Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a well-known humanistic approach to psychotherapy formulated in the 1980’s and developed in tandem with the science of adult attachment, a profound developmental theory of personality and intimate relationships. This science has expanded our understanding of individual dysfunction and health as well as the nature of love relationships and family bonds. Attachment views human beings as innately relational, social and wired for intimate bonding with others. The EFT model prioritizes emotion and emotional regulation as the key organizing agents in individual experience and key relationship interactions.
EFT is best known as a cutting edge, tested and proven couple intervention, but it is also used to address individual depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress (EFIT – Emotionally Focused Individual Therapy) and to repair family bonds (EFFT – Emotionally Focused Family Therapy). This model operationalizes the principles of attachment science using non-pathologizing experiential (paralleling Carl Rogers) and relational systems techniques (paralleling Salvador Minuchin) to focus on and change core organizing factors in both the self and key relationships. A summary and goals of each of the three modalities are laid out below.
Most EFT research to date has focused on outcome and process of change studies with couples, and EFT for couples is the gold standard for empirically validated intervention in this field. Future research will focus on EFIT and EFFT. EFT has also generated many relationship education programs, for example Hold Me Tight®: Conversations for Connection and its online version www.holdmetightonline.com, Created for Connection for Christian couples, Healing Hearts Together for couples dealing with cardiac dysfunction, Hold Me Tight®/Let Me Go for families with teens, and Hold Me Tight®/Let Me Be Me for families with adult children.
The popular basic 4-day Externship in EFT, taught in over 40 countries by ICEEFT certified trainers, is centered on working with individuals and dyads in distressed relationships and addressing dysfunctional patterns of emotion regulation and ways of engaging with one another that undermine secure bonding interactions, but it also outlines change techniques as used in EFIT sessions. Participants learn to use the macro-intervention sequence, the EFT Tango, across the three modalities of therapy.
Click here to see the path to competence in EFT or visit the Road to Certification and Therapist Training pages on this website.
Please click to see various EFT Publications:
For further information about EFT research, please click here.
Strengths of Emotionally Focused Therapy
- EFT is based on clear, explicit research-based conceptualizations of individual growth, health and dysfunction and of relationship distress and adult love.
- EFT is collaborative and respectful of clients, combining experiential Rogerian techniques with structural systemic interventions.
- Change strategies and interventions are specified.
- Key moves and moments in the change process have been mapped into three stages of therapy and key change events that predict success at the end of therapy.
- EFT has been validated by over 35 years of empirical research. There is also research on the change processes and predictors of success.
- EFT has been applied to many different kinds of problems and populations.
EFT for Couples (EFCT)
EFT is a short term (8 to 20 sessions) structured approach, originally developed for couple therapy and based on attachment science, formulated in the 1980’s. Interventions in EFCT 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 EFCT. This research shows large treatment effect sizes and stable results over time. EFCT is used successfully with many different kinds of couples in private practice, university training centers and hospital clinics. Preliminary research exists for couples dealing with depression, with anxiety resulting from trauma, with medical illness and with forgiveness dilemmas. EFCT is used with varied cultural groups and educational levels across North America, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Africa and Asia. It is used with traditional and non-traditional couples, including same-sex couples.
- To expand and re-organize key emotional responses and, in the process, the organization of self.
- To create a positive shift in partners interactional positions and patterns.
- To foster the creation of a secure bond between partners.
EFT for Individuals (EFIT)
EFIT is an attachment science-based approach to individual therapy that, like the other EFT interventions, EFCT for couples and EFFT for families, offers an integration of humanistic experiential interventions focused on reshaping intrapsychic experience and systemic interventions focused on reshaping patterns of engagement with significant others. Emotion is given precedence across treatment modalities given its powerful role in structuring both inner experience and motivation and key interactional patterns in relationships. Emotion links and organizes core experience and interaction.
- To offer corrective experiences that positively impact models of self and other and shape stable, lasting change.
- To offer transformative moments where vulnerability is encountered with balance.
- To enable clients to move into the accessibility/openness, responsiveness and full engagement that characterizes secure attachment with others.
- To enable clients to shape a coherent sense of a competent self that can deal with existential life issues and become a fully alive human being.
Sue Johnson has written a great overview of EFIT for therapists and is available here.
A summary of Sue Johnson’s interview with Psychology Today about her newest book, A Primer for Emotionally Focused Individual Therapy (EFIT) – Cultivating Fitness and Growth in Every Client, can be found here.
EFT for Families (EFFT)
EFFT follows the principles and practices of Emotionally Focused Therapy to restore connection and promote resilience in family relationships. The principle goal of EFFT is to re-establish more secure family patterns where attachment and caregiving responses are effective and emotional bonds are repaired. These resources inform a network of security that provides the flexibility and closeness necessary for families to promote individual growth and meaningful relationships across generations.
The EFFT Approach
The EFT process of change in EFFT focuses on stabilizing a family’s negative interaction pattern, restructuring parent and child interactions, and consolidating the felt security gained through these new patterns of connection. Following principles of attachment science, the EFFT therapist guides the family to new patterns of parental availability, responsiveness and coherent attachment communications as they face developmental change and life challenges. In EFFT, the focus is on addressing blocks in parental caregiving responses and understanding the child or adolescent’s behavior in terms of attachment needs or fears. These blocks result from constrained, stuck responses to misattunement and injuries in family relationships. The EFFT therapist tracks the generational influences impacting these blocks and works through rigid patterns that disrupt attachment communication between parents, siblings and between parent and child. Work with parents focuses on the building of a coherent parenting team. The process of EFFT often moves quickly as family members become more responsive, accessible, and engaged with previously unacknowledged attachment-related emotions and needs.
- Accessing and expanding awareness of unacknowledged feelings associated with the family’s negative pattern.
- Reframing family distress and child problems within relation blocks reinforcing this distress.
- Promoting awareness and access to underlying caregiving intentions and disowned attachment related needs.
- Facilitating the sharing of unmet attachment needs and effective caregiving responses.