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Emotion Focused Therapy

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Emotion Focused Therapy

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Emotion-focused therapy is a group of psychotherapy approaches given for couples having relationship problems. This article gives detailed content about them.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Seikhoo Bishnui

Published At April 6, 2019
Reviewed AtNovember 25, 2022

What is Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT)?

Emotionally focused therapy or emotion-focused therapy is a group of psychotherapy approaches that help couples with relationship problems. This technique was developed by Dr.Sue Johnson and Dr.Les Greenberg in 1980s. It works on the bases that human emotions are connected to human needs. So, by activating and working through patients feelings, they can adapt and change problematic emotional states and improve their relationships.

It was found to be effective to improve couples relationships, as studies showed that 70 to 75 % of couples move from distress to recovery and approximately 90 % of couples have remarkable improvement. This recovery is stable and longlasting, and the chance of relapse of distress is very less. EFT helps couples overcome problems in their relationships, that can be caused due to one or both partners suffering from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic illness, and addiction.

What are the Principles that EFT Works On?


EFT works on the patient’s emotions in all the sessions. It works on the following three principles:

  • Increasing awareness - This is the first principle, where the couple is made aware of their emotions. After they are aware of their emotions to some degree, the next principle is applied.

  • Enhancing emotion regulation - This is the most crucial part of EFT. Here, the individual is helped to acquire the skill of dealing with painful and intense emotions that hinder them from reaching their goal.

  • Transforming emotion - This is the process of changing difficult and harmful emotions (maladaptive emotions) to emotions that are good (adaptive emotions).

What are the uses of EFT?

Emotion-focused therapy can be used for:

  1. Couples with relationship problems.

  2. Individual who wants to learn how to interact and share emotions with others in a more healthy way.

  3. Families dealing with divorce, eating disorders, and children with behavioral problems.

What are the Stages and Steps of EFT?

Dr.Sue Johnson summarized three stages and nine steps treatment for distressed couples. The steps and stages are as follows:


Stage 1 - Stabilization:

This stage aims to create a stable environment for the couple to openly discuss the concerns they might have about the therapy, and whether they can trust the therapist. It also helps the therapist understand the positive and negative arguments in the past that is the root of the couple's problem. The steps in this stage are:

Step 1 - Identifying conflicts and issues between the couple.

Step 2 - Identifying the negative interaction cycle while expressing their issues.

Step 3 - Identify the emotions that are attached to this interaction cycle.

Step 4 - Reframe the problems so that unacknowledge emotions and attachments come out.

Stage 2 - Restructuring the bond:

In this stage, the couple is made to recognize their needs, and the conversations are changed based on those needs. The couple might find the new way of interaction strange and hard to accept, but once they get the hang of this new conversation method, it stops old patterns of behavior from relapsing. The steps in this stage are:

Step 5 - Identifying the self and the partner’s needs and wants.

Step 6 - Encourage them to accept the partner’s emotional experience.

Step 7 - Create new bonds and understandings based on current interactions and new emotions.

Stage 3 - Integration and consolidation:

This stage encourages the couple to use new techniques to deal with the relationship and other problems. The steps in this stage are:

Step 8 - Encourage the formation of new stories and solutions to old problems.

Step 9 - Introduce new cycles of behavior.

What are the Techniques and Interventions used?

The techniques used in EFT help patients understand and regulate their emotions properly. Here, the client is considered an expert in handling his or her problems and finding a solution. The therapist will use many techniques appropriate for the situation.

The techniques used by the therapist to build a positive relationship with the patient are:

  • Empathetic listening - The therapist connects with the client by seeing things from his or her perspective.

  • Genuine interaction - Helps in creating an authentic bond between the therapist and his patient.

  • Repeating what the patient says (mirroring) - Makes the patient feel understood.

  • Reframing experiences - The therapist tries to reframe the experience to understand it better.

  • Identify and reflect the problem cycle - The therapist will identify relevant details to discuss later.

  • Redirecting - The therapist will interrupt and redirect the conversation so that the root of the problem is identified.

As the patient warms up to the therapy, the therapist might use the following techniques:

  • Validation - Therapist makes the patient feel that their problems are understood.

  • Heightening of emotions - The therapist tries to stimulate certain emotions, so the patient understands the problem better.

  • Evocative responding - Here the therapist talks about sensitive emotional experiences to clarify vague aspects of it.

  • Empathetic speculation - The therapist forms theories to help the patient open up and move forward.

  • Restructuring - The therapist provokes the development of new emotions and encourages healthy interactions.

  • Encouragement and support - The therapist provide support and assistance in all stages of the therapy.

