What is Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)?

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a form of therapy that prioritises emotion in informing us about our deepest needs and values and privileges our special bonds with those who matter most to us.

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Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is an attachment-based model of therapy that draws on the power of emotion and attachment to build secure bonds between people who matter to each other. All humans need connection to flourish, and it is painful to become disconnected from those who matter to us. EFT helps to build security in attachment bonds to enhance well-being.

EFT can be used with individuals, couples, relationships and families and aims to help people to express, explore and understand their reactions, behaviours and thoughts; all with a view to helping them to connect with their deepest needs and with the people who matter to them. This then allows them to live more full, satisfying and connected lives.

EFT is best known as a cutting edge couple and relationship intervention but has always, from its inception, been used in clinical practice with individuals and with families, especially with clients dealing with depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder. The skills taught in EFT for couples/relationships are considered pivotal in that they combine working with individuals and with dyads. The most obvious way that EFT for individuals (EFIT) differs from modalities where attachment figures are present in therapy is that corrective dialogues focus on a client’s interaction with the therapist, or with representations of attachment figures, or aspects of self. It is important to note that, from an attachment perspective and a humanistic experiential perspective, the self is a process of constant construction which takes place in and is shaped by interactions with others. In all modalities EFT addresses self and system – it is inherently RELATIONAL.

Dr Sue Johnson
Founder of EFT & Director of the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT)

EFT for Couples & Relationships - EFCT

EFT is about building secure attachment bonds with the special people in your world.
We need secure attachment to flourish as humans.

EFT for couples and relationships has been extensively researched over the last 25 years with outstanding outcomes. EFT is usually a short term (8-20 sessions), structured approach to relationship therapy formulated in the early 80s by Dr Sue Johnson and Dr Les Greenberg.   Since then, Sue Johnson has further developed the model, utilising attachment theory to further understand relationships and to guide therapists in helping them most effectively.

Evidence-base for EFCT

A substantial body of research supporting the effectiveness of EFT for couples now exists. To date, most research on EFT has been conducted on dyadic couples; mostly cis-gendered and monogamous, but research is beginning to explore the effectiveness of EFT with more diverse relationships. Research studies find that 70-75% of couples move from distress to recovery and approximately 90% show significant improvements in relationship satisfaction. The major contraindications for EFT are lack of safety in the relationship such as violence, unacknowledged addictions, or ongoing boundary violations such as an affair in a couple with an expectation of monogamy.

Positive Impact of EFCT

EFT can assist by improving attachment security in many different kinds of relationships; couples and relationships of other configurations as well as families, friendships and work relationships. EFT is being used in private practice settings, university training centres, hospital clinics and workplaces. Not only does EFT improve relationships - EFT has been proven to be successful for assisting individual relationship members to improve their mental health. Improvements have been shown in those suffering from disorders such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorders and chronic illness as they work through a course of EFT for relationships.

What does EFT for couples and relationships look like?

EFT is all about attachment.

EFT focuses on repetitive cycles of interaction that partners get caught in where they trigger each other’s attachment panic and react in rigid, protective ways. Each partner’s best attempt to get their emotional needs met unfortunately triggers the other to react defensively and serves to create distance and pain, rather than closeness and emotional safety. We call this a negative pattern or cycle a "dance" because the steps are so well known and each partner affects the other intimately. Most intimately connected people know the steps of their pattern very well and often feel helpless to change the steps.

This is where EFT comes in. Instead of simply working on communication skills that can sometimes feel like a “band-aid” to the situation, EFT aims to help relationship members to see their pattern and exit it by sending more clear messages about emotional needs in ways that do not trigger the defenses and fears of their partner. EFT goes to the heart of the matter by uncovering the deeper needs and fears that often go unheard and by helping partners express these to one-another. This is how they create a new dance of connection, safety and security. EFT is deeply moving, satisfying and meaningful… And the positive changes are maintained at three-month and two-year follow-up in research studies.

Dr Sue Johnson talks about EFT for Relationships

Strengths of Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples & relationships

  • EFT is based on clear, explicit conceptualisations of relational distress and adult love. These conceptualisations are supported by empirical research on the nature of relational distress and adult attachment.
  • EFT is collaborative and respectful of clients combining experiential Rogerian techniques with structural systemic interventions. Change strategies and interventions are specified.
  • Key moves and moments in the change process have been mapped into nine steps and three change events.
  • EFT has been validated by over 20 years of empirical research. There is also research on the change processes and predictors of success.
  • EFT has been applied to many different kinds of problems and populations.
  • EFT is non-blaming.
  • EFT is not affiliated with any particular religious beliefs.
  • EFT is relevant for any relationship where its members are wanting to improve their sense of connection; whether they are mixed gender, same gender, monogamous, non-monogamous or of any relationship configuration.

