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Marriage & Couples

Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy and Couples Counseling, and How It Can Help Your Relationship

By November 9, 2022 No Comments
couples counseling

You may need couples therapy if the distance between the two of you is ongoing and hurts extremely bad. It could be that you wish your partner would not pull away or that they would stop pointing out everything that’s wrong. And the cycle seems to always be the same with both of you feeling blamed, attacked, lonely or frustrated in the same pattern no matter what the issue. You may have been married over 20 years, or less than 10.   Or you’re just dating and you fear this new relationship might repeat patterns from the past. 

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples can help.  It will help you connect with your partner on an emotional level where you both feel safe to share hurts and needs.  EFT can also help change negative cycles by helping each partner move from a stance of reacting to a stance of co-creating emotional connections to help them bond in new ways as never before. So, what is Emotionally Focused Therapy?

Couples Counseling: What is Emotionally Focused Therapy?

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is an experientially based therapy created by Drs. Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg in the early 1980’s.  Its core theoretical framework is supported by several theories:  Attachment Theory, Person-Centered or Rogerian, Family Systems, and Gestalt.  

The goal of EFT is to create more secure emotional bonds between each partner in the couple relationship.  

The EFT model is experiential in that couples experience in-session the moves and actions needed to strengthen their emotional bond with each other.  Progression in this type of couples counseling moves through three stages:

  • Couples change negative and reactive cycles with each other by slowing down and moving from positions of attack/defend and/or blame/withdraw.  Vulnerability and trust don’t happen overnight but as the factors that cause their disruption are faced and owned, the partners begin to understand how they may not only contribute to their partner’s response to them in the negative cycle but even predict the hurtful outcomes they have not been able to stop.
  • Emotions, especially those current and past hurts and longings people feel with each other, can then be experienced, owned and expressed to each other.  As the couple now views the negative cycle as their common enemy rather than each other they can move to a dance of accepting moves with each other where vulnerability and trust are expressed, sometimes for the first time, and gradually strengthened.  
  • Armed with a new perspective on their relationship, the couple can then move to bring new solutions to old problems they have had and co-create new relational patterns that build a secure emotional bond with each other.  

What is different about the EFT model from other couple therapies out there?

  1. Part of the first stage of therapy is building a strong and non-biased alliance with the therapist where the therapist takes no sides and the negative cycle is viewed as the problem in the relationship. Another significant difference is that the first four to five sessions are spent in assessment meaning that each partner has time to share significant background history and information both personally and in the relationship that will provide much of the groundwork they will need as they discuss negative cycles and improve their bond.
  2. The EFT couples counseling model focuses on emotion which is a driving force in behaviors as well as neurobiological factors such as attunement and attachment to each other. Bottomline, people care about how they feel about the problems in the relationship and their feelings will only improve if those are experienced, owned and expressed with each other in a bond that is emotionally safe, vulnerable and trusting and they can experience first-hand the consequent changes their partner is making in tandem.
  3. EFT sessions are not grudge and vent-fests where partners download lists of wrongs against each other. They are, however, experiential – this means that couples are actually talking and engaging each other in-session, changing negative cycles, softening and re-engaging with each other and vulnerably trusting each other again with hurts and longings.
  4. Because this couples counseling model is experiential and not behavioral, clients begin to experience slight but significant emotional changes in the bond that they have with each other and this in turn produces an improved closeness with each other where behavioral changes happen as an outcome. It doesn’t really matter how many date nights you put on top of an emotionally distant and insecure attachment with your partner, those are simply not going to help your relationship. But when you are feeling closer to each other and trusting each other the natural byproduct is a desire to be close and to trust each other and spend time together.

What is different about me and my experience and training with the EFT couples counseling model from other therapists that provide couple or marital therapy?

  1. I have a strong foundation of working with families and have been working with children in play therapy as well as preteens and teens since 2011. I’ve become a registered play therapist supervisor and one of my core tenets has always been to increase the bond between the parent and the child. I believe in the EFT model so much that I am now applying it with both adult individuals as well as with parents using Emotionally Focused Family Therapy helping parents improve their emotional bonds with their teen children. This unique approach gives me a much broader understanding of the problems that couples face from their own relationship as well as the family because children and parenting issues are often involved. Connecting emotionally is a driving force and change agent that can help couples get unstuck from old patterns of relating and improve their relationship by deepening their trust, love and bond.
  2. I’m sorry but there are no relationship experts. You know why? Because relationships come in orders of one as an original with no replications – not in sets or groups or numbers. Just one. Yours. Because that’s the only one that matters to you is yours. And just like there’s no expert on a single fingerprint so there’s no expert on your relationship. Because every relationship is unique in it’s own beginnings, dynamic and experience. So, I am not an expert or coach or teacher but as Sue Johnson terms it, “a process consultant, a choreographer and a collaborator,” (The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, 2nd ed., by Dr. Sue M. Johnson, p. 11-12).   Someone who gets to know you both in your relationship, in your unique ways with each other, helping you see, hear, trust and truly love each other. 
  3. I use the EFT couples counseling model which helps clients re-engage and connect with each other on an emotional level enabling them to co-create their own relationship rather than remember a theory or steps or exercises from other approaches.  Also, the EFT model is a proven and research-based model of couple therapy which differs vastly from the common “eclectic approach” many couple therapists advertise. 
  4. I am currently in training to complete certification as an EFT Certified Therapist. Certification in the EFT model is provided by the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT)
    • I have completed a 28-hour EFT externship with an EFT Certified Supervisor.
    • I have completed all 5 modules in EFT Core Skills training with an EFT Certified Supervisor.
    • I am currently supervised by an EFT Certified Supervisor and meet weekly to discuss and process my couple sessions.
    • I expect to complete my certification process by spring of 2023.
  5. Finally, my approach to working with clients has followed a theoretical foundation built on attachment.  My early training experiences in trauma-related contexts (see my bio in my work in the field of abuse) grounded me in somatic symptoms that clients feel (Gestalt).  My training and experience in play therapy has been Child-Centered (Rogerian) with strong Attachment-based applications in building the relationship between parent and child.  And I view the couple relationship within the family system as a whole including children and the interconnected relationships all have with each other in the family.  

Contact us today to learn more about couples counseling services. 

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Dean Wisdom

Author Dean Wisdom

Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor, Registered Play Therapist

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