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Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples

Posted on June 29, 2019 at 2:30 AM Comments comments (1865)

Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples: How it works and how it can help you.

artilce by PSG Clinical Psychologist and Relationship Therapist Ms Rebecca Findlow

What is Emotionally Focused Therapy?

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a therapy for couples that focuses on developing strong relationships by strengthening the emotional bond between partners. In counselling sessions the counsellor and couple work together to understand their pattern of relating and take steps to develop a healthier happier relationship built on trust and a secure bond. EFT was developed in the 1980s by Professor Susan Johnson and Professor Leslie Greenberg. Their approach to couples counselling is based on decades of watching and analysing the interactions of couples during counselling sessions. Research has shown that 86 to 90 percent of couples who undergo EFT report a significant improvement in their relationship and 70 to 75 percent of couples experience a complete recovery1,2. These changes are long lasting, even when the couple is dealing with a seriously ill child3, rebounding from an affair4, battling depression5, or experiencing sexual difficulties 6.

Who can EFT help?

Couples in distress can benefit from EFT, as can couples who simply seek to enrich their relationship. Couples who are locked in conflict with one another or have drifted apart can equally benefit. By helping the distressed relationship, EFT can help reduce individual symptoms such as depression or anxiety that have occurred in response to relationship problems. EFT is not appropriate for relationships where there is ongoing physical, emotional or substance abuse. This is because EFT requires partners to be vulnerable with each other and this is not safe where abuse is present. The abuse must be resolved first before EFT can proceed. Individual therapy and therapy groups with a specific focus on abuse can help resolve these issues.

How long will therapy take?

EFT is a short-term therapy. The number of sessions required to recover from relationship distress can only be answered in collaboration with your psychologist, but as a guide, therapy can usually be completed in 10 to 20 sessions.

What to Expect

During counselling sessions, your psychologist will listen to what you and your partner have to say about the difficulties in your relationship and how those difficulties have developed over the course of your relationship. Your psychologist will watch how you talk to each other during sessions, and help you understand your negative cycle of interaction. During counselling sessions, your psychologist will help you to identify and express your feelings in a way that pulls your partner close, rather than pushing them away. Together you will find more productive ways to deal with conflict and distance in your relationship.

How it Works

Therapy consists of three phases. In the first phase, your psychologist will work with you and your partner to de-escalate your conflict and halt the growing distance between you by helping you identify the negative cycle of interactions that cause you to be unhappy with one another. In the second phase of counselling, your psychologist will help you to restructure your interactions to create a new positive way of relating to one another that leaves you both feeling more loved, respected and close to one another. Your psychologist will support you both to be more open about your feelings and your needs, to listen well and stay attuned to your partner as they share their experience, and to be responsive to each other’s needs. In the third phase of counselling, your psychologist will help you to consolidate what you have learned, so that you have a complete understanding of how your problems developed, how they were resolved and how you can approach future difficulties in a way that strengthens your bond, instead of eroding it.

More Information

Some well-written self-help books on EFT include: Hold Me Tight 7, Love Sense 8 and An Emotionally Focused Workbook for Couples: The Two of Us 9.

Useful information, including videos of therapy sessions can be found at

1. Johnson, S.M., Hunsley, J., Greenberg, L. & Schindler, D. (1999). Emotionally focused therapy: Status and Challenges. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 6, 67-79. 2. Baucom, D., Shoham, V., Mueser, K., Daiuto, A., & Stickle, T. (1998). Empirically supported couples and family interventions for marital distress and adult mental health problems. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66, 53-88. 3. Gordon-Walker, J., Johnson, S., Manion, I. & Cloutier, P. (1996). An emotionally focused marital intervention for couples with chronically ill children. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 29, 391-399. 4. Halchuk, R.E., Makinen, J.A. & Johnson, S.M. (2010). Resolving attachment injuries in couples using Emotionally Focused Therapy: A three year follow-up. Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, 9, 31-47. 5. Denton, W. & Coffey, A. (2011). Depression: Enemy of attachment bond. In J. Furrow, S. Johnson & B. Bradley (eds.), The emotionally focused casebook: New directions in treating couples (pp. 87-112). New York, NY: Routledge. 6. Johnson, S. & Zuccarini, D. (2011). An integrated model of couple and sex therapy. In J. Furrow, S. Johnson & B. Bradley (Eds.), The emotionally focused casebook: New directions in treating couples (pp. 219-246). New York, NY: Routledge. 7. Johnson, S.M. Hold me Tight. Piatkus, 2011. 8. Johnson, S.M. Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships. Little, Brown & Company, 2013 9. Kallos-Lilly, V. & Fitzgerald, J. An Emotionally Focused Workbook for Couples: The Two of Us. Routledge, 2015.

