Emotion-Focused Therapy

What Is Emotion-Focused therapy?

Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) is a type of psychotherapy that is used to improve attachment and bonding in adult relationships. This approach to couples therapy was developed by doctors Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg in the 1980s and is rooted in research on love as an attachment bond.


Emotion-focused therapy sessions often include three stages that help to guide your therapy process, and also to track progress. The three stages of EFT are:


This step is focused on identifying negative interaction patterns that contribute to conflict, identifying negative emotions related to attachment issues, and reframing these issues. This process helps couples better see how insecurities and fears may be hurting their relationship.

Partners begin to view undesirable behaviors (i.e., shutting down or angry escalations) as “protests of disconnection.” Couples learn to be emotionally available, empathetic, and engaged with each other, while strengthening attachment and sense of safety between them. 


During this stage, each partner learns to share their emotions and show acceptance and compassion for each other. This step helps each partner become more responsive to their partner’s needs.

The process attempts to reduce a couple’s conflict while creating a more secure emotional bond. Couples learn to express deep, underlying emotions from a place of vulnerability and ask for their needs to be met.


During the final step, a therapist helps the couple work on new communication strategies and practicing skills when interacting with each other. This process can help couples see how they have been able to change and how new interaction patterns prevent conflict.

New healthy interactions occur and replace old, negative patterns.  These new, positive cycles then become self-reinforcing and create permanent change. The relationship becomes a safe and healing environment for both partners.

      What EFT can help with?

      Emotion-focused therapy can benefit couples who are struggling with conflict, distress, and poor communication. While often used in couples therapy, EFT can also be helpful in individual therapy and family therapy.

      With individuals, this approach can help people improve emotion-related problems. It can also help family members form more secure bonds with one another. 

      The couples who may benefit from EFT include those where one or both partners have:

      • Addiction
      • Depression
      • Infidelity
      • Trauma
      • PTSD

      Benefits of emotion-focused therapy

      There are a number of benefits that couples can gain from EFT. Some of these include:

      • Better emotional functioning: EFT encourages healthy dependency between partners and looks at key moves and moments that define an adult love relationship. The primary goal of the model is to strengthen the emotional responses of the couple.
      • Stronger bonds: EFT is based on attachment theory, which suggests that attachments between people typically provide safety—a retreat from the world and a way to obtain comfort, security, and a buffer against stress.
      • Improved interpersonal understanding: EFT helps people become more aware of their partner’s needs. Because of this awareness, they are also able to listen and discuss problems from a place of empathy instead of a place of defensiveness or anger.

        Things to consider

        Because emotion-focused therapy involves exploring uncomfortable emotions and patterns that contribute to conflict in relationships, it can be challenging at times. However, a willingness to do the work will also open the door to the greatest love and security one can experience in a committed relationship. The therapy process itself opens up delicate issues and may lead to uncomfortable or intense emotions.  It is important for each individual to participate in the process. EFT may be less effective if one person is less willing to participate.

        Due to insecure attachment, any perceived rejection or separation in our close relationships is interpreted as danger. Losing the connection to a loved one threatens our sense of security. Because of this, we tend to go into a self-preservation mode and rely on the things we did to “survive” or cope in childhood. Romantic relationships can at times trigger feelings of insecurity, causing us to react in unhealthy patterns learned in those younger years. The goal of EFT is to help change these patterns and replace them with more helpful ones.

            What can I expect in an EFT session

            During an EFT session, a therapist observes the dynamics between a couple and then acts as a collaborator to coach and direct new ways of interacting. Unlike some other forms of therapy where the therapist is more of a passive listener, EFT therapists take an active role in guiding the conversation. The therapeutic approach also focuses on addressing emotions and interactions within the session rather than focusing much on worksheets and homework. Your therapist will help you recognize behaviors and patterns that you may not  be aware of and see how these actions contribute to conflict in a relationship. 

            If you think this form of therapy would improve your relationship, please contact us today.  We would love to answer any questions you may have or get you scheduled with one of our couples counselors.