Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)

The Emotionally Focused Therapy has been in use in various settings like clinics and hospitals and promising results have been achieved. Emotionally focused therapy refers to a therapeutic approach which is grounded in scientific studies and usually used as an intervention to address issues emerging from intimate relationships.  Majorly, the bonds and processes that exist between couples are of great interest to the therapist since the goal is usually to help the couple reconnect and develop a better emotional attachment. Generally, the major goal of this therapy is to help those in treatment to improve their connection, security, and closeness when engaging in intimate relationships.

Emotionally Focused Therapy: What is it?

Emotionally Focused Therapy is a type of therapy that primarily works with couples and has a focus on attachment and bonding.  This type of therapy can also be used with families to strengthen attachment within family members.  This type of therapy is a short term session that usually last from 10-30 minutes that provides three states: exploration, clarification, and action stages.    This type of emotional therapy is used so that emotions in the human body activated and help the client realize and change problematic emotional levels or self experiences that are not wanted. The therapist looks for the couples interactions, reflects process, finds patterns in the relationship, emotional signals, and helps expand those signals.

Emotion-Focused Coping

Emotionally Focused Therapy has brought great insights into emotion-focused coping which is a major aspect of stress management. Emotional-focused coping is, therefore, a kind of stress management which focuses wholly on negative emotional responses which surface when one is exposed to stressors. General emotions like depression, fear and anxiety are referred to as negative emotions and through different coping methods, the individual is able to reduce and even eliminate them completely. Emotion-focused coping can be classified as either or negative. The positive emotion-focused coping is generally beneficial to the individual and involves writing, journaling, talking and meditating about these negative emotions. conversely, negative emotion-focused coping is usually harmful to the individual since the individual uses poor coping skills like avoidance and suppression of the negative emotions.

Emotionally Focused Therapy Theory

The primary goal of this Emotional Focused Therapy is to arouse the emotional awareness and be at a lived experience of a fear, shame, etc, in order to transform it. 

How Does Emotionally Focused Therapy Suggest the Mind Works?

The Emotionally Focused Therapy is based on the attachment theory under the concept that emotional contact and secure connections with others makes people healthier. As a result, fear of abandonment is the major cause of distress in a person and an emotional response to the fear may arouse problems among partners thus compromising their relationship. Consequently, a negative interaction pattern among partners emerges when the emotional needs of any partner are not met. As a result, the partners focused majorly on attempting to provide an understanding of their needs and emotions to each other. Based on the attachment theory, the conflicts that arise among couples stem from the feelings of insecurity related to the attachment with the partner. Therefore, to solve insecurity issues among couples, the therapist addresses the roots of the insecurity and assist the couple in learning new interaction techniques in a more responsive, loving and emotionally connected way.

How Does Emotionally Focused Therapy Cause Change?

The Emotionally Focused Therapy cause changes by focusing on the present time and making the required changes at the moment. This change will be facilitated by the therapist who links the clients’ dynamic to home dynamic after conducting careful observations. As a result, the therapist will be able to assist the clients in adapting new interactions and conversations which are built on honest feelings. Also, the therapist creates a platform whereby the clients get an insight into their current emotional problems with an aim of realizing new emotions which they are not aware of. When a client discovers these emotional vulnerabilities, they eventually learn new techniques for expressing these emotions in a manner that supports a healthy connection with the partner. In this case, change is experienced when one is able to listen and be aware of their partner’s emotions and realize more effective ways of responding to emotional situations.

What Happens in an Emotionally Focused Therapy Session?

In this therapy, each session addresses a specific issue depending on the stage of treatment. Basically, the session draws closely on the principles used in person-centered therapy. In this, the therapist views the couple as the experts of their relationship. This approach provides the client with a platform to understand themselves better by speaking. During the session, the therapist engages in counseling skills like active listening, empathy, and questioning. Therefore, the main goal of each session is to help the couples understand one another’s emotions and how these emotions affect the relationship.

Techniques Used in Emotionally Focused Therapy

There are several techniques which are used in the emotionally focused therapy. To start with, this therapeutic treatment takes place in stages which are made up of various steps. In the first sessions, the therapist focuses majorly on helping the clients to de-escalate conflict as well as an assessment of the couple’s interaction styles. In the middle stage revolves around change whereby the couple with the assistance of a therapist find new methods of forming stronger and new bonds in the relationship. In the final stage, the focus is on assisting the couples in becoming independent during the identification of attachment problems that underlie conflict. However, there are more specific techniques used by the therapist when conducting this therapy. Empathetic listening is a key technique for this therapy whereby the therapist tries to assume the client’s perspective on issues. In addition to empathetic listening, genuine interaction is also an important technique which assists the therapist in establishing a healthy relationship with the client. Finally, validation technique is equally important since it reduces feelings of blame by the client and arouses a feeling of acceptance.

Couples Therapy

A couple’s therapy is a kind of psychotherapy that has links to emotionally focused therapy. In couple’s therapy, the therapists aim at assisting the couples in understanding their relationship better, improve relationship satisfaction and also resolving conflicts. As a way of supplementing the therapy, the couples can use the couple’s satisfaction checklist with the assistance of the therapist. This checklist provides great insights to the couples on the twelve different aspects of their relationship and also their satisfaction levels in relation to the relationship. Some of these aspects include sexual intimacy, parenting issues, conflicts and arguments, roles in the relationship and common interests.

Does Emotionally Focused Therapy Work?

