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Emotionally Focused Therapy

couple with one person leaning on the other's shoulderWhat Is Emotionally Focused Therapy?

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a short-term counseling approach that improves bonding and mutual understanding between couples. With the goal of building more secure attachments, partners using EFT can connect and communicate more effectively. 

Often considered one of the best treatment interventions for couples, EFT derives from attachment science, or the idea that emotional responses are strongly intertwined with basic human needs. 

Psychologists Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg developed EFT in the 1980s as they observed the systems being created between their clients in marriage counseling. By looking at relationship issues through a systemic lens, couples using this method can more readily view problems as flaws in the system rather than the fault of one partner. 

Citing Emotionally Focused Therapy as “The Most Effective Couples Therapy, By Far,” Psychology Today argues that 90 percent of couples who use EFT in marriage counseling “significantly improve their relationship,” while close to 75 percent of couples “no longer fit the criteria for relationship distress following treatment.” By comparison, the next leading couples counseling approach has a success rate of 35 percent.¹

Who Can Benefit From EFT?

For couples, in particular, Emotionally Focused Therapy can help address any relational issue, including:

  • Unhealthy communication patterns
  • Lack of sex and intimacy
  • Infidelity
  • Outside life stressors impacting the relationship
  • Separation and discernment

EFT is not only effective for couples, however. Following its success in marriage counseling, Sue Johnson developed emotion-focused therapeutic frameworks for clients in individual and family therapy. Drawing from the same premise of healing attachment wounds, EFT can help anyone from any background struggling with emotional dysregulation, relational challenges, negative self-beliefs, and low self-esteem.


How Does Emotionally Focused Therapy Work?

woman smilingAs humans, we are hard-wired for connection. From our time as infants, we seek attachment with our caregivers in order to survive. If those attachments are wounded or ruptured through trauma, neglect, betrayal, and other stressors, it can greatly impact our emotional and relational blueprints. In other words, when our attachments are jeopardized, we are likely to develop a skewed perception of ourselves and the world around us, ultimately affecting how we relate to others—especially our intimate partners—as adults. 

Emotionally Focused Therapy seeks to correct such wounding experiences. A therapist using EFT with couples will work to get beneath the problem to identify the core issues and dynamics driving relationship patterns. 

For example, a couple may come to therapy with one partner feeling continuously unheard about doing domestic chores like emptying the dishwasher. Through the lens of EFT, the issue is not whether or not the dishwasher gets emptied; it’s about if the partner asking for the dishes to get emptied feels seen, heard, and worthy of attention. Upon deeper reflection, this partner is likely to realize that their sense of worthiness is tied up with other negative self-beliefs—including a sense of abandonment—that were formed from early experiences. 

Couples using Emotionally Focused Therapy achieve more security, satisfaction, and reconciliation. In an EFT counseling space, much of the therapist’s focus is on the interactions being created between partners and how to redirect their emotions in a way that facilitates calm, effective communication. As each partner increases their understanding of the system at play in their conflict, they are able to approach conflict with more self-awareness, empathy, and healing.

How EFT Differs From Other Couples Counseling Approaches

EFT is a stand-alone treatment that is structured to take between 8 and 20 sessions to complete. Unlike many behavioral therapies that focus on addressing surface-level issues, EFT actually gets to the root of the problem. Couples can more readily identify and adjust their attachment styles as they become aware of unhealthy dynamics or patterns that have developed from damaging past experiences. 

As noted above, EFT is the most empirically validated relationship-specific approach to date. Many of the clients using this modality experience “deeper” healing than they might with other surface-level, solution-focused techniques, actually re-wiring partners’ brains as they increase bonding and security.

couple talking over tableEFT Is The Predominant Couples Therapy I Use

Since writing my doctoral dissertation on the role of early attachments in intimate relationships, I have been interested in EFT as an effective method of couples counseling. Upon receiving formal training in the modality, I began incorporating it into sessions for all the couples I work with. 

As a therapist with extensive training in Emotionally Focused Therapy, I have witnessed its amazing ability to promote positive change and growth in the lives of my clients. I work with a range of couples in counseling, including those who are reeling from infidelity, betrayal, and trauma (as is the case with First Responders, in particular). Where other interventions may have fallen short for these partnerships, EFT has facilitated more secure attachments, naturally improving communication and a healthier version of each individual within the partnership.

You Can Transform Your Relationship Into A Safe Haven


Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) allows couples from all backgrounds struggling with a wide range of obstacles to find more secure attachments in their relationships. To find out more about my approach as an EFT therapist, you can schedule a free, 15-minute consultation.