What Is Emotionally Focused Therapy And Can It Help Me In My Relationship?

Updated June 17, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn

There are many types of therapy available for those seeking help, either for themselves or their relationship. Of course, not every method is a perfect fit for every single person or situation. Still, for those struggling with attachment troubles and interested in therapy for their family or relationship concerns, emotion-focused counseling may be the best option for you.

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What Is Emotionally Focused Therapy?

One of the biggest problems in a relationship is when one partner pulls away from the other. Sometimes, when disagreements or conflicts arise, a partner may not want to truly fight with their loved one if they find themselves unable to calmly and rationally explain their concerns and emotions about a subject. The easiest solution seems to be to pull away to avoid making matters worse.

However, just in the same way that a child with an emotionally distant or negligent parent will experience emotional distress, an adult with an emotionally absent or negligent partner will also feel the same. This can easily cause some significant problems, but this is where emotional therapy can help individuals in such a situation to overcome that distance and learn healthy methods of expressing themselves and rekindling their bond together.

So what is EFT therapy or emotionally focused therapy?

This type of therapy is primarily concerned with establishing deep bonds between partners, allowing them to feel safe and secure within their relationship and to be able to change their emotional reactions to the less pleasant aspects of life and the conflicts that can arise when spending it with another person. Instead of closing up and pulling away in the face of conflict, they will learn the appropriate methods of healthily communicating with their loved ones and bolstering the relationship. In addition, partners will learn to become more empathetic towards each other, improving trust and openness, and focus on "negative patterns" as the culprit for their relationship troubles rather than blaming the other person for their issues.

Emotionally focused therapy was originally developed by Sue Johnson, a Canadian psychologist, who believed in the importance of attachment theory and how it still applies in adult relationships, as well as the significance of emotions in the context of therapy and repairing relationships between those who may be emotionally closed off or have difficulties with expressing themselves. When done in the context of individual therapy, emotion-focused counseling instead emphasizes analyzing and understanding the patient's emotions and emotional responses to their problems and using that insight and information to help them make the changes necessary to improve their quality of life.

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EFT therapy is also generally short-term, often 10 to 20 sessions or less, and has been proven to be highly effective in helping relationships improve over time. It has a 75% success rate, with the other 25% mainly applying to couples in abusive situations or in the process of separating, both being situations that EFT would not be appropriate.

What Situations Are Best For Seeking Emotionally Focused Therapy?

EFT therapy is ideal for couples seeking professional counseling but has also been shown to be beneficial for individual therapy and families seeking professional help. Couples can improve their communication skills within their relationship while learning better to understand themselves and their partner during the process, bolstering and solidifying their bond. In individual therapy that is emotionally focused, the patient or client will grow to understand better their own emotions and reactions to the events in their lives; this allows them to regulate those emotions better and make changes to their perspective in the areas needed. Emotionally focused therapy works similarly in the context of family counseling. It helps each member understand themselves and their loved ones better and helps them find healthier communication methods and resolve the conflict together.

Emotion-Focused Counseling Techniques

There are several ways that emotionally focused counseling helps couples and individuals. When analyzing one's current emotions, the patient will often tap into past emotions that may contribute to their present feelings and responses to certain situations. A lot of the time, when we have something unpleasant happen in our younger years, we may or may not remember it depending upon the level of trauma and the age at which it occurred, but the subconscious effects and implications remain. Someone raised in a household where fighting was common may not intentionally be responding aggressively towards others when a conflict arises, but that is their naturally learned response from observing it in the conditions they grew up in. Those who had caretakers that were distant or not emotionally responsive to their needs and concerns may also grow up to mimic these traits in their later and adult relationships.

Emotionally focused counseling helps a person become aware of their emotions and become accepting of them. For example, denial may lead an individual to insist that they don't feel certain things or react in certain ways (both of which can lead to personal and relational problems). But being able to engage in one's emotions and become fully cognizant of them allows the person to learn how to cope with them and make changes to their thought patterns, emotional responses, and behaviors in general.

Once the individual has a thorough and honest understanding of how they think, feel, and react to the world and the people around them, they are then able to be guided by their mental health professional into learning healthier methods of expressing their emotions, regulating them, and using their emotions for more productive purposes.

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Having an increased awareness of one's emotional state also helps individuals counter unhealthy thoughts and impulses attached to these sentiments. The awareness allows a person to step back and see which of their thoughts and emotions are most appropriate for the given situations and which they may need to modify to better their circumstances, whether the thoughts and feelings apply to themselves, their partner, another person in general, or a specific situation.

Some people allow themselves to become overwhelmed by their emotions and think of their feelings as "bad" things that only cause more problems, especially those who struggle with depression or anxiety. Those with depression may dwell on negative thoughts and feel even further discouraged, or those with anxiety may become even more stressed out by worrying about the factors in their lives that cause them a good deal of trouble managing their anxious feelings in the first place. Rather than allowing this to continue to happen, emotionally focused counseling helps individuals express these emotions and use them more informative. This allows them to discover the source of their concerns, why those issues impact them so significantly and acknowledge these details as a way of beginning to cope and work towards improving their situation overall.

How Does Emotionally Focused Couple's Therapy Work?

Emotionally focused counseling is quite ideal for partners seeking out couple's therapy. In addition, EFT therapy is a fantastic fit for two people in a relationship that want to improve their lines of communication and learn how to express their feelings with their partner freely.

Stemming from attachment theory, emotion-focused counseling emphasizes healthy adult bonds to prevent distress in a person currently amid a relationship. Thus, when a couple seeks out EFT therapy for their relationship troubles, there is a common flow to how these sessions and the entire process will go.

First, they will figure out the main areas of concern and conflict and identify them. The mental health professional mediating the sessions will then encourage them also to identify the emotions and negative patterns that are connected to these issues and assist the partners in recognizing how their fears, insecurities, or other negative emotional reactions are affecting the issue at hand, as well as how they are interacting with their partner in regards to conflict arising.

Once the therapist and the couple have a clear picture of how each partner feels, the problems they need to tackle, and the underlying emotions at play, they will begin changing their current, unhealthy patterns to benefit the relationship long-term. This portion of the therapeutic process encourages the two individuals to express themselves honestly and clearly to each other, improving their communication skills. In addition, they will start to learn techniques and methods of meeting their partner's attachment and emotional needs along the way. This will benefit them when conflict arises later on so they can understand the how and the why of their partner's reactions to situations and how to find common ground and provide them with a safe relationship environment for expressing their opinions and distress over further issues the couple may face as time goes on.

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As the conclusion of their therapy sessions approaches, the couple will have learned the information and techniques necessary for devising an effective game plan for when their professional mediation is no longer present to help them with their relationship troubles.

Emotionally focused therapy has been shown to have significantly impressive outcomes, with successful and positive follow-ups afterward and couples showing improvement and progress within their relationship even after their therapy sessions have ended.

How ReGain Can Help

If you're experiencing any difficulties in your familial situation or your romantic or personal relationships, ReGain offers online counseling services at your convenience. Licensed and trained professionals are just a click away from any location and on any schedule that would best suit your needs. So don't hesitate to reach out to someone today and get the help you need and deserve to get yourself and your relationships happy, healthy, and back on track.


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