Couples in pain ultimately seek counseling for one reason: they have lost the ability to communicate effectively. Many couples often wait far too long to get the help they need to get the relationship back on track. Once these couples step foot in the therapist’s office they feel desperate for a quick fix to what may have taken years to break down. This task can be daunting for even your most experienced therapist because it is hard to unpack layers of hurt, distrust, and miscommunication to get couples back to a place of peace, love, and admiration for one another. Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT Therapy) is a treatment that therapists can use to help speed up the process of healing relationships.
Instead of taking the traditional route of sitting on the therapist’s couch and taking turns blaming each other for the problems in the relationship, in EFT couples learn how to rebuild a brand new, healthy relationship via empathy, awareness, reflection, regulation, and transformation of emotion. In other words, the goal of EFT is not to repair your old, tired and broken down relationship. The goal is to create new anchors in the relationship centered on positive emotions.
The concept was founded by Drs. Les Greenberg and Sue Johnson and drawn from attachment theory which states human innately desire strong emotional bonds with others. Greenberg and Johnson found couples have relationship issues when they have experienced emotional disconnection with their partner at key moments. According to the doctors, this disconnection is accompanied by cycles of anger, avoidance, criticism, and other negative reactions. Therefore, EFT seeks to help couples overcome the negative cycles, reconnect, and build stronger emotional bonds.
EFT is a widely excepted method of couple’s therapy with significant research supporting its effectiveness. In fact, it has been reported that 90% of all couples treated using this method healed their previously distressed relationship. These results appear to be less susceptible to relapse than those from other approaches. For this reason, EFT is a highly recommended protocol for relationship counseling.
The effectiveness of EFT in treating romantic couples has been well documented but, other types of relationships such as families (especially parents and children) have also been healed using EFT. The work families do in these emotionally intense sessions helps restore attachment bonds. If any of the participants are uncomfortable with reliving the past in order to engage emotions then EFT therapy might not be the best treatment for them.
EFT therapy can create experiences that will transform your relationship and provide an opportunity for healing to take place. The founders of this approach believe most of what we experience in relationships that look and feel like our partner’s intentional decision to cause us pain might actually be our partner’s expression of their longing for connection with us.
Dr. Johnson conducted extensive research on couples in distress and noted the following three attachment strategies that show up in relationships:
- Anxious– The partner who always seems to be angry or aggressive. He/she might constantly argue, criticize, yell or claim to love you more than you love them.
- Avoidance– The partner who walks away from a good fight. He/she avoids arguments at all costs and is often reproached for lacking communication skills.
- Fearful– The partner who seems hot one minute and cold the next. They want to be close to you but they want you to stay away at the same time.
All of the attachment strategies described above are simply a person’s way of expressing their need for connection with their partner (Johnson, 2004). When we misinterpret these attachment strategies in relationships we begin the negative cycles that lead to breakdowns in communication.
Johnson, S.M. (2004). Creating Connection: The Practice of Emotionally Focused Marital Therapy. New York: Brunner/Mazel.