What even is EFT? Admittedly, it is probably not as recognizable in everyday settings as other, more common therapeutic modalities, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or person-centered therapy. Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a therapeutic approach that focuses on emotion regulation and establishing secure connections in relationships. EFT can help individuals, families, and couples foster secure emotional connections, resolve conflicts, and experience greater relationship satisfaction. We as humans yearn for emotional connection and security. Having secure connections with other people allows us to explore the world around us without feeling scared or timid; since we know we have healthy relationships to fall back on when times get tough. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve deeper into the workings of EFT, highlighting its benefits and unique approach to fostering emotional connection and relationship satisfaction.
Attachment Theory and Emotionally Focused Therapy
Humans are social creatures, and from the dawn of time have desired community and connection with other people. However, not all connections and relationships are healthy, supportive, and harmonious. When there are disruptions in safe, secure attachment, relational distress and emotion dysregulation can occur. EFT is an extension of attachment theory, put into practice. Attachment theory suggests that the quality of our early relationships shapes our attachment patterns and influences how we form connections throughout our lives. Attachment theory believes that personal change can occur through developing safe, interpersonal relationships, and harnessing the power of emotion.
EFT focuses on identifying and understanding the underlying attachment dynamics in relationships. It helps individuals, families, and couples recognize their patterns of interaction, such as pursuing or withdrawing, and the associated emotions that contribute to relationship distress. By exploring these patterns, EFT seeks to foster emotional engagement, increase secure attachment, and create a safe and supportive environment for healing and growth.
Role of Emotions in Emotionally Focused Therapy
Emotions are at the heart of EFT. EFT views emotions as vital sources of information that guide us in understanding our needs, desires, and underlying attachment dynamics. EFT understands that emotions shape how we make meaning of events, situations, and people around us. Emotion also motivates us to either enact change, like feeling frustrated by a goal and using this as motivation to put forth more effort or to withdraw because of feeling shameful and afraid.
An EFT therapist works with the client to understand their emotional vulnerabilities (e.g., fears about themself or others, shame, loss, or unmet longings) and ultimately to restructure these emotional vulnerabilities. Through this work, the client will gain a greater awareness of themselves and others and be able to enact positive interactions with our inner selves and others. By achieving emotional equilibrium, the emotion-focused therapist views positive, healthy interpersonal reactions as a manifestation of personal growth and understanding.
Let’s put this into context.
Have you ever tried solving a problem on your own only to find how difficult and discouraging it can be? Later, you finally reach out for help. You confide in a close relationship how hard it is trying to figure out your problems alone. Then, you notice that just the act of sharing your struggles with another person begins to lift the weight that you’ve been experiencing. You reached out for connection to another person and allowed them to share your burden. Sharing difficult emotions and experiences with someone is one of the bases of a healthy, safe, and secure relationship. Knowing you can be open and vulnerable with someone shows how comfortable and safe you feel with that person. You allowed yourself to be authentically seen and known. Throughout your life, you develop relationships with people that you can come to and lean on; who support you and encourage you when you are struggling, without judgment or fear of shame. When this occurs, you are strengthening secure attachment relationships, fostering emotional intimacy, improving communication, and supporting overall relationship satisfaction and growth.
EFT can help individuals, families, and couples foster secure emotional connections, resolve conflicts, and experience greater relationship satisfaction.
Role of the Emotionally Focused Therapy Therapist
EFT therapists work collaboratively with clients, engaging in a joint exploration of the client's experiences, perceptions, and relational dynamics. An EFT therapist works with a client to provide a safe environment. They actively listen, validate, and empathize with the client's perspective, creating a space where the client feels understood and supported. The therapist encourages the client to actively participate in their own therapy process, promoting a sense of agency and empowerment. From this safe relationship, the client begins to explore their origins of maladaptive interpersonal interactions, pain that occurs in interpersonal relationships, and the therapist assists the client to reflect on how these interpersonal transactions influence perception of the self, others, and world. This is all done through the microcosm of the therapeutic relationship and the interpersonal interactions that occur between the therapist and the client.
3 Key Stages of Emotionally Focused Therapy
The process of EFT can be broken down into three stages: Stabilization, Restructuring, and Consolidation.
In the Stabilization Stage, your emotion-focused therapist works to establish a safe, non-judgmental environment for you to feel comfortable and secure with your therapist. This foundation of the therapeutic relationship allows you and your therapist to work together to identify the problems that are bringing you to therapy and what in your life is contributing to these problems persisting. You and your therapist will ensure that you are feeling safe, secure, and capable of confronting difficult emotions, which is needed to work on improving your relationships and identifying, expressing, and regulating your emotions.
In the Restructuring Stage, your therapist works with you to understand your emotions more deeply (the “why” of the emotions) and how these emotions impact how you are relating to yourself and others. This connects your emotional experiences to your attachment patterns. You will begin to explore and understand your past attachment and relational patterns and how this is impacting your current relational patterns. You will recognize unhelpful patterns of emotion regulation and coping. From this insight, you and your therapist will work together to challenge these old patterns and develop new self-awareness, new ways to experience and express your emotions, and begin to develop healthier relationships with yourself and others.
Lastly, in the Consolidation Stage, your therapist works with you to incorporate your new understandings gained in the Restructuring Stage into everyday life so that you may better face future challenges. You will work on applying skills and insights gained from therapy into your everyday life. You will learn how to not approach new problems with old solutions. You will be using your newfound emotional awareness and skills to navigate difficulties effectively.
EFT understands that emotions shape how we make meaning of events, situations, and people around us.
In conclusion, EFT has shown to be an effective modality in therapy, and I hope by reading this blog post you gained some greater knowledge and understanding about EFT. It is a framework that empowers the client by establishing a secure, hopeful connection with the therapist and giving the client greater insight into how feelings impact daily life and relationships. By understanding the role of attachment dynamics, exploring emotions, and promoting vulnerability and emotional responsiveness, EFT provides individuals, families, and couples with the tools to navigate relationship challenges and cultivate deeper intimacy and satisfaction. EFT ultimately strives to reconstruct difficult emotions and restore healthy relationships with yourself and those around you.
Johnson, S. M. (2019). Attachment theory in practice: Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) with individuals, couples, and families. The Guilford Press. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781351168366
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