Tara's Traffic Tips - regulating not raging

Posted on November 10, 2016 at 5:05 AM Comments comments (1122)

For most of us, we dread a Monday morning and no doubt thousand of Melbourians felt this way even more the other morning with an accident on one of our busiest freeways. So after I witnessed a car speed past everyone patiently queued, and later someone beeping a motorcyclist who slowly passed - it made me think about how do people cope in these unexpected situations to remain calm?


Some of the following strategies may help:


1) Remember we're all in this together. It is not the driver in front of you that has caused the delay - so remember to be respectful. After all we don't want another accident to occur!!


2) Challenge negative perceptions: Could you appreciate that you are safe and not involved in the accident? Or if you get annoyed with another motorist who speeds past you remember this is not a personal attack and are there other reasons they may need to other than getting to their destination quicker - such as a medical emergency?


3) Play music - who doesn't love hearing their favourite tunes in the car! Plus if you start to sing along this helps to regulate your breathing and reverse our stress response.


4) Can you find an alternative route? Or keep informed with traffic update to help minimise your delay.


5) Accept that you may not be able to do everything you had planned for the day - so this the perfect time to brainstorm how you can reorganise your day so the delay doesn't continue to effect you?


These are just my top 5 - please share what you find helpful in traffic delays...


Write it down! Recognise. Reinforce. Remind.

Posted on October 10, 2016 at 5:30 AM Comments comments (2762)

Write it down: Recognise. Reinforce. Remind.

Many, in and out of therapy, are quite familiar with the idea and instruction of writing things down. Write things down so you can remember them. Write down your maladaptive thoughts - so you can view them more objectively and mindfully... Write down what you are grateful for - so you may develop more positivity and a more optimistic outlook...


At certain intervals in therapy, it is also very helpful to write down what is working and, especially, what you are doing well. This serves several purposes. Firstly, it helps you recognise and acknowledge the work you are contributing towards change.

For example, a courageous client, after a number of sessions, reflected that her anxiety had relaxed and she was feeling more content; however was perplexed as to how come this shift had occurred and pondered perhaps time was the main factor. Over the course of that session, I noted numerous things that she was doing well – and differently, compared to before treatment, as she discussed recent happenings. Towards the end of the appointment, I recounted those things back to her; recognising that her improved position was mostly due to her hard work, rather than just time (or magic). I encouraged her to later write down what she noticed she was doing well and/or differently, with regards to thinking, reacting, behaving…etc. so that she could again acknowledge what she was doing well to contribute to positive change.


Writing down what you are doing well and what’s working for you, also helps reinforce exactly those things. As you write them down, you are purposefully thinking about them and further contributing to those lovely new neural networks being formed and solidified.


Finally, writing these things down, allows you to go back and remind yourself of what worked. Re-reading provides further reinforcement, however perhaps more importantly, helps you identify if you are continuing to do things that are helpful – and get back on track if you’ve let go of anything that contributed towards positive change previously.

Initially, write those things down somewhere that they will be seen often, such as in your working diary, on a post-it on your bathroom mirror, or take a photo of your list and use it as your screen saver... Then after awhile of feeling well and more confident, you can refer back to that list occasionally (perhaps write a reminder or alert in your calendar a month or so down the track to check that list).

The seemingly innocuous lesson of teaching kids about healthy versus unhealthy eating

Posted on August 31, 2016 at 9:20 AM Comments comments (1455)

The seemingly innocuous lesson of teaching kids about “healthy” versus “unhealthy” eating

I have had numerous conversations about how categorising food and eating behaviours as “healthy” or “unhealthy”, while it may seem intuitive and helpful, is actually counterproductive and potentially damaging. Hearing that this was being promoted at my daughter’s kindergarten this week, however, has prompted me to write about it.

Parents and professionals alike desire the best for our children. When it comes to eating, teaching kids how to sort through the media’s mixed messages can be tricky. Labelling food as healthy or unhealthy would seem to be a helpful strategy to cut through the confusion and assist our children in making nutritious choices so that they can be healthy. Categorising food and eating behaviours in terms of healthy (good, clean, pure, nice…) versus unhealthy (bad, dirty, evil, naughty…) is not only unhelpful, but potentially damaging for several reasons.