  • Redirection - The therapist helps the patient identify the negative interactional cycle and apply newly learned strategies.

At the end of the therapy, the therapist uses:

  • Encouragement and support.

  • Aftercare - The therapist makes sure that the patient has a plan to continue positive interaction even after the therapy.

This is not a new type of therapy, but it has been proven to be effective in solving relationship problems and also helps people with problems expressing their emotions and interactions with others. To know more about how this therapy can be helpful to improve your relationship with your spouse, consult a psychologist counselor online.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Is the Goal of Emotionally Focussed Therapy?

Emotionally focussed therapy’s goal is to focus on what is called a “secure attachment.” This means the kind of security, protection, and comfort a partner can provide for the other, and who can be available to support their partner in creating a positive sense of self and the ability to regulate their own emotions effectively.


Does Emotionally Focussed Therapy Work?

Emotionally focussed therapy can be applied successfully to couples struggling with relationship problems. Emotionally focussed therapy helps the couple understand themselves and their partner better; this makes it easier to interact positively with each other.


How Long Does Emotionally Focussed Therapy Take?

Emotionally focussed therapy is designed for temporary or short term treatment. This takes around 8-20 sessions for couples therapy. For any further clarification, please consult the doctor.


What Is Emotion Focussed Therapy for Individuals?

Emotion focussed therapy for individuals is based on the emotions of that particular person, how he or she has relationships with their family members, their partners. It focuses on the individual as a whole.


How Does EFT Approach Changing Emotions?

Emotionally focussed therapy approaches are basically based on the premise of human emotions. Human emotions are connected to the needs of humans, and therefore emotions have an inbuilt adaptive potential that, if activated and thoroughly worked, can help people change their problematic emotional stress and their interpersonal relationships.


Is Emotionally Focussed Therapy Evidence-Based?

Emotion focussed therapy for individuals is considered to be an empirically supported treatment for depression, according to the American Psychological Association. Also, some studies have suggested that this is also effective in the treatment of interpersonal problems, trauma, and avoidant personality disorder.


What Are the Three Theories of Emotions?

The theories of emotion are divided into three major categories:
- Physiological theories: our responses within the body are responsible for emotions
- Neurological theories: activity within the brain leads to an emotional response
- Cognitive theories: Thoughts and other mental activity form the emotions


What Are the Stages of EFT?

The stages of EFT are:
- Stage 1: Stabilization (assessment and de-escalation phase).
- Stage 2: Restructuring the bond (changing the phase of the interactional position).
- Stage 3: Integration and consolidation.


How Often Should You Tap EFT?

Tapping should be approximately three to five times on each point a day for a few minutes. There is no need to count the taps because anywhere between three and seven taps on each position is more than adequate.


Can EFT Be Harmful?

EFT is gentle, and rarely does it have any severe side effects. Some feelings like anger, anxiety, uneasiness, sadness, or worsening of the situations may arise. Although these are not the side effects of EFT, nor is there anything wrong with the person. It may generally be due to regret of previous decisions or choices, clearing major traumas, inbuilt anxiety, or fear, or some part of the person may be sad.


Does Faster EFT Really Work?

Faster EFT tapping really works. This can happen only if the person taps persistently, and refuses to settle for anything but total freedom from anxiety and stress. It is more important to fix your mind than your energy.


What Is Emotionally Focussed Therapy for Couples?

Emotionally focussed therapy was traditionally used for couples. It focuses on building the relationship between the couples and to create more positivity for the self. This helps them to support their partners and give them security and protection.


Emotion Focussed Therapy Is Based on What Psychological Therapy?

Emotion focussed therapy draws principles mainly from cognitive-behavioral, person-centered, and Gestalt therapies. There are also some aspects of Piaget’s studies on how people solve problems. When the EFT is directed toward couple therapy, it references systemic interactional perspectives.


How Does Emotion Focussed Therapy Understand Gender?

Gender usually plays a vital role in emotion focussed therapy. Each gender showcases different emotions in the same situations. So it is essential to focus on the needs of the gender and react accordingly.


How to deescalate emotion focussed therapy?

The key to deescalate emotion-focused therapy is identifying the relational conflict issues that arise between the partners. Then one should identify the negative interaction cycle where these issues might have been expressed.


How is emotion focussed therapy different from other therapies?

In emotion focussed therapy, the main focus for intervention is designed for couples, individuals, and family members to understand their emotions and their significant others in their lives. It is based on their interpersonal relationship, and other therapies do not focus on that.
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Dr. Seikhoo Bishnui
Dr. Seikhoo Bishnui



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