What is EFT?

Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples

Since I’ve been in practice a long time, I’ve seen the field of couples therapy changed by two remarkable researchers. John Gottman, PhD, at the University of Washington, changed what we know about how couples function in crisis. He housed couples in an apartment on the Ship Canal, wired them up, and gave them problems to solve. He coded their physical and psychological processes. Eventually, he was able to predict who would get divorced within five years with 95% accuracy. These participants’ interactions were characterized by “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse of Marriage”: Contempt, Criticism, Defensiveness and Withdrawal. Subsequently he teamed with his wife to generate a therapy model to deal with these problems.
On a similar trajectory, Sue Johnson, PhD, at the University of British Columbia, had a different path. She looked at thousands of hours of couples in couples therapy. She also wired them up and coded responses. She analyzed her data to figure out what really works in couples therapy. She used attachment theory as a theoretical base and asked, “How can we make changes in the basic bond two people have with one another?” The answer was not problem-solving, nor teaching communication skills. Instead, she knew the pathway to corrective experiences was accessed through emotion. When people can calm down enough to identify and name their deeper feelings, they can consider taking the significant risk to share their deeper fears and longings. When the person they love can accept that vulnerability, that tenderness, something shifts between them and they move towards a more secure relationship.
When I first heard Sue give an address at a couples therapy conference, I was transfixed. It was so obvious, so “there in front of us the whole time” and yet unseen, almost hidden. We know babies must have this feeling of safety to survive. Of course as adults we all need to feel safely attached, deeply bonded to the person we love to survive with flexibility and joy.
The goal of changing an individual’s or a couple’s attachment style is almost audacious. Sue is the first to say this. And yet, it can happen. If you’ve been distant from one another for many years or if one or both of you has injured the basic bond between you (perhaps by going outside the relationship), it will not happen quickly. It is still worth your investment. The alternatives are quite painful.
You might enjoy these two videos, both featuring Dr. Sue Johnson, who developed Emotionally Focused Therapy. She has recently received the Royal Order of Canada from her home country and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Psychological Association:
There is also a Seattle EFT website that offers information about other Seattle area EFT therapists.

Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples

EFT is a short-term structured approach to couples therapy formulated in the 1980’s by Drs. Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg. This approach is also used with families and individuals. Interventions in EFT integrate a humanistic, experiential approach to restructuring emotional experience and a systemic structural approach to restructuring interactions. A substantial body of research now exists on the effectiveness of EFT. This research shows large treatement effect sizes and stable results over time. It is used with straight and gay, traditional, and non-traditional couples.

EFT is based on the new science of intimate relationships. It offers a clear focus on the elements of relationship distress delineated y recent research on emotion, relationship distress, and relationship satisfaction. EFT offers a map of relationships problems and strengths.

EFT provides a systematic set of strategies and interventions. The change process is mapped into three stages and nine steps. Change events have been outlined and linked to outcome. Process research has examined in-session change events and key interventions.

EFT is accepted as an empirically validated intervention by the American Psychological Association. It has been tested in different settings and by different researchers using rigorous research techniques. It has proven its effectiveness.

EFT has high generalizability in that is has been applied to many different kinds of distressed couples facing many different kinds of problems.

EFT is based on the first coherent and substantially validated theory of adult love—attachment theory. This explanatory framework allows for a coherent understanding of the drama of distress, the goals of therapy and the key moves and moments that define love relationships. EFT is able to address the strength of the bond between partners.

The goals of EFT are:

  • To expand and re-organize key emotional responses
  • To create a positive shift in partners’ interactional positions and patterns
  • To foster the creation of a secure bond between partners.

Material from ICEEFT Participants Manual: Creating Connection Seminars

There is also a Seattle EFT website that offers information about other Seattle area EFT therapists.