What is actually “healthy” is (changing all the time) debateable and depends on one’s overall health, nutritional requirements, lifestyle, and activity levels. For example: a diabetic person who needs jellybeans; an autistic child who only eats white food; an athlete replenishing with a sports drink; someone recovering from gastro drinking lemonade…

Categorising food in this way detracts from a child’s ability to eat intuitively (stay tuned, I will write more about “How we train our children out of intuitive eating” another time). Rather than thinking about what they feel like eating, they may start thinking about what they “should” be eating – thus starting to eat more according to rules and routines rather than hunger, body needs, tastes, and pleasure.

Labelling eating behaviours as healthy and unhealthy or good and bad suggests that food has a moral value. It doesn’t. Food is food. Moralisation of eating can lead to children feeling guilty about their choices. “I’ve eaten something naughty, so I should feel bad.” “I feel guilty about wanting a treat, because it’s unhealthy.” Further, guilt-driven eating behaviours can lead to restrictive eating or secret eating. Furthermore, moralisation of food can influence children to internalise these labels. “I ate something unhealthy, so I am unhealthy.” “I had a bad food, I must be bad.” “I like treats, therefore I am naughty/ indulgent/ gluttonous.”

There are a few things you can do to help our children develop healthier, intuitive, mindful, informed, and relaxed relationships with food and eating:

• Refer to food as “everyday” and “sometimes/ occasional” food if you would like a way to help guide children’s eating choices. These categories are much harder to assign a moral value to, and much harder to internalise.

• Where possible, relax eating routines to encourage your child to eat more intuitively and according to their hunger. Allow them to determine their portion sizes. Refrain from demanding or encouraging them to finish what’s on their plate or eat something they don’t like or don’t want.

• Get your children involved in growing food, shopping for food, preparing food, and eating together where and whenever possible.

• Help your children understand how food is broken down in the body and how the body uses proteins, carbohydrates, sugars, vitamins etc..

• Take the focus off eating for weight-loss or weight maintenance and instead discuss food for function, energy, and enjoyment.

• Role-model a healthy, intuitive, mindful, informed, and relaxed relationships with food and eating.

Further information and resources:

• Dr Rick Kausman

• Eating Disorders Victoria

Setting up a Sleep Contract with your Child

Posted on June 14, 2015 at 8:15 AM Comments comments (1291)


Situation: Your primary school aged child is:

a. Having difficulty getting to sleep by themselves

b. Having trouble staying asleep

c. Resisting bedtime

d. Clingy at bedtime

e. Being ‘difficult’ at bedtime

f. Anxious about sleep

g. All of the above…?

h. ___________________________________

A solution (not ‘the’ solution) might be to set up a bedtime/sleep agreement with your child (see considerations – below). The idea here is to collaborate in the process of negotiating roles and rules. This way they are more likely to follow through - compared to your child feeling that they are being told what to do.

1. Sit down with your child and discuss/assess the current bedtime/sleeping routine and problems. Ask them what they think about the current situation. Avoid using language that is blaming (e.g., “you are making it difficult” or “you should be…”).

2. If age-appropriate, have your child write down the agreement points.

3. Start with the end: what time is an appropriate time to be asleep (or to try to fall asleep on their own)?

4. Then, leading from dinnertime, fill in the gaps for the after-dinner and bedtime routine. Indicate times as a guide, but be somewhat flexible.

5. Try to achieve a balance between things that you as the parent require and things that your child thinks are important (hopefully there will be some over-lap). Perhaps ask something like “what are the things that you think need to happen between dinnertime and bedtime?” Then back that up with something like “a few things that need to happen are brushing your teeth, putting on your PJs, and…” Then ask what your child would like from you (e.g., stories together, crafting, or quite games…) and grant reasonable requests for either spending time together or somewhat quiet time for them.

6. Your agreement might read something like this:

“I, Isabella and mum and dad, are agreeing to this routine:
6:30pm dinnertime
7:00pm help clear the table, then bath-time and get into PJ’s
7:30pm family activity time (puzzles, games, stories)
8:00pm into bed and snuggle time with mum
8:15pm lights out and goodnight.”

7. Then boundaries need to be set – especially if you child has been calling out, getting up*, and/or getting worked up**. First identify the behaviours. Perhaps ask “what do you do when daddy leaves your room when it’s time for sleep?” Or something like, “what normally happens at bedtime?” Ask your child what they think about those behaviours. Then, explain that you wont engage with those behaviours. Such as, “after lights out and goodnight, we’re not going to come back into your room if you call out – but I’ll check on you if you’re quiet a bit later.” Or, “if you get up after bedtime, we’ll take you straight back to bed.” a. *If getting up and out of bed is a problem, then you might need to decide how many times you will lead your child back to bed before the door is closed (or locked). In my experience, punishment (e.g., no TV) or rewards (e.g., a puppy) rarely work as it requires cognitive activation, whereas appealing to your child’s behavioural ability is more immediate and effective, especially when they are tired and perhaps anxious. b. **If getting worked up is the problem, then you might need to take things very slowly and offer your child extra re-assurance. Once anyone has become highly distressed, his or her ability to stick to a plan becomes compromised.