This therapy works effectively, especially when reconstructing problematic relationships whereby it improves the relationship and also reconnects people. Generally, EFT works since the focus is on both the negative and positive emotions, how to regulate emotions and how these emotions can be transformed. Also, discovering the emotional vulnerabilities between couples helps to understand the issues underlying the conflict. From the EFT, one gets to learn new and healthy ways of reconnecting and be aware of another’s feelings. Currently, research has proven that EFT is highly effective. The researchers have approximated that about 70% to 80% of couples treated for distress are highly receptive and end up recovering. Having 90% of couples improving their relationships significantly. Finally, follow-up research conducted on couples treated using EFT revealed that the positive effects of the EFT were still effective even after years of treatment.

What Kinds of Concerns is Emotionally Focused Therapy Best For?

The EFT therapy is not only used for a couple but also can be used in the treatment of people experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. In addition to treating these mental disorders, EFT can also be used to treat individuals where the person is thought intrapersonal interactions and healthy emotional bonding. Therefore, the client will be undertaken through a process of understanding their own emotional response and emotions. Thirdly, EFT can be used to address family issues by assisting the family members to reconnect with each other thus improving family bonds and improving a sense of belonging by the family members. In a family setting, EFT can be used to address eating disorders, divorce, behavioral problems, and children reaching adolescence.

How Are Emotionally Focused Therapy Specialists Trained?

The training of the EFT specialists is quite similar to the training of other mental health professionals. However, the academic and licensing requirements vary from state to state. However, there are various educational levels for EFT therapists which include the undergraduate, master and doctoral studies. However, the major areas of focus during their training is based on social work, child psychology, counseling skills, marriage and family therapies. However, for one t be a certified EFT specialist, there is a range of skills that one needs to have including basic EFT skills, understanding of attachment perspective, couple and their attachment needs, emotional bonding between couples and ability to assist the couple in healthy reconnecting after conflicts and injuries.

Concerns/Limitations of Emotionally Focused Therapy

This type of therapy can effectively be used with most families, couples, and individuals. However, like other psychotherapies, there are limitations which make it more ineffective when addressing various issues. To start with, EFT cannot be used for couples experiencing violence in their relationship. Considering this, the person requires safety more than the EFT in order to be able to address emotional issues more comfortably. In addition to violence, EFT is inappropriate for people with substance abuse problems since they are self-medicating themselves. This is a common phenomenon in almost all psychotherapies. However, in EFT, this is exceptional when treating persons with dual diagnoses. Finally, EFT faces contradictions when dealing with clients experiencing instability and severe psychological symptoms like suicidal thoughts and psychosis. As a result, the client needs to be treated first by a psychiatrist in order to achieve stability then afterward the EFT can be used.

Important Practitioners in Emotionally Focused Therapy

In an EFT session, the most important practitioners include the EFT therapist who is licensed mental health professionals and has some additional experience and training in the field of Emotion-Focused Therapy. In addition, there are other practitioners which include the therapists, psychologists, family nurse, clinical social workers, counselors, and psychiatrists. However, for all these specialists to use the EFT in treatment, they must be licensed and certified by the related body. However, the licensing and certification processes differ from state to state and also the specialty. The commonly used licensure includes the Licensed marriage & family therapist (LMFT), the licensed professional counselors (LPC) and (LCADAC) licensed clinical alcohol and drugs abuse counselor.

How to Find a Therapist

As a client looking for assistance from a Licensed Mental Health Practitioner (LMHP), there are various factors to consider. First, confirming the validity of the license is of great importance since it confirms the credibility of the services offered. Also, the area of specialization is also of importance since this will assist in evaluating whether the counselor is competent in addressing your issue. Also, comfortability is key when looking for an LMHP. Looking for a counselor whom you are comfortable with creates a healthy environment free from fear thus providing a better platform for realizing new personal vulnerabilities.  The most popular places to look for a therapist is Psychology Today or calling the number on the back of your insurance card to request referrals.

What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?

To find a therapist takes quite some time and there is a need to be patient and careful since there are many psychotherapists offices not all are suitable for your problem.  Generally, one can find a therapist in a clinical setting, EFT communities, and clinics among others.

Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist

1.  Do you have experience working with couples and/or families?

2.  Do you know how to implement Emotionally Focused Therapy techniques?

3.  What is your approach when working with couples and/or families?

4.  What will I be expected to do in a therapy session?

Find a Therapist Now

You can find a therapist and search by type of therapy, demographic area and insurance coverage at: www.psychologytoday.com . 

Final Thoughts on Emotionally Focused Therapy

The Emotionally focused therapy is highly effective especially when dealing with issues affecting couples and families. This therapy is based on the idea that insecurities arising from attachment between couples can be the underlying issue for conflicts between couples. However, focusing on the emotional responses and emotions with the assistance of a licensed therapist is key to developing a healthy reconnection between couples. Also, EFT is not only used for a couple but also can be used in families to treat eating disorders, children reaching adolescence, trauma, and depression. Unfortunately, there are several contradictions which have compromised the effectiveness of EFT. This means that EFT is quite inappropriate in treating people experiencing violence, severe psychological problems and people with substance abuse problem. However, research has proven EFT to be effective having 90% of couples treated using EFT showing great improvements. Additionally, follow up studies have revealed that couples treated using EFT displayed positive effects of the therapy even several years after undergoing the therapeutic sessions. Therefore, EFT has solved many family and relationship problems thus improving people’s quality of life.

author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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