What is EFT?
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) is a very specific, targeted, and research-validated approach to helping couples heal and grow their emotional bond. It has been developed to normally take 8-20 sessions, and moves through three primary stages – de-escalation (which reduces the ongoing fighting or distancing that creates a difficult home environment), reconnecting (which helps partners experience greater trust, respect, and intimacy with one another), and solidifying (creating new patterns that reflect the new level of intimacy and connection). It also includes specific elements to address major injuries such as betrayal or infidelity, as well as dealing with significant trauma from the past that might be impacting the relationship.
What is the goal of EFT?
Very simply, EFT helps couples restore and build their emotional bond with one another by having difficult conversations in a way that, instead of pushing them further apart, draws them closer together. It changes old repetitive patterns of fighting, and works to help couples effectively communicate their innate desire to be respected, loved, and appreciated by the other. The goal is to provide a space and a direction for couples to create together a relationship of trust, harmony, and appreciation.
How is it different from other approaches?
In the mid 1980’s, the now-famous couples researcher John Gottman ran the most comprehensive outcome research of couples counseling to date, and was shocked to find a mere 11-20% success rate in terms of satisfaction. By contrast, research on EFT has shown rates of satisfaction at 75% and above.
EFT is different because it developed out of a comprehensive theory of human connection called “attachment theory.” This theory has given us a key to understanding why we feel close—and why we feel distant—in our most important relationships. Over the last 30 years, advances in brain science have only shown to support this theory and its effects on mental well-being.
What is Attachment Theory?
EFT emerged from a body of research called “attachment theory,” which was initially developed by John Bowlby in the 1960’s. Bowlby studied the emotional bond between infants and their primary caregivers, and published groundbreaking research on the nature and dynamics of those unique bonds. In the 1980’s, Susan Johnson began to apply this research to the unique bonds between romantic partners, and discovered something tremendous. The dynamics that Bowlby described in attachment literature proved to be amazingly accurate for describing the dynamics between committed adult partners. Based upon this premise, Johnson began developing a new approach to couples counseling, which would eventually become Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.
Attachment theory has a number of important elements for couples. First, it says that our brains respond to emotional distance with our partner in the same way that an infant’s brain responds to a mother’s emotional distance: “Panic! You cannot survive without that person!” As adults, we may (or may not) be able to maintain our composure in those moments, but the chemicals being released in our brains when our partner becomes distant or starts attacking are the same chemicals that signal imminent physical danger! Your brain is telling the body that your life is in danger, and you have to either run for your life, fight for your life, or completely shut down because all hope is lost.
Attachment theory also tells us that there are different “styles” to describe how we respond to a high anxiety situation in the relationship. A “withdrawing” style will tend to back away, which is the brain’s way of trying to calm itself down and regroup. A “pursuing” style will tend to reach out for the other person, attempting to find comfort in the connection with that person.
Finally, attachment theory describes different levels of “security” in the relationship, describing how both small, day-to-day interactions and large “attachment injuries” can impact that deep sense of security and trust. “Will you really be there for me when I need you? Will you be there for me emotionally, and can I trust you with the parts of myself that I am not proud of?” Attachment theory gives us a blueprint for developing greater emotional security and a closer, more intimate bond with our partners.
Are there situations where EFT is NOT appropriate?
Yes. Ongoing physical abuse, ongoing extramarital affairs, and ongoing substance abuse will all disrupt the process of connection necessary for EFT to work. These behaviors must be attended to before beginning EFT, and we will refer the individual to an experienced counselor who specializes in that area.
Where can I find more information about EFT?
For more links and videos about the EFT approach and the EFT community worldwide, please visit the resources page.
Doesn’t this cost a lot of money?
Going through EFT is a significant investment not only financially, but also emotionally. These negative patterns will not change overnight. At the same time, unresolved tension has a cost of its own.
A few points to consider: what is a trusting, comfortable, and intimate relationship worth? How much can you save by doing something right the first time? And really, how much does a divorce cost – both financially and emotionally?
If the cost is the prohibitive factor for getting help and the relationship is in crisis, call us to discuss your situation. We do have a limited number of sliding-scale appointments available each month, based on household income.
Can I come as an individual?
Absolutely. Since relationships involve two people, there can be improvements made by working on yourself. Individual appointments can also be helpful to discern your next steps in the relationship, to bounce ideas off someone without being judged, to better understand your motivations and fears, or to develop better methods of handling stress, depression, anger, and other difficult emotions.
We are new to couples counseling, and don’t know how the process goes. Can we come in to simply learn about the process?
Yes. You can schedule an initial session to simply learn about EFT and see if we would make a good “fit” personally. We can provide you with resources, answer your questions, and let you determine what the next steps ought to be. No pressure and no expectations.