What is Emotionally Focused Therapy or EFT?

By Jim Squire MDiv RP |

Emotionally Focused Therapy or EFT was co-developed by Dr. Sue Johnson and is based on the scientific study of human bonding, adult love and attachment theory. EFT is founded on the premise that our partner is an attachment bond which is just as important for emotional wellness as an infant's first attachment to a caregiver is. Basically the comfort of knowing we are loved never goes away as we age. In a healthy secure relationship our partner provides a place of safety, where we can be vulnerable, to share our hopes and fears without worry of criticism or rejection. EFT addresses the distress which is so common in intimate relationships and provides a roadmap for creating close, nurturing supporting relationships. When couples have trouble in relationship, they are struggling with a basic attachment issue, according to Johnson. They want answers to questions such as, “Are you there for me” “Can I count on you” and “If I call, will you come? However, if a couple is not in tune or emotionally connected asking those questions can be troublesome. The signals they send can be distorted and misinterpreted which can trigger negative cycles that so often create distress for couples.

When couples first meet the connection is strong but over time lack of attentiveness, not feeling heard or unresolved hurts create distance in the relationship. According to Johnson, a breakdown in a couple’s communication system typically leads to one of two patterns either anger or shutdown with no response both of which do not encourage connection. Lack of connection can trigger a range of emotions such as fear, sadness, shame or loneliness. Protests to this change in connection are what Johnson calls "demon dialogues" which are negative cycles. These negative cycles can be triggered for a variety of reasons including a certain look, tone of voice or anything that is perceived as criticism or rejection. These fights can become frequent in some relationships, but if they gain momentum, they can take over, resulting in devastating feelings of aloneness and distress. EFT offers a research validated process to help couples understand how to self-correct when these demon dialogues surface. Once couples understand their negative cycles they can work towards finding more loving adaptive responses to meet each other’s needs for connection. One of the main reasons EFT is so successful is it changes how couples experience each other in the relationship. EFT has been shown to help 75-90% couples move from distress to recovery in 8-20 sessions which is significantly more successful than other approaches for couples.