Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)

The main focus of EFT therapy is to help individuals and couples identify and address unhealthy, destructive, and/or possibly dangerous emotions that could be affecting their thought processes and behaviors.
Emotionally Focused Therapy / Couples Therapy
Studies suggest that because EFT mainly focuses on the impact and regulation of emotions, it can be highly beneficial in the treatment of a variety of psychological issues.

What is Emotionally-Focused Therapy?

Emotionally-focused therapy (EFT), also sometimes referred to as couples therapy, is a therapy approach based on the idea that one’s emotions create his/her identity. More specifically, one’s emotions can help us make sound decisions and choices. This therapy approach assumes that if one lacks awareness of his/her emotions, or if he/she deliberately avoids unpleasant and/or negative emotions, he/she is unable to fully process the information those feelings provide him/her.

Therapists with EFT training and experience can help individuals and couples with their communication strategies, and coping abilities, conflict-resolution, and stress-management skills. They can also help these individuals become more attuned to their emotions, more equipped at using the information provided by these feelings, and better able to cope with difficult feelings that they experience in their daily lives.

EFT utilizes an empirical method that draws from the principles of a variety of psychotherapy approaches, such as Person-Centered Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, and/or Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Therefore, the ultimate goal of EFT is to help individuals look within themselves to get a better understanding of their own emotions and the emotions of others.

What Can a Person Learn from EFT?

Most EFT sessions focus on helping individuals develop two crucial skills – (1) better identification and understand their emotions, so they can apply them to real-world situations, and (2) the ability to properly use their emotions to better understand the information they provide, while avoiding harmful or negative behaviors at the same time.

What are the Main Functions of EFT Therapists?

The main functions of EFT therapists are to assist their clients by adopting a non-judgmental, safe, empathetic, and compassionate approach to the therapy process. Their primary goals are to actively listen, observe, and guide individuals, so they can better understand their emotional needs – as individuals and as partners.

EFT therapists also use a variety of tools to help individuals learn healthier ways to channel their emotions, so they can use them as guides for their behaviors. Moreover, they help these individuals address any negative and stressful feelings or belief systems that could be causing conflict in their personal lives, at their jobs, in their families, with their children and/or parents, with friends, and/or with romantic partners or spouses.

What Issues Do EFT Therapists Typically Treat?

EFT therapists treat a wide variety of issues. However, they tend to focus on individuals and couples who struggle in their personal lives, with loved ones, at their jobs, and/or in their relationships or marriages. The main focus of EFT therapy is to help individuals and couples identify and address unhealthy, destructive, and/or possibly dangerous emotions that could be affecting their thought processes and behaviors.

For example, an EFT therapist may treat a depressed person, who spends the majority of his/her time alone. More specifically, this individual may make a deliberate effort to escape or avoid situations that cause him/her sadness.

On the flip side, an EFT therapist may also treat a person who suffers from a type of anxiety that prevents him/her from leaving their home. This individual may feel unable to leave the home and/or socialize with others because of his/her excessive worrying, irrational fears, and unnecessary concerns.

Primarily, however, EFT therapists help individuals and couples learn how to properly address their emotions and concerns, so they can begin to view their feelings as valuable sources of information – rather than, simply as difficult and/or painful states.

It is important to note, however, that although EFT was originally used to treat depression, it has since become common practice in the mental health world. It is typically used to address a variety of issues from depression, anxiety, neglect, abuse, domestic violence, suicidal thoughts, and attempts, eating disorders, relationship issues, addiction, borderline personality disorder, manic-depression (bipolar disorder), self-esteem and self-confidence issues, and even financial problems.

What Happens During the Initial EFT Therapy Sessions?

During the initial therapy sessions, an EFT therapist helps individuals and couples identify and understand their emotions.

Ultimately, clients may discover new ways to do the following:

  • More accurately identify and understand their emotions
  • Embrace and regulate their emotions
  • Become more aware of their emotions
  • Experience an increased awareness of emotional situations

During the first, second, third, and subsequent sessions, the therapist may assign the individual or couple the following goals:

  • How to develop personal “conversational/communication scripts” or predetermined responses to social situations. (The purpose of these “pre-formed scripts” is to help individuals and couples challenge their own unhealthy and destructive thoughts because they are negatively impacting their emotions and behaviors.)
  • How to properly question and challenge inaccurate, irrational, and unhealthy emotions and belief systems
  • How to correctly identify and address the true source of one’s distress
  • How to use helpful emotions as guides for behavior
  • How to properly evaluate the difference between “helpful” and “unhelpful” emotions

Note: EFT is most successful when the individual or couple develops an increased awareness of their own emotions – and how these emotions affect others. Moreover, to achieve success with this form of psychotherapy, individuals and couples must be able to improve (with time, effort, and patience) their ability to analyze, identify, and regulate their emotions, thus, reducing and/or eliminating unhealthy, stressful, and/or destructive behaviors.

What Should I Look for in an EFT Therapist?

If you are considering seeking EFT, you should look for a therapist that is highly trained in EFT techniques, methods, and approaches. This person must be able to help you better identify, address, and manage your emotions – in all situations.

The good news is that research suggests that emotionally-focused therapy (EFT) is successful for many people, however, it’s important to find an EFT therapist, who makes you feel comfortable and safe during the therapy process.

