More About Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) is a short-term treatment approach where the goal is the reconnection between partners. EFT, developed by Susan Johnson and Les Greenberg, is based on John Bowlby’s Attachment research over 60+ years ago. Bowlby found that humans and higher primate animals appeared to have an innate need to feel attached to and comforted by significant others.

Adult attachment relationships are believed to have the same survival function as the mother-child bond, since ideally these attachments can provide the same love, comfort, support, and protection throughout the lifespan. However, due to our relationship histories, and the negative interaction cycles we get into with our partners, many of us have difficulties with trust and expressing emotion to those who mean the most to us.

When couples argue about such things as jealousy, sex, money, or the in-laws, the origins of these arguments stem from some form of "protest" from one partner about not feeling connected, not trusting, or not feeling safe or secure with the other partner. When those we are attached to are not available, or are not responding to our needs to feel close or supported, we feel distressed. We may become anxious or fearful, numb or distant (to name a few).

These behaviors can become rigid ways of reacting to the patterns we develop. Furthermore, these toxic behavior patterns seem to take on a life of their own as they cycle into repetitive couple’s interactions that cause much pain, injury and despair. In EFT therapy focus on these patterns and work on changing these negative interaction cycles in a non-judgmental environment.

In a relatively short time, couples begin to recognize and eventually express their needs for love, support, protection and comfort that are often hidden or disguised by the harsh or angry words used in repetitive self-defeating patterns of conflict or arguments with each other. Partners begin to “listen with the heart,” one of the cornerstones of EFT—which means listening not for the literal meaning of a partners’ words, but for the feelings that lie beneath. In return, the other partner is better able to respond from the heart in response. That's why this model is called Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.

An EFT therapist views the building of “a safe haven” in your relationship as our primary task, therefore will try to focus on your primary needs—that is, to feel close, secure and responded to—which probably underlie most of your couple’s conflict.

Once this safe haven and feelings of connection are reestablished, you will better be able to manage conflict and the painful or difficult feelings that will inevitably arise from time to time in a close relationship. Furthermore, without so much defensiveness, each of you will be able to send clearer messages and will be better able to hear the other’s perspective. You will be better able to collaborate, problem-solve, and compromise—in short—you’ll be more of a team—which is the secret of a long-lived, successful marriage!

Research on the success of EFT:

EFT has shown to move couples from distress to recovery in approximately 20 sessions for 70-75% of cases and creates improvements in 90% of couples coming in for therapy. EFT has been used with many different types of couples in private practice, university training centers and hospital clinics. These distressed couples include partners suffering from disorders such as depression, post traumatic stress, and chronic illness.

To view further references, recent articles describing EFT therapy and books on EFT, please refer to the website for the International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy,