Benefits Of Emotion-Focused Therapy

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated March 31, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Emotions are usually an integral part of relationships, with a focused intention on them playing a crucial role in forming a secure attachment with our partners. They're often what attracts us to our partners and what binds us to them throughout the relationship. Emotions also tend to provide us with the feelings of dependability that often accompany familial ties and unconditional love.

However, just as emotion can forge healthy bonds, strong negative emotions can cause difficulty in relationships, leading to negative interaction patterns. Sometimes, emotional distress can become stronger than “rational thought” and can cause misunderstandings and conflict in relationships. In those cases, emotion-focused therapy (EFT) may help.

Relationships can be complicated

Emotionally focused therapy, often applied in couples therapy, tends to be centered around the individual, their emotions, and the response to those emotions in the context of their intimate relationships with others. If you're curious about the difference between EFT and somatic therapy, the former centers around on emotion control as the key component while the latter emphasizes the connection of mind and body.

Also sometimes called process experiential therapy, EFT was first developed in 1985 by psychologists Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg to address relationship distress and high divorce rates in the 1980s. This person-centered therapy, backed by a substantial body of empirical research, centers around creating a secure attachment between partners and helps to repair family bonds when necessary.

As an emotion-focused approach, EFT has been evolving since the first manual was published 30 years ago in university training centers, with the change process involving many new steps added since then. Clients of therapists who use EFT may find it helpful because the reflective approach allows individuals to learn emotional control and understand others’ emotions, in addition to increasing awareness of their own emotional response and maladaptive emotions. 

The EFT model operates on the concept that sometimes relationships can devolve for a variety of reasons. If these attachment needs are not addressed, problems in a relationship can become much larger, resulting in separation and/or intense mental health problems outside the relationship, further affecting the secure bond between partners. 

The EFT method

EFT typically centers around attachment theory of human functioning. Attachment theory originally began with infants and their primary caregivers, but it was soon discovered that adults also have attachments. Attachment theory is related to some effects of interpersonal relationships and emotional experiences between humans. Many humans develop adaptive emotions as babies and feel safer when around a loved one. 

Almost everyone has experienced adult attachment of some type to another person. One of the most common, and sometimes painful, challenges that can cause problems in relationships is fear of abandonment from those we've formed family bonds with. An EFT therapist, who practices emotionally focused family therapy, may be able to help you identify and address any potential fear of abandonment.

Another pillar of EFT is the concept of change and the cycle of negative emotional patterns that may occur in relationships. Sometimes the complications of change are harder to cope with within the framework of a relationship than they may otherwise be as an individual. 

Whether there is insecurity, resentment, miscommunication, or another situation that is causing problems in your relationship, a family therapy specialist who listens to you and your family members may be able to provide you with helpful tools and new solutions to move forward and resolve concerns related to attachment.

What does EFT treat?

EFT isn’t only effective for helping couples; it can also be beneficial for treating individuals with a range of mental health challenges, such as eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and trauma. It can also be helpful for families to resolve attachment and communication problems. Whether it’s for individuals, families, or couples, the benefits of this therapeutic approach can include:

  • Greater emotional awareness, management, and well-being 
  • Greater ability to cope with unhelpful emotions and certain mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and bipolar disorder
  • Greater impulse control, self-control, and understanding of one’s emotions
  • Making sense of attachment trauma
  • Effective restructuring of interactions in love relationships that may have prevented couples from forming a bond
  • Greater empathy


As with many treatments, the techniques of EFT are broken down into stages. The following are the typical three stages of EFT, but they may vary:

Stage one: De-escalation

Whatever the situation, before EFT can work, the therapist often needs to try to calm anger and related arguments so they can proceed with stage one of treatment. This stage is divided into four steps that take place in each introductory EFT session:

  • A therapist identifies any concerns the couples have, whether related to finances, aging, etc.
  • Then, a therapist identifies how those concerns can create negative emotions and negative interactions that damage the relationship. 
  • A therapist looks for fears and emotions that may be hiding beneath one's conscious mind and may be causing those negative interactions.
  • Next, a therapist explores how the main conflict is connected to those underlying emotions or an internal experience.

Stage two: Changing patterns

In this stage, couples are typically taught how to interact better and express their emotional needs. The therapist may utilize a clinical handbook or other tools to teach couples to communicate and express themselves. This active process is divided into three steps:

  • A couple can discuss their deep-rooted emotions, as well as their wants and needs.
  • Each partner is taught different ways to empathize and accept their partner's needs.
  • Partners are taught to express their emotions and needs and to discuss these needs without conflict moving forward.

Stage three: Integrating

This stage includes two steps:

  • A therapist presents the couple with ways to communicate with their partner and to create better solutions for problems in the past, present, and future. 
  • Couples leave therapy prepared to use the coping strategies they’ve learned. In this step, the therapist may ask the couple to make a concrete plan for better interaction should a difficult situation arise. 

Does emotion-focused therapy work?

No kind of therapy is 100% effective. Some couples find they can't settle their differences without separating, but EFT research indicates that it has been effective for most people. 

Part of EFT’s effectiveness may be due to its thorough, continuous influence on the couple’s relationship beyond the initial treatment, restructuring interactions and fostering a safe haven, even if the couple only engaged in short term therapy. There are typically follow-up appointments, and most couples implement lifelong learning and continue using the techniques throughout their relationship. 

Relationships can be complicated


relationship. However, with time, therapists discovered that EFT helps in a variety of applications beyond couple’s therapy. 

Some couples choose to see a therapist in person at an office to center on the family process, but with the rise in popularity of online therapy, many are opting to speak with a therapist from home instead. Couple’s therapy can be an emotional experience, and for many, addressing those emotions is much easier from the comfort of home. 

Online therapy has been shown to be just as effective as in-person therapy, and you can usually choose how to communicate with your therapist. With BetterHelp, you can contact your therapist via phone, videoconference, or in-app messaging. Take the first step to a stronger relationship and reach out to BetterHelp today.

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