The Benefits Of Emotion-Focused Therapy

By Julia Thomas|Updated August 4, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Kimberly L Brownridge , LPC, NCC, BCPC Counsel The Mind, LLC

When it comes to relationships, what can make or break them are emotions. You were attracted to your partner because of emotions, so it's natural that strong negative emotion can destroy the relationship. Sometimes, emotional experience trump logic, and emotion-focused therapy (EFT) might be the solution you need.

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What Is Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT)?

EFT therapy is a person-centered approach that focuses on a person's emotions and the response to said emotions. Also called process experiential therapy, it was first developed in 1985. In the 1980s, divorce rates were at an all-time high, and psychologists Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg were trying to find a better way to help couples solve their differences. This led to them discovering that most of the problems couples face come from a cycle of reinforcing emotions that go back and forth between them. Emotion is not just one individual, but a web that can weave between partners.

As an emotion-focused approach, EFT has been evolving since the first manual was published 30 years ago in university training centers, with many new steps added since then. EFT also can be used for family members and even for individuals. Many couples find it helpful. Why? Because they learn to understand each other's emotions, as well as be self-aware of their emotional responses.

What Theory Does EFT Use?

Although EFT can be used in a clinical psychology contemporary psychotherapy setting, it focuses on the attachment theory of human functioning. Attachment theory originally focused on infants and their primary caregivers, but it was soon discovered that adults also have attachments of their own. Attachment theory studies the effects of interpersonal relationships and emotional experience between humans. Many humans develop adaptive emotions as babies and feel safer when they're around a loved one. This helped spring EFT to life.

You may have someone you're attached to, be it your spouse, family member, or friend. There are some who are loners, but even the most antisocial tend to have at least one person they're attached to. Do you ever feel like that person will abandon you? The EFT model says that sometimes, relationships going bad can be due to the fear of abandonment, even if it doesn't show. Your response to the fear of abandonment may end up making your relationship worse, almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Then there is the cycle of negative emotional patterns during change processes. If your partner is in distress, you may become frustrated as you attempt to understand them. This can increase your negative emotion, which can amplify theirs, and it's like playing hot potato with a lit bomb. It's going to explode in someone's face eventually.

You may feel like you understand your partner's emotions, and maybe you do to a point, but no one can get in someone's head. And even if you could, many can't even understand their own emotions. Many therapists won't be able to understand someone's emotions entirely, but their techniques can make the emotions more visible. EFT focuses on the feeling many couples have, and that's insecurity.

Everyone has insecurity to some degree. Every couple has asked "Do they love me?" to themselves or their partner. There's always the fear that someone better will take them away, or they'll no longer need you.

This can stem from many things, from you being abandoned by someone when you were younger to the basic attachment an infant has with their caregiver. Whatever the cause, EFT teaches people how to eliminate those insecurities and have a revitalized emotional connection to their partner.

Talking to a therapist who will listen and empathize with you can give you better results. Therapists know how relationships work. Every situation is different, but there are many emotional similarities a therapist can jump on to fix the relationship.

The Steps Of EFT

With many treatments, the techniques are broken down into steps. People like when treatment comes in steps, and it's easy to follow. EFT specifically has nine steps that are divided into three phases. Here is the basic outline.

Phase One: Deescalate The Problem

Whatever the situation is, the therapist needs to put an end to the anger and bickering so that they can help to fix the relationship. This is divided into four steps.

  • The therapist identifies the concern the couples have. Be it finances, insecurity, aging, and so on.
  • Then, the therapist identifies how negative emotions and negative interactions will make the conflict worse whenever the concern is brought to light. These usually appear in patterns.
  • Afterwards, it's time to figure out the causes. The therapist looks for fears and emotions that may be hiding beneath the conscious mind and may be causing those negative interactions.
  • The therapist then tells the couple how the main conflict is connected to those underlying emotions and points out the couple's needs, usually involving attachment.

If this works, the couple's argument should calm down, and then it's on to phase two.

Phase Two: Changing Patterns

In this phase, the couples are taught how to interact better and express their emotional needs. This is divided into three steps.

  • The couple can talk about their deep-rooted emotions, as well as their wants and needs relating to attachment.
  • Each partner is taught different ways to empathize and accept their other partner's needs.
  • The partners are then taught about needing to express their emotions and needs, and then told ways to discuss these needs without leading to conflict.

Now, the couple should be on their way to understanding each other.

Phase Three: Integrating

Now, we're in the final stretch, and there are only two steps this time.

  • The therapist tells the couple ways to communicate to their partner and help to create better solutions to older problems.
  • Finally, it's up to the couple to fix this outside of therapy. They learn the techniques and make a plan to better interact with each other whenever a situation should rise.

When it comes to relationships, there tend to be problems that stem from a lack of communication. You may think you know your partner quite well, and that can be your downfall. You may never know what's in their head, and due to that, you may end up destroying the relationship. EFT helps to find common ground and communication based on that.

EFT for Other People

EFT has evolved to be more than just couple counseling. Here are a few other uses.


It makes sense. A lot of family issues can stem from attachment worries and a lack of communication about emotions. For instance, as a child enters adolescence, they may have a slew of emotions they want to tell their parents, but they just can't. Even in adulthood, EFT is good to help reconnect with your loved ones.

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If a person has depression or some other trauma, EFT may be an effective tool in fighting it. A person may learn to figure out the cause of their depression, be it an attachment to someone else or a trauma. They're then taught to write down a plan to help conquer their problems.

Does It Work?

When it comes to therapy, the biggest question you may have is, "Does this work?" You don't want to invest time and money into a temporary bandage, after all.

No therapy is 100 percent effective, and some couples just can't settle their differences without separating, but EFT is found to be effective for most people. It's true that couples tend to have attachment issues, and by figuring out the root emotions and learning how to handle that, the couple can move on to have a happy, healthy relationship.

EFT tends not to be a temporary bandage. There will be follow-up appointments, and most couples keep using the techniques and end up having a happy, healthy life with each other.

No matter how close you are with your partner, you're going to have hiccups, and sometimes it feels like it can be the end. When in all actuality, you just need some therapy with them to get the relationship moving on the right track.

The Overall Benefits Of EFT

To summarize, here are some of the benefits you may experience with EFT.

  • A better understanding of your needs
  • A better understanding of your partner's needs
  • The ability to talk about problems with empathy rather than escalation
  • Learning about your attachment insecurities and how you can handle them
  • Finding the cause of your problems instead of a symptom
  • Having a relationship that works out and will last a long time

If you and your partner were meant to be, you can't miss out on EFT if there is a problem that you just can't fix.

Seek Help!

If you, your partner, a family member, or just someone you know is struggling with relationship issues, try EFT. Don't wait for the problem to fix itself, because that may end up in separation. There are plenty of outlets out there to help you find a therapist who's right for you and your partner. Whether in-person or online, you can learn to know your differences and move on to have a relationship that will last a lifetime.

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