Keep in mind that EFT centers on trust, “openness,” honesty, empathy, patience, respect, and understanding, so it is important that you set up consultations with a variety of EFT therapists until you find the right one for you. Ask for references from previous clients, success rates, possible approaches, the cost of services, education and training, experience, length of therapy, etc. The key to success with this therapy method is to try to approach each concept with an open mind, so you can be “open enough” to receive the tools needed to help you get back on track in your life. Find your EFT therapist on TherapyTribe.

Post-Pandemic Update

In 2019, coronavirus (COVID-19) spread throughout the world. Because this virus is pervasive and somewhat mysterious, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other health providers have taken notice and worked to provide care and comfort to people of all ages, races, genders, educational backgrounds, and economic statuses. The most pressing issue during COVID, and even today is anxiety. When a person becomes overly-stressed and anxious, it negatively affects his/her immune system functioning. 

A weakened immune system is not only one of the most common triggers of COVID, it can also increase the risk of the affected person dying. Pandemics, like COVID, can shock a person, triggering a wide range of emotions – some of which may be hard to process. COVID-related emotions may include high levels of stress, anger, fear, moodiness, irritability, confusion, doubts, excessive worry or concern, anxiety, depression, and emotional distress. These emotions can, and often do affect how people communicate with partners, friends, and loved ones. 

During COVID, stressed, worried, and fearful people tended to transfer these emotions to others, especially their partners, creating an environment of chaos and conflict. Another effect of COVID was insecurity in relationships and marriages. During the pandemic some couples experienced increased marital or relationship conflicts. Because of the virus, most couples were “forced” to spend long days and nights together, which caused some couples to question if they were right for each other. This bred doubts and insecurities.

Businesses shutdown causing “non-essential workers” to be sent home indefinitely. Not bringing money into the home caused high levels of stress, worry, angst, fear, and depression. These insecurities stemmed from the uncertainty surrounding COVID, however, they eventually filtered into relationships. No one knew what was going to happen with COVID, and some people were afraid of the long-term effects of COVID vaccines, which was confusing and disheartening for many people. This confusion, in turn, led to conflicting feelings, which elicited OCD-like behaviors, such as being hypersensitive to germs, dirt, and bacteria, washing one’s hands until they cracked and bled as a way to protect oneself from COVID, refusing to leave the house for fear of contracting the virus, etc.  

During COVID, emotionally-focused therapy (EFT) helped people process and better understand what they were feeling. Emotionally-focused therapists believe that a person’s emotions can affect and influence his/her thought processes, belief systems, and behaviors. In the case of COVID, EFT helps identify the root cause of COVID-related feelings. Once a person understands his/her emotions, and how they are “coloring” his/her life, he/she can make positive changes in their thinking patterns and behavior.  

Emotionally-focused therapists also believe that the most effective way to combat the COVID’s impact is through self-awareness, emotional regulation, and self-management of one’s emotions. Although EFT was primarily designed to help couples better understand how their emotions were affecting their relationship, during COVID, and even today, EFT is used with other loved ones, not just partners. 

Families also had a hard time during COVID. During the pandemic, EFT was primarily conducted through a “telehealth” platform, which was challenging. One of the assessment tools that emotionally-focused therapists use to evaluate and diagnose clients and patients is observation. Well, with COVID making it hard to meet in-person, emotionally-focused therapists turned to “teletherapy” to counsel people in distress. However, with “teletherapy,” some of the nuances that would normally be witnessed during in-person counseling sessions were missing. In other words, body movements, and facial gestures were not as evident during virtual counseling sessions.

COVID is still around, albeit not as widespread, so there are still mixed emotions about it. Some people are still engaging in the same behaviors as they were during the height of COVID. For instance, some people are still sequestering in their homes, avoiding people, scrubbing their bodies, and wearing masks outside and around vaccinated people, because they are deathly afraid of contracting the virus – although these things are no longer mandated. The negative emotions linked to COVID are affecting some people’s behaviors, and preventing them from fully living their lives. Now that COVID is slowly disappearing, and in-person EFT sessions have resumed, the goal is to help people deal with the aftermath of COVID. Post-COVID, EFT focuses on helping individuals, couples, and families process their feelings, so they can move on with their lives.

Emotionally-focused therapists believe that a sense of security and a healthy emotional state can help ease stress, thereby, lowering one’s risk of contracting COVID.



References

Soloski, K., & Deitz, S. (2016). Managing emotional responses in therapy: An adapted EFT supervision approach. Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, 38(4), 361–372. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s10591-016-9392-8

Wiebe, S. A., & Johnson, S. M. (2016). A review of the research in emotionally-focused therapy for couples. Family Process, 55(3), 390–407. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/famp.12229

Peluso, P. R., & MacIntosh, H. (2007). Emotionally-focused couples therapy and individual psychology: A dialogue across theories. Journal of Individual Psychology, 63(3), 247–269. Retrieved from Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a2h&AN=26853261&site=ehost-live

Rowe, J. E. (2005). The effects of EFT on long-term psychological symptoms. Counseling & Clinical Psychology Journal, 2(3), 104–111. Retrieved from Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a2h&AN=18015987&site=ehost-live

Greenman, P. S., & Johnson, S. M. (2013). Process research on emotionally-focused therapy ( EFT) for couples: Linking theory to practice. Family Process, 52(1), 46–61. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/famp.12015

Javidi, N., & Fatahian Tehran, H. M. (2021). The role of emotionally-focused therapy (EFT) in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) prevention. Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, 1. Retrieved from https://europepmc.org/article/MED/33820596