Emotion Focused Couples Therapy, or EFT, is a therapeutic treatment modality that focuses on exploring the impact of attachment in relational healing. Using a nine step approach (across three stages), couples learn about their own attachment styles, communication patterns, triggers, and barriers to intimacy/vulnerability.
The three stages of EFT include:
This stage is focused on identifying negative interaction patterns that contribute to conflict, identifying negative emotions related to attachment issues, and reframing these issues. This helps couples better see how insecurities and fears are hurting their relationship.
Partners begin to view undesirable behaviors (i.e., shutting down or angry escalations) as “protests of disconnection.” Couples learn to be emotionally available, empathetic, and engaged with each other. In doing so, couples are strengthening the attachment bond and safe haven between them.
During this stage, each partner learns to share their emotions and show acceptance and compassion for their partner. This helps each partner become more responsive to their partner's needs.
The process reduces couples’ conflict while creating a more secure emotional bond. Couples learn to express deep, underlying emotions with vulnerability, and ask for their needs to be met.
During the final step, a therapist helps the couple work on new communication strategies and practicing skills when interacting with each other. This can help couples see how they have been able to change and how new interaction patterns prevent conflict.
New sequences of bonding interactions occur and replace old, negative patterns such as “pursue-withdraw” or “criticize-defend.”
These new, positive cycles then become self-reinforcing and create permanent change, through the idea of neural-"reprogramming". The relationship becomes a haven and a healing environment for both partners.
EFT has many strengths as a therapeutic model. First, it is supported by extensive research. Second, it is collaborative and respectful of clients. It shifts blame for the couples' problems to the negative patterns between them, instead of the couples themselves (or individual partners).
There is a substantial body of research outlining the effectiveness of this treatment. It is now considered one of the most (if not the most) empirically validated forms of couples therapy. For more information about evidenced based practices in EFT, please visit the ICEEFT website, here.