8. Finally, set a time-period, after which you will assess how things have gone, such as 2-3weeks. If things are going well, great – celebrate. If things aren’t going so great, try to identify what’s not working and why not.

9. Good luck;-)


Children go through stages and phases. Assessing whether you have a phase or a problem on your hands is tough. Bedtime and sleep routines can be disrupted by a child’s growth, changes (e.g., at school, with friends, or at home), holidays, or stress. If the sleep problem has persisted over 2-3weeks, then it’s probably time to try doing things differently as a new habit is likely becoming established.

Be mindful of trying to achieve (or enforce) what you think should be happening, and assess the situation for what is happening and what you would all like to work towards.

Sleep hygiene: setting up behaviours and environment conducive to sleep. For children, these include:

• Quiet activity and a technology free hour before bed
• A consistent bedtime routine
• A comfortable, dark room that is not too warm
• No stimulants at or after dinnertime (e.g., caffeine, sugary foods, chocolate, red-food colouring…)

Children can resist change, and so sometimes things get worse before better, especially with calling out or getting up after lights out. Aim to try a new routine for at least 2 weeks before assessing it.

Anxious children can present with sleep and separation difficulties. If you are concerned that your child might be a worrier or over-anxious, then seeking additional professional assistance is advised.

Sleep associations/conditions/aids/crutches are things that we become accustomed to (and reliant on) for going to sleep. For children, these may be a soft toy, or having a parent lie next to them in bed until they fall asleep. If a child becomes reliant on having a parent lull them to sleep, then chances are when they wake during the night, they will be unable to go back to sleep unaided – and call out for that parent. Helping your child fall asleep on their own and/or with sleep aids that they can keep with them all night also helps them to return to sleep on their own.

Disclaimer: This article outlines helpful strategies, but concedes that different approaches work for different people, and does not claim any guarantees, and does not aim to replace professional assistance.

Resolving Relationship Conflict

Posted on April 21, 2015 at 8:35 AM Comments comments (7003)

Resolving relationship conflict

Your partner has hurt you – and they’re also feeling hurt by you. You’re both feeling upset, saddened, anxious, angry, resentful, or pissed off with each other. A stalemate: neither of you are apologising or making amends. Attempts to talk about the problem, (when you’re not avoiding it, or each other) turn into blame exchanges, leaving you both feeling worse…

Here’s what you can try:

1. Schedule a date to talk. You’ll need time, space, and privacy.

2. Set up a structure, as well as roles, for your talk:

a. Prepare a list of grievances (using “I feel…” sentences) that are relevant to the current issue before your scheduled talk

b. Take turns being the speaker, then the listener, and decide who will go first

c. The speakers role is to stay on the agenda (i.e., the current issue), discuss your grievances as calmly as possible, use “I feel…” sentences, avoid the urge to blame, and finish speaking when you have communicated your grievances

d. The listeners role is to listen (as attentively as possible), to resist the urge to defend yourself, counter-attack, blame, or run, and to then apologise, as sincerely as possible. Remember that you cannot argue how someone feels – that’s their experience. It’s possible that they are thinking somewhat unrealistically, but their emotions are real for them. Be mindful that you are both hurt, so your ability to have empathy towards each other is diminished. Perhaps, pretend that you’re hearing about how someone else made your partner feel in order for you to feel compassion towards their emotions and experience.

e. After taking turns, focus on practical measures you can each put into place (e.g., scheduling another time for further discussion, making changes to your routine, division of house-work, coping strategies, communication styles…).

3. Evaluate the process for you individually, consider:

a. Did you communicate what you wanted to discuss?

b. How well did you feel listened to?

c. How well did you listen?

d. Do you think your partner’s grievances were valid?

e. Are you okay with the outcomes?

f. What do you need to do differently?

Disclaimer:  If ongoing conflict or disharmony has become the norm in your relationship, then seeking couples counselling (and committing to it – and acknowledging that it will likely take time…) is advised. This article outlines helpful strategies, but concedes that different approaches work for different people, and does not claim any guarantees, and does not aim to replace professional assistance.