What is Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT)?
Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT) is a unique empirically-based approach, based on methods designed to help people accept, express, regulate, make sense of and transform emotion. Recent years have seen a growth of EFT in individual and couples therapy, both because of its status as an evidence-based treatment, and also because the EFT approach focuses on the development of emotional intelligence and on the importance of secure relationships. Because of these emphases, EFT offers an alternative to more technically-oriented evidence-based treatments.
Most fundamentally, emotions tell us what is important to us in a situation and thus act as a guide to what we need or want. This, in turn, helps us to figure out what actions are appropriate. Emotions are basically adaptive and guide attachment as well as the tendency toward growth. EFT focuses on helping people become aware of and express their emotions, learn to tolerate and regulate them, reflect on them to make sense of them and transform them. Learning about emotions is not enough; instead, what is needed is for clients to experience those emotions as they arise in the safety of the therapy session, where they can discover for themselves the value of greater awareness and more flexible management of emotions. Emotion-focused therapy systematically but flexibly helps clients become aware of and make productive use of their emotions.
EFT works on the basic principle that to change, people cannot leave a place until they have arrived. Clients therefore need to reclaim disowned experience before they can be changed by or change that experience. In this process, it is not that people simply discover things they did not know but rather that they become aware of and experience aspects of themselves they have not consciously felt or may have previously disclaimed, dismissed, or pushed away.
Based on emotion, attachment, and growth theory, EFT helps people identify which of their emotions they can trust and rely on as adaptive guides and which of their emotions are residues of painful memories that have become maladaptive to the person's current context and need to be changed. With the help of the therapist's empathic understanding and the use of experiential methods, clients learn how to make healthy contact with feelings, memories, thoughts, and physical sensations that have been ignored or feared and avoided. By accessing adaptive emotions such as healthy grief, empowering anger, and compassion, people are able to use these as resources to transform maladaptive emotions such as fear, sadness of abandonment and shame of inadequacy that have developed from past negative learning or traumatic experiences.
Emotion-focused Therapy for couples (EFT-C) is an approach to couples therapy, formulated in the 1980's by Drs. Les Greenberg and Sue Johnson, based on the expression of underlying emotions to help ruptures in the emotional bond between people. Interactions change when partners are able to express their underlying vulnerable emotions from threats to their attachment and identity. Saying what they really feel and need helps change the pursue/distance and attack/defend interactional cycles they are stuck in. A substantial body of research outlining the effectiveness of EFT-C now exists.