Emotion Focused Therapy is one of the premier short-term evidence-based interventions that seeks to address and heal distressed relationships between couples. Rooted in Bowlby’s Attachment Theory, the goal of EFT is to promote safe, secure emotional attachment bonds between partners, as secure bonds and attachments are powerfully associated with physical and emotional health and well-being, resilience, and optimal personality development. (Willis, 1991; Feeney & Ryan, 1994; Burman & Margolin, 1992).
Some people have a negative impression of couples therapy because couples therapy has been associated with each partner coming into therapy and “venting” about the bad attributes, injuries and experiences of living with the other. This often leaves both individuals walking away more distressed and hopeless than when they first started therapy. “We’ve tried couples therapy before and it didn’t work for us.” is a general comment often heard. EFT on-the-other-hand is completely different than standard couples therapy. EFT first attempts to establish a safe, empathic, and therapist controlled environment. There are no back-and-forth shouting matches. Each partner is allowed to express their pain, hurts, vulnerabilities, and emotional needs in the relationship while the other partner listens – uninterrupted. The therapist joins each partner individually, and empathically in front of the other, probes deeply into the underlying attachment layers, to the core attachment needs that have gone unfulfilled within the relationship, and in some instances since early childhood. Partners discover something new and meaningful about the other, as the process allows each partner to see the other partner’s needs and vulnerabilities authentically, and sometimes for the first time. Often we hear, “I can’t believe he/she is saying this.” “He/she has never spoken like this before.” “I never knew this about her/him.” The EFT process facilitates discovery and meaningful change by helping each partner become aware of and how to fulfill each other’s core emotional attachment needs daily. Couples begin discovering a new and healthy relationship dynamic as the old negative ways of criticizing, blaming, bullying, controlling, clinging, defensiveness, withdrawing and stonewalling fade and are replaced by a sense of safety, trust, openness, acceptance, accessibility, responsiveness, connection, and understanding. Feelings of loneliness, abandonment, guilt and shame are replaced with feelings of being wanted, protected, and loved. Couples are more satisfied and fulfilled in their relationship as new and healthier interactions are developed and lived. “Are you there for me?” “Will you be there for me when I need you the most?” are no longer questions of uncertainty.
EFT has also been used to successfully to treat marital distress complicated by other problems such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and chronic physical illness. (Johnson & Williams-Keeler, 1998). EFT shows strong rates of relationship recovery (70-75%) and evidence of long-term effectiveness after relatively short-term treatment (Gordon Walker et al.,1996; Gordon Walker & Manion, in press).