Goals of Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples & relationships

  • Expanding and re-organising key emotional responses – the music of the attachment dance.
  • Honoring each partner's experience in an accepting, non-judgemental frame.
  • Reflecting the process when partners' signals flare defensiveness in each other.
  • Creating a shift in partner’s interactional positions and initiate new cycles of interaction.
  • Seeing and exiting stuck patterns of communication that erode attachment security and create distance.
  • Assisting partners to connect with their inner experiences, needs and longings, and to send clear signals to those who matter most.
  • Building relational bonds through shared vulnerability and mutual risk and reassurance.
  • Fostering the creation of a secure bond between partners.
  • Repairing hurts and damage to trust in a way that allows the bond to heal and grow stronger.
  • Building relational and personal flexibility, resilience and balance.

EFT for families - EFFT

EFFT is about building connections with yourself and with those who matter most in your world.

As EFT is based on attachment theory and focuses on building strong emotional bonds between people who matter to each other, it makes perfect sense that EFT is helpful for non-romantic relationships such as family groups. Taking in account self and system, EFFT helps to improve family cohesion and connection.

Dr Sue Johnson talks about EFT for Families

How does EFFT help families?

EFT for families (EFFT), focuses on the family system and interactional patterns between family members. EFFT aims to strengthen connections between members and to create secure bonds within the larger family group. EFFT does this by mapping and tracking patterns of miscommunication and misunderstanding, and by assisting participants in sending clear signals of need. This leads to the breaking down of "old" stuck ways of communicating and to the establishment of new communication patterns that build closeness. EFFT is effective in preventing escalation and resolving conflict, healing hurts and breeches of trust, promoting healthy communication, and in building strong family connections. EFFT differs from the EFT for couples/relationships model because instead of encouraging shared vulnerability from all parties (as in an adult egalitarian relationship), EFFT encourages parents/care-givers to send clear signals of care and support and younger family members to clearly express their attachment needs.

EFT for individuals (solo-therapy) - EFIT

EFIT is about deepening your connection to yourself in order to fully engage with your life.

It makes sense that this powerful model of therapy can be used to assist individuals. EFIT does this by harnessing the power of the therapeutic relationship and working with a person's emotional world and their attachment relationships to create positive change in their life. EFIT improves a person's mental health and well-being.

EFIT is an attachment science based approach to individual therapy that, like the other EFT interventions, EFCT for couples and EFFT for families, offers an integration of humanistic experiential interventions focused on reshaping intrapsychic experience and systemic interventions focused on reshaping patterns of engagement with significant others. Emotion is given precedence across treatment modalities given its powerful role in structuring both inner experience and motivation and key interactional patterns in relationships. Emotion links and organizes core experience and interaction.

Dr Sue Johnson talks about EFT for Individuals

How EFIT can help

EFIT focuses on emotion and patterns of emotional regulation (coping strategies) that people engage in that can become constraining to living a full and happy life.

EFIT looks at those patterns and how they play a role in creating and maintaining blocks in peoples' lives and in their relationships with others.

EFIT assists by tuning into the deeper emotions that we know contain vital information about what a person really needs and shapes corrective moments that lead to a sense of balance and a clear direction in life.

Aims of EFIT

EFIT aims to:

  • improve a person's connection with themselves,
  • to promote self-acceptance,
  • to increase awareness of needs,
  • to build emotional regulation skills, and
  • to develop clear communication skills.

The overall aim of EFIT is to create corrective emotional experiences that reshape a person's view of themselves and their ability to live a full and rich life, complete with strong connections with others and a strong value for themselves.

Evidence-base for EFIT

Research in EFT over the last 30 years has focused mainly on EFCT – EFT with couples and relationships. Outcome studies of EFIT and EFFT are currently underway across multiple sites in North America. We are so excited to hear about the outcomes of these studies.

The research on EFT for couples does link EFT interventions with individual change, for example in symptoms such as depression, anxiety and traumatic stress, in perceptions of relational intimacy forgiveness and satisfaction, and in attachment orientation, most often framed as a personality variable. 

Evidence-base for EFT  for couples/relationships

In terms of the gold standard set out by bodies such as APA for psychotherapy research, EFT epitomizes the very highest level set out by this standard. Over the last 30 years, the EFT research program has systematically covered all the factors set out in optimal models of psychotherapy research. Studies consistently show excellent follow-up results, and some studies show that significant progress continues after therapy. EFT has a body of process research showing that change does indeed occur in the way that the theory suggests. This level of linkage between in-session process and rigorous outcome measurement is unusual in the field of psychotherapy. The following links will allow those interested to read more about EFT and to explore the many research articles that have been completed over the last 30 years.

The evidence-base for EFT across modalities