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Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples

Posted on June 29, 2019 at 2:30 AM

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.

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