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Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)

What Is EFT?

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a researched-based approach to couples therapy that was developed by Susan Johnson and Les Greenberg. This approach is based on John Bowlby's Attachment research over 50 years ago which found that humans have an innate need to feel attached to and comforted by significant others.

Adult attachment relationships have the same survival function as the mother-child bond since ideally these attachments can provide the same love, comfort, support and protection throughout the lifespan. However, due to our relationship histories and the negative interaction cycles we get into with our partners, many of us have difficulties with trust and expressing emotion to those who mean the most to us.

When couples argue about such issues as jealousy, sex or money the origins of these arguments are usually some form of protest from one partner about not feeling connected, not trusting, or not feeling safe or secure with the other partner. When those we are attached to are not available, or are not responding to our needs to feel close or
supported we feel distressed. We may become anxious or fearful, numb or distant.

These behaviors can become habitual or rigid modes of reacting to our partners. Furthermore, these toxic behavior patterns seem to take on a life of their own as they cycle into repetitive couple interactions that cause much pain, injury and despair. During EFT couples therapy, we focus on these patterns and work on changing these negative interaction cycles in a non-judgmental environment.

In a relatively short time, couples begin to recognize and eventually express their needs for love, support, protection and comfort that are often hidden or disguised by the harsh or angry words used in repetitive self-defeating patterns of conflict or arguments with each other. Partners begin to “listen with the heart.” This concept is one of the cornerstones
of EFT – which means listening not for the literal meaning of a partner's words but for the feelings that lie beneath. In return, the other partner is better able to respond from their heart in kind. This is the emotional focus of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.

We view the building of “a safe haven” in your relationship as our primary task and we will try to focus on your primary needs -- to feel close, secure and responded to --- which probably underlie most of your couple conflict. Once this safe haven and feelings of connection are reestablished, you will be better able to manage conflict and
the painful or difficult feelings that will inevitably arise from time to time in a close relationship. Furthermore, without so much defensiveness, each of you will be able to send clearer messages and will be better able to hear the other's perspective. You will be better able to collaborate, problem-solve and compromise. In short, you'll
be more of a team which is the secret of a long-lived, successful marriage!

Research on the success of EFT

EFT appears to move couples from distress to recovery in 10-12 sessions for 70-75% of cases and creates improvements in 90% of couples coming in for therapy. EFT has been used with many different types of couples in private practice, university training centers and hospital clinics. These distressed couples include partners suffering from disorders such as depression, post- traumatic stress and chronic illness.

To view further references, recent articles describing EFT therapy and books on EFT please refer to the EFT website; Psychology Today, March/April 2003

EFT Sex Therapy

What is EFT sex therapy and how does it differ from traditional sex therapy? EFT sex therapy addresses couples sexual issues from an attachment perspective. That means that all emotional and behavioral responses are viewed as being based in the desire to either protect against disconnection or to attempt to create connection. Sexuality is understood as one of the ways that couples reach and respond to one another to secure their connection. EFT sex therapy applies the same interventions used with all couples therapy, but there is a particular focus on the ways in which their negative interaction cycle is manifest in their sexual relationship.  

Sex is understood and treated as a vital part of a couple's interactive dance. However, the couple's sexual dance is viewed and understood in context of all the other aspects of the couple's dance. The same patterns manifest in other areas of the couple's interactive dance are also manifest in the couple's sexual dance and vice versa. The negative interactive dance is the target of the therapy, with special attention given to the ways in which that pattern is manifest in the couple's sexual interaction. Sexual problems are understood as adaptive responses to mal-adaptive situations. This means that whatever is causing difficulty in the current relationship has its roots in a past situation where that same behavioral and/or emotional response served a purpose. Helping the couple explore and understand what purpose the current problem may have served in the past (either before the relationship or earlier in the relationship) helps the couple step out of blaming each other and/or shaming themselves and helps them unite in connecting in transforming their interaction. As partners lower their defenses against each other and begin turning to one another they transform their relationship from one of disconnection to one of effective connection emotionally and sexually.


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