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Everything You Need to Know About Emotionally Focused Therapy

ThriveTalk Staff ∙ Updated: 06/27/2020 Medically Reviewed 

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Have you ever been told you do not handle emotions effectively?

Do you and your partner argue all of the time over little things?

Have you ever wondered why some things bother you more than they bother others?

The following will give you more information about Emotionally Focused therapy and how this therapy works…

Emotionally focused therapy: What is it?

Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) is an intervention that can be used with couples and families.  It was developed to address issues that are present in intimate relationships of adults, improve emotional bonding, and development of trust in relationships to help them progress positively.

When working with couples, this therapy is used to assist the couples to form more appropriate reactions to their emotions and building empathy to become more aware of the emotions of his or her significant others.  This technique assists couples in strengthening their relationships through emotional bonding.  It helps the couple to gain more trust and reduce anger or betrayal that may be present.

When working with families, this therapy is used to assist the family to become stronger and reduce conflict and other issues that may be present to cause discord.  This technique assists families to become more aware of their own emotions and how these play a role in the household.  It can help to improve communication by building empathy.  It has been shown to be effective when working with families that have issues with trauma and illnesses.

Emotion-Focused Coping

Emotion-focused coping is a technique that is used to help the client become more aware of his or her emotional reactions and how these are triggered by stressors that are present in life.  This coping technique is used to alter the way an individual experiences situations so that they can be more appropriate in the responses that are present.  If a person is emotionally reactive and does this in a negative manner which can hinder work and home this technique can assist in reducing these reactions so that they can become more open to expressing emotions rationally and not in a manner which can cause other issues to manifest.

Emotionally Focused Therapy Theory

The theory that guided the development of this therapy is the attachment theory.  It has been found that a person is healthier through emotional contact and when he or she feels safe in the interactions that they have with others.  This therapy is based on the idea that issues in relationships are often surrounding feelings of abandonment and how the individual reacts to these fears.  This can cause conflict in the relationship and also cause issues with intimacy and trust.

One of the main focuses of this therapy is to help the individual overcome the insecurities that are present.  In doing this an individual can reduce negative reactions, conflict, and strengthen the attachment of the relationship.

How Does Emotionally Focused Therapy Suggest the Mind Works?

This therapy identifies the importance of secure attachment and if an individual does not feel secure in their attachments with significant others or loved ones it can cause them to feel unsafe or in danger.  When an individual feels this danger they may negatively respond due to the fight-or-flight response being triggered.  If the brain feels that they are not secure or safe it immediately starts to become anxious, negatively respond, or find coping mechanisms which may not be effective.  When a mind works in panic or anxiety mode, it has a higher prevalence to participate in negative behaviors, conflicts, or emotionally driven responses.

In knowing that the mind may work in this manner, this therapy works with individuals to become more present in the here and now and working in developing an appropriate manner to respond to distress.  This can help to strengthen relationships and increase more positive feelings and also feeling safer.

How Does Emotionally Focused Therapy Cause Change?

This therapy works to assist the client to become more aware of his or her emotions and also the responses that they have when these emotions occur.  When a client becomes more aware of his or her emotions they are more capable of understanding emotional experiences and how these can cause conflict and distress in relationships.  This therapy works to assist individuals to use emotions to help them to develop more appropriate responses that can lead to healthy and meaningful lives.  It helps to reshape the emotional responses to help form a more positive mood to assist in the change process and make it beneficial and worthwhile.

What Happens in an Emotionally Focused Therapy Session

When using this therapy approach there are three different phases that are present throughout the therapy sessions.  The first phase is the assess and de-escalation phase.  The goal of this phase is to work to uncover the underlying emotional problems and begin to change the way that the clients perceive these problems.  Many times when a person responds to things in a negative or reactive manner it is due to underlying feelings and emotions.  Identifying and overcoming these underlying feelings is imperative to improve relationships.  Phase two is the change events phase.  This phase is focused on creating new and more appropriate emotional experiences to replace the negative experiences that were present in the past.  This phase works on communication and developing more appropriate communication skills needed to effectively express feelings and emotions.  The final phase is the consolidation of the change phase.  This phase works to wrap up the sessions by resolving old conflicts and problems and developing a plan for continued positive changes after the therapy process is over.

Techniques Used in Emotionally Focused Therapy

EFT sessions normally surround the development of increased awareness and acceptance of one’s emotions and learning to express emotions effectively to avoid negative behaviors and other negative reactions to emotions.  A therapist that uses this technique has to maintain a compassionate, non-judgemental, empathetic listening skills, and a reflective approach.  This allows the client to become more open to expressing emotions and also gaining a more clear understanding of their emotions.

Throughout the first phase of EFT the therapist can use empathetic listening, genuine interaction, normalizing mirroring or reflecting, reframing individual experiences, track and reflect a problem or problem cycles, and redirection.  All of these techniques assist the client to become more aware of their emotions and how their emotions can affect themselves and also others.  It helps the client become more confident in the changes that are occurring.

Throughout the second phase of EFT the therapist can use validation, heightening of emotions, evocative responding, empathic speculation, emotion coaching, restructuring, redirection, and encouragement and support.  Using these techniques allows the clients to be heard, feel what they are saying are appropriate and continue to become more open to the change process.  During this phase, modeling and role-playing may be used by the therapist the assist the client to learn more effective ways to improve emotional responses and reduce negative reactions.

