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What is Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)?

EFT is a structured approach to psychotherapy, best known as a couple intervention but is also used with individuals and families.

This approach, developed by Dr. Sue Johnson, evolved alongside the science of adult attachment and uses attachment theory, a developmental theory of personality, as a framework for understanding clients’ emotional lives and the patterns that shape their most significant relationships.

A substantial body of research exists that outlines the effectiveness of EFT for couples, including positive follow-up studies and process-of-change studies. (For more information on EFT research please visit http://www.iceeft.com and look under the “About Us & EFT” menu.)

This approach is used successfully with many kinds of couples with varying cultural backgrounds. Training in EFT for couples is systematic and a pathway to formal certification with the International Center for Excellence in EFT can be found at http://www.iceeft.com.

There are 67 centers affiliated with ICEEFT around the world that offer ongoing training for therapists in the model. A group relationship education program, Hold Me Tight®: Conversations for Connection, also is available and has been adapted with versions for Christian couples, those facing cardiac disease and distressed adolescents and their families.

The evidence is that the effectiveness of EFT lies in a shift from emotional disconnection and insecure bonding interactions, to the creation of positive bonding conversations where fears and needs are distilled and shared in ways that shape the emotional accessibility and responsiveness that is the essence of a loving bond.

Please visit http://www.iceeft.com and look under the “About Us & EFT” menu to access lists of various EFT Publications including books, chapters, articles and non-English publications.

Strengths of Emotionally Focused Therapy

  • EFT is based on clear, explicit conceptualizations of relationship distress and adult love. These conceptualizations are supported by empirical research on the nature of marital distress and adult attachment.
  • EFT is collaborative and respectful of clients combining experiential Rogerian techniques with structural systemic interventions.
  • EFT change strategies and interventions are specified.
  • Key moves and moments in the EFT change process have been mapped into nine steps and three change events.
  • EFT has been validated by over 35 years of empirical research. Also, there is research on the change processes and predictors of success.
  • EFT has been applied to many kinds of problems and populations.
  • EFT expands and reorganizes key emotional responses – the music of the attachment dance.
  • EFT creates a shift in partners’ interactional positions and initiates new cycles of interaction.
  • EFT fosters the creation of a secure bond between partners.

An Example of the Change Process

In a therapy session, a husband’s numb withdrawal expands into a sense of helplessness, a feeling of being intimidated.

He begins to assert his need for respect and, in doing so, becomes more accessible to his wife.

He moves from, “There is no point in talking to you. I don’t want to fight,” to, “I do want to be close. I want you to give me a chance.

Stop poking me and let me learn to be there for you.” His wife’s critical anger then expands into fear and sadness. She can now ask for and elicit comfort.

She moves from, “You just don’t care. You don’t get it,” to, “It is so difficult to say – but I need you to hold me – reassure me – can you?”

New cycles of bonding interactions occur and replace negative cycles such as pursue-withdraw or criticize-defend.

These positive cycles then become self-reinforcing and create permanent change. The relationship becomes a safe haven and a healing environment for both partners.

For a more detailed description of EFT and more information, visit http://www.iceeft.com.