EFT honours close relationships and supports healthy needs for connection with significant others.
You may be experiencing distress in your relationships with others (partners, offspring, family members) or within yourself. Research in EFT for Couples has identified that severity of relationship distress at presentation for therapy does not predict the outcome. This means that highly distressed couples can be helped with EFT if they both want to give their relationship a chance to improve and are willing to engage in the therapeutic process. Relationship distress can impact mental health, and mental health can impact relationships. Individuals with severe mental health problems (such as severe OCD, suicidality or psychosis) will likely benefit from assistance from a GP, psychiatrist or clinical psychologist to help them stabilise before or during the process of EFT treatment.
EFT is informed by attachment theory, developed by the British psychiatrist Dr John Bowlby.
Dr Bowlby drew attention to the inborn need in all of us to seek contact with other humans, especially when we are lonely, frightened, sick or sad.
Having confidence that our needs will be met builds emotional security. In being available and responsive to the needs of their infants and children, Bowlby observed that parents can provide a “safe haven” of comfort and support, and over time become “a secure base” from which the growing child ventures out into the world to explore and develop his or her potential. Bowlby’s clinical work with grieving widows has also expanded our understanding of grief as attachment protest. Social psychologists in North America, Cindy Hazan and Phil Shaver furthered the research with couples, drawing attention to romantic love in adults meeting lifelong needs for a safe haven and a secure base.
Distressing conflict or alienation in close relationships can create high levels of negative emotions in anyone, which typically drive negative interactions between partners or family members, resulting in an insecure attachment bond.
The more insecure the emotional bond, the more negative emotions are experienced, triggering more negative interactions, thus creating self-perpetuating loops of distress. EFT for Couples supports partners to interrupt negative patterns of interaction and discover new ways of sharing more primary emotions and needs that draws the other partner close, thereby creating more emotional security in the relationship. With greater security, partners can become a safe haven and secure base for each other, which benefits not only them but also any offspring they may have.
The Diversity of EFT
There are three modes of EFT, all of which are offered by experienced EFT Therapists at our Spring Hill clinic.
Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT-C)
EFT-C supports couples and relationships to interrupt negative interactional cycles, which creates safety to deepen awareness and expression of primary emotions and needs. The goal is for couples and relationships to establish deeper and more secure connections.
Emotionally Focused Individual Therapy (EFIT)
EFIT focuses on individuals to develop healthy emotional processing and expression, and better mental health. Clients are supported to learn to trust their own experience, to accept their own feelings and to communicate clearly with their important others in ways that build more effective relationships.
Emotionally Focused Family Therapy (EFFT)
EFFT aims to identify and change the patterns of distance or enduring conflict that typically block security and closeness in family relationships. Family members are supported to identify and express their deeper emotions and needs, thereby promoting healthy emotional connection amongst members. Parents are supported to respond to the emotional needs and developmental tasks of their children across the life span, assisting them to build resilience.
The Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) Model
In their second edition of An Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples: The Two of Us, authors Veronica Kallos-Lilly and Jennifer Fitzgerald (2022, p2) explain EFT as follows:
Emotionally Focused Therapy, or EFT for short, was developed in the 1980’s by Dr. Susan Johnson (Emeritus Professor at University of Ottawa; Founder of the Ottawa Couples and Family Institute and the International Centre for Excellence in EFT) and Dr. Leslie Greenberg (Emeritus Professor at York University, Toronto). These researchers developed the first EFT manual following many, many hours of watching and analysing recordings of couples’ therapy sessions, all the while asking questions and delving into the whys and wherefores of the change process.
The initial model of EFT therapy was later strengthened by Dr Johnson’s integration of knowledge about attachment and bonding in close relationships. No longer do emotions need to be swept away under the carpet; instead, and none too soon, in this model of therapy, each partner’s emotional experience is respectfully acknowledged, understood and worked through. Together, partners learn how to live in their relationship so as to create the closeness and security they desire. They learn to recognise their emotional needs for safety and connection and learn to ask in soft and non-blaming ways for their partners to help meet their needs. Emotions, as Sue Johnson says, are “the music of the attachment dance”. As emotions are understood and responded to, the dance changes; couples are then able to move from turmoil and struggle on the “dance floor”, to movements of grace, harmony, and closeness. EFT helps partners tune into their important feelings and needs and then put those feelings and needs across in ways that draw the other closer and invites positive response.
EFT is an approach to couples’ therapy that works. Not only do couples usually like the approach, they usually experience substantial change, even in relationships that have been characterised by significant distress and heartache. Research has established that 86 to 90% of couples undertaking a course of EFT report significant improvement and 70 to 75% of couples recover from their distress. These changes have been found to last over time, even in conditions of high stress such as having a seriously ill child as well as betrayals like affairs. The approach and its related educational programs have been tested in a range of different populations, including with couples where one partner is depressed, experiencing sexual difficulties or health problems such as heart attack or cancer.
From a practical perspective, EFT focuses on organising and processing emotions. This facilitates more clear and supportive communication, leading to more positive interactions.