Emotion Focused Therapy
Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) is a short term (8-20 sessions), structured approach to couples therapy formulated in the early 80’s by Drs. Sue Johnson and Leslie Greenburg. EFT is also used with families. A substantial body of research outlining the effectiveness of EFT now exists. Research studies find that 70-75% of couples move from distress to recovery and approximately 90% show significant improvements. The major contraindication for EFT is on-going violence in the relationship.
EFT is being used with many different kinds of couples in private practice, university training centers and hospital clinics and many different cultural groups. These distressed couples include partners suffering from disorders such as depression, post traumatic stress disorders and chronic illness. Please click to view recent articles and books on EFT.
Strengths of Emotionally Focused Therapy
EFT is based on clear, explicit conceptualizations of marital distress and adult love. These conceptualizations are supported by empirical research on the nature of marital distress and adult attachment.
EFT is collaborative and respectful of clients combining experimental Rogerian techniques with structural systemic interventions.
Change strategies and interventions are specified.
Key moves and moments in the change process have been mapped into nine steps and three change events.
EFT has been validated by 20 years of empirical research. There is also research on the change processes and predictors of success.
EFT has been applied to many different kinds of problems and populations.
Goals of Emotionally Focused Therapy
To expand and re-organize key emotional responses–the music of the attachment dance.
To create a shift in partners’ interactional positions and initiate new cycles of interaction.
To foster the creation of a secure bond between partners.
A Snapshot of the Change Process
In a therapy session, a husband’s numb withdrawal expands into a sense of intimidation and helplessness. He can now assert his need for respect and become more accessible to his wife.
He moves from “There is no point in talking to you. I don’t want to fight.” to “I do want to be close. I want you to give me a chance. Stop poking me and let me learn to dance with you.”
His wife’s critical anger then expands into fear and sadness. She can now ask for and elicit comfort.
She moves from “You just don’t care. You don’t get it.” to “It is so difficult to say – but I need you to hold me – reassure me – can you?”
New cycles of bonding interactions occur and replace negative cycles such as pursue-withdraw or criticize-defend. These positive cycles then become self-reinforcing and create permanent change.
If fighting emotion with emotion sounds unconventional, that’s because it is. York University Psychology Professor Leslie Greenberg is one of only a handful of researchers on the cutting edge of treatment for psychological trauma and depression using emotion-focused therapy, or EFT – a treatment he pioneered.
EFT challenges conventional cognitive-behavioural or logic-based therapies by encouraging clients to “feel” their way to better mental health.
“Cognitive behavioural therapy aims to change the way we think about our emotions. It’s very much focused on regulating or suppressing painful feelings, which can be damaging,” says Greenberg.
EFT, which proves beneficial in both individual and couples therapy, instead advocates exploring the range of emotions associated with traumatic events, and begins a process whereby one negative feeling is exchanged for another, often opposite emotion. The end result? A direct, positive alteration of clients’ feelings – not just logical processes that act as coping mechanisms.
As director of York’s Psychotherapy Research Clinic, Greenberg has seen much first-hand evidence that traditional modes of therapy are not working.
“One woman never cried. The message from society was that she was not to shed one tear over her broken relationship, and was simply to move on with her life. Ten years later, she had a panic attack while driving her car. People store all of these things inside and then suddenly, something happens in their lives – maybe the loss of a job, for example – and they totally break down. They simply crumble.”
Greenberg has completed a detailed study to determine how EFT can be used to create the most positive results. Hundreds of hours of videotape from participants’ therapy sessions –encompassing 40 individuals and 40 couples over a period of two years – was transcribed and analyzed for the most minute clues, including unspoken cues like facial expression.
He has identified four stages, or more accurately, “processes,” whereby this change in emotion occurs, the first being the client’s awareness and acceptance of his or her feelings. The second stage incorporates “regulation” into the process of healing, as the client must learn to tolerate those emotions and control any self-destructive behaviours that seriously interfere with his or her daily life. The point is not to let emotions spin out of control, but rather to learn healthy methods of coping with one’s feelings before the final processes – transformation and reflection – can occur.
Greenberg is currently devoting his attention to emotion-based therapies for depression and forgiveness – the topic of forthcoming books. His professional publications include 71 peer- reviewed papers, 55 book chapters, and 14 books. He is a founder of the Society of the Exploration of Psychotherapy Integration (SEPI), a founder of the Society for Constructivism in Psychotherapy (SCP), and a past president of the Society for Psychotherapy Research (SPR). He is on the editorial board of the Journal of Psychotherapy Integration and the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.
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