Throughout the third and final phase of EFT the therapist can use encouragement and support and aftercare teaching.  When a client feels encouraged they can be more open to the change process and maintain positive changes that have occurred.  It is important that aftercare and a plan is developed in the final stage so that individuals can maintain the progress that occurred throughout therapy.

Couples Therapy

Using EFT throughout couples therapy is an effective approach to reduce conflict and distress that is present.  Many times when couples are in discord there are underlying feelings that are present.  When the couples can become more aware of the underlying emotions and start to overcome these they can strengthen their emotional bond and increase the trust that may have been damaged throughout the discord.

Emotionally Focused Therapy

Does Emotionally Focused Therapy Work?

This therapy has been studied for many years and it has been found to be effective with couples.  It has been found to decrease distress within relationships and assist partners to communicate more appropriately and successfully.  Research has shown that the skills learned by couples throughout the EFT process had positive effects for many years after therapy ended.

What Kinds of Concerns is Emotionally Focused Therapy Best For?

If an individual has had unsuccessful attempts to control his or her emotions this would be an effective therapeutic approach that could be used.  If an individual experiences depression or anxiety, he or she may not be aware of his or her emotions and this can cause hurdles in the therapy process.  Using this approach, the counselor works to assist the client to become more aware of emotions which can help the change process.

If an individual has a history of childhood abuse or neglect they may have many underlying feelings that this approach can help them to overcome.

Eating disorders are effectively treated using this approach to assist clients in forming a more healthy relationship with food.

Borderline personality disorder can be maintained through this approach by assisting a client to become more aware of their emotions and learning more effective ways to express themselves and communicate with others.

Couples in distress would benefit from therapy using this approach.

How are Emotionally Focused Therapy Specialists Trained?

For an individual to be considered a specialist in EFT he or she has to undergo supervision and training to become certified in this approach.  The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused therapy (ICEEFT) has been developed to assist in certification and training on this approach. Professionals that work with couples and would like to be trained and certified have to show proof of his or her profession before they will be able to be trained through the ICEEFT.

For an individual to become certified he or she has to gain a clear understanding of the basic concepts of EFT, conceptualize couple distress and relationship repair based on theories of attachment and emotion, develop skills in helping partners reprocess the emotional responses that maintain relational distress, develop skills in helping partners shape new interaction patterns and bonding events, and develop skills to overcome therapeutic impasses with couples.  Once training has occurred, the individual has to undergo supervision from a trained supervisor in EFT.

Concerns/Limitations of Emotionally Focused Therapy

EFT helps individuals become more responsive to their internal experiences and emotions.  If an individual experiences panic or impulse control issues they may have disproportionate responses to emotions and feelings.  This approach may not be effective when working with these issues because it may heighten the panic or impulse control that is already present.

This approach requires the clients to be open and honest.  If an individual is not able to be open and honest throughout the counseling process they may not gain effectiveness from this approach because they are not able to be compassionate or aware of feelings.

Important Practitioners in Emotionally Focused Therapy

EFT was developed by Leslie Greenberg and Sue Johnson in the mid-1980s.  They worked to develop this approach to assist with couples therapy. Johnson later began the ICEEFT to assist with the certification and training of EFT specialists.  Greenberg worked with colleagues to shift the utilization of this approach during individual counseling sessions.

How to Find a Therapist?

There are many local resources to find therapy.  Psychology Today has a list of providers in local areas and also identifies the modalities of the providers.  Word of mouth is a great way to seek a counselor.  More people are getting help and asking a trusted friend could assist you in finding the provider that is right for you.  If you have private insurance you can contact your insurance provider and they can give you a list of providers that may be covered in your area.

What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?

If you are looking for a counselor with a specific certification you can locate this through the website of this certification.  ICEEFT is an international organization that identifies certified practitioners throughout the world.

Questions to ask for Potential Therapist?

If you are looking for couples counseling, it is important that you ask the therapist if they have experience with couples.  It is important also to ask if they have any continuing education or training in EFT if this is an approach you would feel is beneficial.  Most therapists are open to talking about what certifications, training, and experience that they have.

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Here at ThriveTalk, we’re all about providing honest therapy for everybody. We understand therapy can feel like a big commitment and that it can feel scary or shameful. That’s why we’ve created this blog, to talk about tough subjects and demystify the world of mental health and therapy. And that’s also why we try to be straightforward and upfront in everything that we do. We have our pricing here, and you can meet some of our therapists here.

Through all of this, our job is to help you in whatever way we can, whether that’s answering your questions or helping walk you through the hard times in your life. So if you think therapy could be helpful, just have a few simple questions, or just plain don’t know what to do, get in touch with us here, and we’ll do everything we can to help you make the best choice for your life. We’re here to help you take care of you.

Final Thoughts on Emotionally Focused Therapy

Emotions can cause an individual to behave in a manner that he or she does not normally react.  If an individual has manifested or underlying emotions he or she could be reactive and this could hinder successful relationships, interpersonal relationships, work, and other daily activities.  Seeking support for negative reactions and responses is imperative to overcome these hurdles.  EFT is an approach that is effective when working with couples and families.  It helps to strengthen relationships and emotional bonds by assisting individuals to become more aware of their emotions and how these have an effect on others.  When an individual is aware of their emotions they can have successful relationships, careers, communication, and an overall more positive outlook on life.

About the author 

ThriveTalk Staff


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