What is Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)?
EFT is an experiential approach that focuses on transforming unpleasant and troubling feelings or emotional states. For example, states such as anxiety or depression, or feelings of shame and guilt can be transformed into more adaptive, life-affirming emotions.
The goal of EFT with individuals is to help clients become more aware of their emotional experience. Instead of trying to get rid of their emotions, clients learn to tolerate them, to listen to them, and to gain access to more adaptive feelings.
For example, clients may be very self-critical and depressed. They often experience anger directed at themselves and may criticize themselves for not being good enough, smart enough, and so on. This harsh critical stance towards oneself can take a toll on one’s self-esteem, motivation, and relationships. EFT helps clients access emotions that are more self-affirming and they learn to soften the harsh self-critical side by strengthening feelings of self-compassion and forgiveness. By accessing the more adaptive emotional stance, a depressed and self-critical person can learn to be more self-accepting, confident, and assertive. Ultimately, using EFT, clients learn to use their emotions in a way that allows them to live more in the present. They learn to accept their feelings, be informed by them, and use them to solve problems and make healthier choices in life.
When working with couples, the focus is also on helping clients access adaptive underlying emotions but with an added focus on transforming the negative patterns of interaction between partners. Often, partners find themselves locked in a pattern of interacting with each other that has taken on a life of its own.
For example, in times of conflict, one partner may actively pursue the other in an attempt to resolve their issues, while the other partner withdraws and hides in response because he or she feels attacked or blamed. To transform this pattern of interaction, clients are guided to access underlying feelings of, for example, hurt or fear, and to express this to the other in a way that softens the stance of the other partner. The therapist promotes acceptance of one another and facilitates new ways of interacting. The couple is helped to express their needs and wants with one another in a safe environment so that they can be more responsive to one another. Ultimately, the pattern of interacting between partners is changed so that they can communicate harmoniously and resolve interpersonal challenges on their own.
Effectiveness of EFT
Research indicates that EFT is effective in transforming emotional experience for individuals and transforming relationship bonds between partners for couples (see Sue Johnson’s web page or research article). For individuals, EFT has been found to be helpful in resolving unfinished business related to important others from the past, alleviating feelings of shame, embarrassment, anxiety, fear, and anger.