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Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is an evidenced based couple’s therapy that was developed by Susan Johnsons, Ph.D., during the late 1980’s. This modality of couples work was based on John Bowlby’s and Mary Ainsworth’s research on attachment. What she found was that the same attachment needs observed in children were still present with adults in romantic relationships.


Adults in love relationships have the same need to feel secure, safe and protected as children do. When couples come to therapy they often have stories that describe the fight or argument they are embroiled in. There is typically some type of “protest” from one partner that signifies his/her feelings of not being connected or safe and some type of “withdrawal” that signifies his/her feelings of inadequacy or defeat. The couple will often describe feelings of anxiety, fear, numbness or distance.


If an adult has developed an insecure attachment as a child, this can lead to relationship difficulties as the need to feel safe and secure is threatened. Love relationships tend to bring up these issues as a result of missed cues and incorrect interpretations of the partner’s intent. If a couple experiences these missed cues over a period of time, they soon fall into a rigid interaction pattern that leads to feelings of loneliness, abandonment, inadequacy or failure. These feelings are at the base of the couple’s problems and often go unrealized.



It is through the process of EFT that a couple can begin to learn about the pattern they have developed, how they both contribute to it, and what their underlying needs are that fuel their behaviors in their relationship issues. This process of therapy begins to “reconstruct” the couples’ conversations as they are able to expand their awareness and begin to ask for love, support, protection and comfort that are often hidden or disguised by harsh or angry words. An EFT therapist assists each partner to listen from his/her heart, that is, to understand the feelings that underlie the literal meaning of their partner’s words.  In “hearing and understanding” their partner (sometimes for the first time), the couple begins to feel safer in the relationship and to again learn to risk the vulnerable feelings of connection and closeness


An EFT therapist views the building of a “safe haven” in the relationship as the primary task, and will try to focus on each partners’ primary needs of closeness, security and to be responded to, in order to heal the emotional pain that fuels the reactivity of their struggles


Once this safe haven is established, couples are able to move towards resolving conflicts that inevitably arise from time to time in close relationships. Messages are then sent more clearly and defensiveness is reduced.  This is important for couples to build more of a team, and is found to be the secret of long-lived, successful marriages.

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