Emotionally connected, loving relationships can help us to thrive, strengthening both our mental and physical health, and supporting our ability to be resilient in the face of inevitable life challenges and stresses. Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples (EFT) is a structured and highly effective approach developed by Dr. Sue Johnson and is backed-up by over 30 years of ongoing research (www.drsuejohnson.com). Approximately 90% of couples taking advantage of this treatment show significant improvements in their relationships according to recent studies (www.iceeft.com).
Human beings are biologically hardwired to create and maintain emotional connection with others. EFT provides a well-researched method that addresses relationship conflict and disconnection making use of attachment and systems theory and the power of emotion. In EFT couples therapy, partners move through three stages of key change events in a series of carefully mapped-out steps, guided by the therapist. With empathy, validation and safety created by the therapist, partners gain deep understanding of their conflicts and negative cycles of interaction that lead to not feeling close. Negative cycles are considered to be fueled by deep emotion and longing. As partners develop their ability to identify the negative “dance” that has kept them stuck, they begin to move towards greater vulnerability and sharing vs. getting caught in the never-ending loop of defensiveness, critical attack, avoidance or stonewalling.
EFT is considered to be a short-term model of couples therapy with some research suggesting that 12 to 20 sessions can be an approximate time-frame to create lasting change. In the first three to four sessions, an EFT couples therapist works to gain a strong working alliance with each partner, getting to know each of them and the relationship they have co-created.
After the initial assessment session that a couple attends together, each partner is scheduled for an individual assessment session. In these individual sessions, each partner’s experience of the relationship conflict and negative cycles of interaction are more fully addressed. In addition, attachment relationships and emotional experiences impacting them during the growing-up years is also discussed.
The first stage of EFT couples therapy then focuses on “de-escalation” and working to free the couple from the stuck negative patterns that have been the true “enemy” of closeness. Using validation, reflection, empathic presence and conjecture, the therapist actively guides the couple in creating space for often unacknowledged emotions and the softer feelings of hurt, pain, despair and longing. If this first stage of therapy is successful, partners will be able to move forward and embark on further change.
In the second stage of EFT couples therapy, the primary focus is on helping partners to ask for their needs to be met from a place of greater vulnerability. The more withdrawn or avoidant partner is guided through a process of becoming more open and responsive, taking the emotional risk of sharing and asserting their needs in the relationship vs. continued avoidance or shut-down. Then the previously more reactive and pursuing spouse is guided in risking and expressing their own fears and longing directly to their partner.
The final and third stage of EFT supports the couple in strengthening the hard-earned changes and growth in their relationship that they have worked hard to create. The couple can begin to tackle new solutions together to challenges that they face. EFT couples therapy is truly a way for all partners to strengthen their relationships.