?

In the first few EFT sessions, after we determine the therapist and the couple are a good fit, we set goals for counselling. Each of you needs to feel heard by your therapist and trust that the therapist will be unbiased throughout the process. Along with developing a good working relationship, we’ll examine some of the ways your relationship history affects your relationship now.

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy focuses on tracking the interaction patterns between the two of you. For example, what are each of your typical behaviours and reactions when you’re in relationship distress? Does one of you tend to bring up the issues while the other tends to be defensive? Does one of you tend to minimize? These outward behaviours and expressions of distress are patterns that need to be acknowledged before they can be replaced with more loving, affirming interactions.

Additionally, we want to find out what’s happening inside of each of you when your relationship is struggling. We will ask both of you: what are the deeper underlying feelings that haven’t been expressed? Usually, these feelings come from a place of loneliness, sadness, hopelessness, and fear, emotions that are a part of the human experience. The therapist will help each of you bring these vulnerable emotions to the surface.

Once you are able to focus on the patterns that get you stuck and how each of you unwittingly contributes to the spiral of disconnect, you will be ready to go deeper. You will begin to share more honest communication about how the presenting issues—like arguments or pulling away from each other—are caused by deeper underlying emotions. Sharing your vulnerabilities authentically with your partner often invites them to have more empathy, compassion and support for you.

EFT couple therapists encourage partners to make risky statements such as, “Outside I look and act angry and focus on you, but