Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples is a short to medium term (usually around 12-20 sessions) structured approach that was originally developed in the 1980s by Dr Leslie Greenberg and Dr Sue Johnson in North America. There is significant research on this approach and it has been found that 70-75% of couples move from distress to recovery and that the gains are sustained for months to years following the end of treatment. As such, Emotionally Focused Therapy is an evidence based treatment protocol.

It is a humanistic and experiential approach which draws substantially from the principles of emotion theory and attachment theory. It is underpinned by the belief that emotions have an inherently adaptive potential which, if activated, can help the couple change their difficult emotional states and experiences.

Emotions are associated with our key needs and can alert us to situations important to our development and well-being.  They can also steer us in these important situations to take action towards meeting our needs. Attachment theory views emotions as essential in the experience of self; in both adaptive and maladaptive functioning and in therapeutic change.

Attachment is sustained by responsiveness and availability of the partner or attachment figure, and by emotional engagement and contact. When those are felt to be uncertain, attachment becomes insecure and partners will fall into a pattern of protest, clinging, depression or despair and detachment. This is why interactions of distressed couples are usually characterized by negative cycles where one partner is pursuing while the other withdraws. These interactions can soon become stuck in rigid, dysfunctional patterns and stay that way until the underlying need for secure attachment is identified and addressed.

One of my key tasks therefore is to help the couples identify and understand the underlying emotions that keep them stuck in those rigid positions and negative interaction cycles. Once these have been identified, I facilitate the development of a different kind of interaction within the session which leads to change a reactive emotion with positive emotions of attachment.

By transforming emotion with emotion, I strive to support each partner in the exploration and expression of emotions that elicit compassion and connection, promote soothing, and help clients deal with unstated and unmet attachment needs.

I help couples to better identify, experience, make sense of and flexibly manage their emotional experiences. The progressive change in the couple’s interactions happens by means of awareness, regulation, reflection, and transformation of emotion taking place within the context of an empathetically attuned relationship.

What happens in the initial 4 sessions:

The first session is a joint session dedicated to exploring the couple’s background history and presenting problem. The initial session is then followed by an individual session with each partner which will give me and each partner the opportunity to talk about the issues experienced in the relationship more freely, without the other partner present. After their individual session, the partners will resume couple therapy together and will start identifying the negative cycles they get caught up in and with my help will work towards changing their patterns of interaction and emotional responses to each other, with the aim of  re-establishing emotional intimacy and connection in their relationship.

As a support to the couple therapy process, I recommend that clients in treatment read Dr Sue Johnson’s book,  Hold Me Tight, and use it as a source of conversations and reflections at home. Other valuable sources of help are the book Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy for Dummies by Dr Brent Bradley and Dr James Furrow, and Dr Sue Johnson's The Love Secret.

My training in Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy

I started my training in Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy in 2010 by attending an Externship in London lead by Gail Palmer, one of the founding members of ICEEFT (International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy), and later another one lead by Dr Sue Johnson. I was part of the first cohort of UK-based psychotherapists receiving this training. It was the beginning of an ongoing journey to develop and grow professionally in this field, which lead me to eventually become Certified as Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist. I’m part of a very active international online community of EFT couple therapists dedicated to professional development and mutual professional support. Through it, I have been keeping abreast of exciting developments in the field of couple therapy. 

For a short introduction on EFT by the founder, Dr Sue Johnson, see video below.  


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