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What is Emotionally Focused Therapy?

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a well-known humanistic approach to psychotherapy formulated in the 1980’s and developed in tandem with the science of adult attachment. Attachment science views human beings as innately relational, social and wired for intimate bonding with others. The EFT model prioritizes emotion and emotional regulation as the key organizing agents in individual experience and key relationship interactions.

Three Stages of EFT

Stage 1: Identify and De-Escalate the Cycle

Step 1: Set goals for counseling; understand some of the ways your
relationship history affects your relationship now.
Step 2: Discover and describe the negative patterns of interaction you get
stuck in. We will track your interactions with your
partner and identify where and how your communication breaks down.
Step 3: Emotions are stirred up in your relationship, especially when you get
stuck in these negative cycles of interaction. Begin to share these feelings with
your partner.
Step 4: Describe your cycle and recognize what the triggers are. Understand
how the things that you do to protect yourself and your relationship affect and
may even threaten your partner. Discover that this negative cycle is
the source of unhappiness in your relationship, a common enemy for you and your partner to defeat.

Stage 2: Restructure the Bond

Step 5: With less friction and more compassion between you and your partner, there is safety to explore your experience more deeply. You may struggle with personal fears or insecurities in this relationship. You may have
had life experiences that make it difficult to trust others to be there for you. Begin to share these “raw spots” with your partner.
Step 6: This step involves staying engaged and listening to your partner’s
disclosures. Start by trying to understand at an emotional level what your partner is
saying, without needing to change his/her/their experience or take
responsibility for it yourself. Allow yourself to be moved by your partner’s new disclosures.
Step 7: Explore what helps you feel deeply connected, what is most important for you in this relationship. Find ways to ask for your needs in the relationship in a way that is both caring
and direct. Cultivate a felt sense of “being there”
for each other.

Stage 3: Integrate & Consolidate

Step 8: Revisit old problems or decisions that have been put on hold (e.g.,
parenting, finances, sex, family issues, health concerns) while staying
emotionally connected. They don’t seem as loaded now that you feel heard,
valued, close and secure. Focus on staying accessible, responsive, and
engaged while talking about practical issues. Together, you can face any of
life’s challenges more easily.
Step 9: Congratulations! You have reshaped your relationship. Or perhaps
this is the first time in your relationship that you have felt a profound bond with
one another. You have worked hard to get here, so it’s important to celebrate
it and put safeguards in place to protect it. Create rituals together that
privilege your relationship. Find ways of keeping this new way of relating

Understand Your Negative Cycle

Couples get caught in “negative cycles” or patterns of interactions. A negative cycle is a repetitive pattern of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that cause distress. You react to your partner’s reactions and your partner reacts to your reactions and around and around it goes. Understanding and untangling your negative cycle is the first step in climbing out of distress. The exercise below will help you with this process.


When my partner and I are not getting along:


I often react by ...


My partner often reacts to me by ...


When my partner reacts this way, I often feel ...

When I react the way I do, I guess that my partner feels ...

When I feel this way, I see myself as ...

When I feel this way, I see my partner or our relationship as ...

When I feel this way, I long for or need ...

Put these together to describe your negative cycle. Include how you and your partner trigger the other’s feelings, thoughts and behaviors.

Example: When my partner and I are not getting along, I feel frustrated, and I snap and criticize. I can see this hurts my partner when they shut down and ignore me. I fear I am too much for my partner, and worry they will not be there for me when I need them. I wish they would tell me that my feelings matter and that I can count on them to not leave me when I need them the most.

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