My Modality & Theory for Couples Therapy:
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT)
We have to dive below to discover the basic problem: these couples have disconnected emotionally; they don’t feel emotionally safe with each other. What couples and therapists too often do not see is that most fights are really protests over emotional disconnection. Underneath all the distress, partners are asking each other: Can I count on you, depend on you? Are you there for me? Will you respond to me when I need, when I call? Do I matter to you? Am I valued and accepted by you? Do you need me, rely on me? The anger, the criticism, the demands, are really cries to their lovers, calls to stir their hearts, to draw their mates back in emotionally and reestablish a sense of safe connection. – Dr. Sue Johnson
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) founded by Dr. Sue Johnson is a therapeutic approach to improve relationships by deepening emotional bonding. EFT is systemic, humanistic, and was developed in tandem with attachment science. This type of therapy is used for individuals, couples, and families. There are numerous studies that have proven its effectiveness and the American Psychological Association recognizes it as having valid research supporting its effectiveness.
A core belief of EFT is that we are social creatures created and hardwired for emotional bonding with a lover (intimate partner) and loved ones (friends and family). An EFT therapist understands distress as having an insecure attachment, i.e., a conflictual relationship. The EFT therapist views lovers and loved ones as stuck in negative cycles or patterns and not sick. In other words, our mental health symptoms we experience are often a consequence of lost connection with a loved one. Problems in relationships can be summarized under the concept of proximity or closeness.
For example, here are some questions at the heart of conflict that are typically disowned or unrecognized, not processed and organized, and not expressed to our loved one: Are you there when I need you? Can I depend on you? Are you responsive in times of need? Do I matter? Do you love me and care about me? An acronym we use for this is, A.R.E. – accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement.
When secure emotional connection is lost, a negative cycle or “dance” develops as each partner tries to cope with the overwhelming emotions that come from disconnection or insecure attachment. Disconnection and insecure attachment is extremely overwhelming to cope with because it is innate to our functioning as human beings.
Attempts for emotional connection are made that often look ugly. We raise our voices, criticize, blame, distance ourselves, become silent, and withdraw to name a few. From an EFT and attachment lease, the therapist views and understands these maladaptive behaviors as cries and attempts for emotional connection and safety.
This dance or negative cycle of disconnection and pleas for emotional connection then creep into the relationship over the slightest distress. For example, washing the dishes, doing the laundry, cooking dinner, communication, parenting etc.
The EFT therapist aims to deescalate the conflictual relationship, track and map the negative cycle, and help each person identify primary attachment emotions and unmet attachment needs. Then, the therapist helps create a safe environment to articulate the primary attachment emotions and unmet needs to their partner in a compassionate and vulnerable way so that their lover or loved one can have greater understanding, compassion, and empathy.
The EFT therapist (and no therapist) can eliminate conflict in relationships. This is an unreasonable and unrealistic expectation. There will always be moments of conflict. The question is, does difficult topics and high stressed situations leave us disconnected, separated, isolated, and feeling alone or are they moments for repair and deeper connection?
The goal of therapy is to create secure attachment so that the lovers or loved ones can resolve and repair conflict.
How we repair is essential to the health and strength of a relationship. When a person lifts weights and works out they are tearing their muscles down so that they can repair and grow back even stronger. Likewise, in relationships, the ability to repair attachment injuries is what makes relationships stronger. EFT focuses on repairing and reconnecting people after experiencing attachment injuries. By doing this, the relationship will actually grow stronger from conflict and repair, instead of the opposite.
EFT gets to the heart of the problem and creates long lasting change by helping people make conflict opportunities for repair and growth.