Couples Therapy > Emotional Focused Therapy

Emotional Focused Therapy (EFT)

EFT is a structured short term (8 to 20 sessions) approach to couples therapy.

By Dan Pollets. There is research that speaks to its effectiveness (studies show that 70-75% of couples move from distress to recovery) and it is based on a clear, explicit conceptualization of marital distress and adult love. EFT is theoretically grounded in work of John Bowlby, an English analyst who researched and wrote on childhood attachment and separation distress. Bowlby’s writings highlighted how attachment needs are “hard wired” and highly adaptive to human survival, well-being and psychological and physical health. When basic attachment needs are thwarted, Bowlby holds, and we can’t “find” our partners (they are perceived as not available, engaged or responsive), separation distress is signaled, strong emotion evoked and actions follow which propel the couple into the dysfunction dynamic or problematic “dance” that defines their suffering.

The objective of EFT is for the therapist to

  • First create safety and security between the couple and the therapist (“safe haven”).
  • Second, to expand and re-organize key emotional responses to separation distress which lead to the "negative cycle" between partners.
  • Third, the therapist works specifically on the interaction itself or the "dance".

This entails directing partner's attention to how negative responses are triggered when one either protests separation distress or withdrawals. This mutually reinforcing interactive response cycle becomes the "enemy" in the treatment not figuring out who is right.

Fourth, the therapist encourages partners to reach for each other, to reveal deep emotions and vulnerabilities that underlie the action patterns.

This creates a shift in the interactional positions and initiates new and positive cycles. The "distancing" partner is encouraged express underlying needs and wants (and not withdrawal in reaction to “protest”). In turn, the "blamer" is encouraged to soften her protest over not receiving emotional support and to make requests for intimacy to her partner. This changes the dance and has a positive impact on developing intimacy between partners.