Emotionally-Focused Therapy

Security. Empathy. Validation.

Emotionally focused therapy (EFT), also known as emotionally focused couples therapy, creates a space for clients to recognize their broken bond in a relationship and work together to reconnect. EFT helps couples understand how important attachment is in a relationship. 

As much as we rely on logic, humans are still driven by emotions in a lot of ways. The emotional bonds we create with our romantic partners dictate how we react and behave in the relationship. EFT helps couples build three key emotional components:

  • Security
  • Empathy
  • Validation

With these three components, couples can rebuild those connections and create secure attachments. 

What is Emotionally-Focused Therapy?

EFT was created in the mid-1980s by Dr. Sue Johnson and Dr. Leslie Greenberg. Their goal was to find the best methods and techniques to mend broken relationships. Eventually, they found that to repair bonds of attachment, couples needed help to understand their reactions and manage their emotions. 

Since then, EFT has been proven to be very effective. 77% of couples felt they mended their relationships completely and “graduated” couples counseling in 10-12 sessions. 90% of couples show significant improvement in their relationship.

Dr. Sue Johnson’s Discoveries

While doing intensive research, Dr. Johnson made some revolutionary discoveries. She theorized that all people inherently have a tendency to become emotionally attached to their partner, similar to the way a child is to their mother. When one feels they aren’t emotionally connected to their partner, they may feel distressed and react negatively. 

Dr. Johnson refers to negative moments in relationships as “dances”. The dances result in emotions toward one another like anger, distress, distrust. Dr. Johnson believes that once the clients discuss their feelings and problems with each other openly, then they can begin to change their behaviors and mend their relationships.

The Role of Attachment Theory in EFT

Attachment theory was first suggested by John Bowlby in 1969 and further developed by Mary Ainsworth in 1971. It plays a big part in EFT because it describes how the bonds we created in childhood affect how we view important connections in the future.

Attachment theory defines four different types of attachment styles:

  • Avoidant
  • Anxious
  • Disorganized
  • Secure

Understanding one’s own attachment style, and the style of anyone they’re connected to, can help when navigating issues and concerns.


Avoidant attachment styles develop when a child has a neglectful caregiver. They learn that they can’t rely on their caregiver to soothe them or care for their emotional needs, so they grow very emotionally independent.

Those with an avoidant attachment style tend to avoid deep connections with others. They resist becoming emotionally invested in others, and avoid intimate relationships for the most part.

Further study on attachment theory found avoidant attachment can be broken into two sub-categories:

Dismissive-avoidant attachment means that a person relishes in being independent and doesn’t see the importance of intimate relationships. They may come off as cold, but they simply keep their guard up most of the time because being vulnerable hasn’t served them in the past.

Related Article: Attachment Series: Attachment Series Part 1: Dismissive Avoidant

Those with fearful-avoidant attachment desire intimacy, but are reluctant to find it. They experienced the same neglect as those with dismissive-avoidant attachment, but their response to it is slightly different. They still avoid deep connections, but that may happen after they start to open up with someone else. 

Related Articles: Attachment Series Part 4: Fearful-Avoidant


Someone with an anxious attachment style can be considered “clingy”. It seems like they depend on their friends or significant other or always have to be around them. Adults who have an anxious attachment style have a constant need for approval from others, overthink and over-analyze situations, and often have emotional highs and lows.

The cause of anxious attachment is inconsistent attention given at a young age. Their caregiver was there to soothe them sometimes, and ignored them other times.

Related Articles: Attachment Series: Attachment Series Part 2: Anxious Preoccupied, Attachment Series Part 3: How to Fix Anxious Attachment Style


Disorganized attachment can be thought of as a combination of anxious and avoidant attachment. Someone with a disorganized attachment style desires intimacy and even achieves it often, but they fear rejection. In romantic relationships, they may break up with their partner when things are seemingly fine in order to avoid being the one hurt.

In childhood, they were confused by their connection to their caregiver. They may reach out to them to be soothed, but then feel upset when picked up. Some theorize that disorganized attachment is caused by abuse. When a caregiver offers both comfort and pain, the child won’t know how to interpret affection.

Related Article: Attachment Series Part 5: Disorganized


This is the “ideal” attachment style. Those who have a secure attachment style secure know their worth and the worth of other people. They’re confident in their relationship, and effectively communicate their emotions and trust their partner. They set appropriate boundaries and are satisfied with their relationship. 

Who is EFT For?

EFT is best for couples who feel disconnected. From couples affected by impulse and self-control issues to any relationship that feels dissonant harmony—EFT helps couples find harmony. Simply put, it’s effective for people who have attachment issues.

Benefits of EFT

The goal of EFT is to bring couples back to the same page emotionally. Our emotions drive our thoughts and behaviors. Controlling our emotions is the first step to reacting in a more healthy way to our partner. EFT has three primary benefits and goals:

  1. Better emotional understanding: Couples who go through EFT will not only gain the ability to understand each other's emotions better but also their own.
  2. Stronger emotional bonds: Having a strong emotional bond causes couples to feel safe around each other, and allows them to work together when problems arise.
  3. Interpersonal awareness: Couples learn how to understand each other’s needs and behaviors. 

As with all therapy, all parties involved must be dedicated to working to meet their goals. If everyone is open-minded and willing to change, the possibility of a healthier relationship are well within reach.

Beginning couples counseling and therapy can be a new daunting experience for a lot of couples. Inner Balance Counseling makes it easy to find the right couples counseling program, providing personalized sessions by experienced therapists. Request a consultation today to get started.

Stages of EFT

EFT has three stages that have multiple steps each. The best way to think of these stages is like a map. The couple starts at the first stage, and travels their way down, until their destination. The program follows this structure so that the couple can keep track of their progress. 


The de-escalation phase is where the therapist guides the couple through the issues they’re facing. The therapist might provide a list of attachment-related emotions. Understanding and identifying these dysfunctional emotions in the relationship can help the couple learn to remove them.

The four steps of EFT are:

  1. Identify concerns throughout the relationship
  2. Identify when the concerns started
  3. Identify attachment-related emotions
  4. Categorize emotions and negative patterns


After analyzing the whys, hows, and whats in a negative cycle, each person will take steps to restructure their thought and emotion patterns. Think of a relationship like a house, if the foundation is weak, the house could crumble. This step can be thought of as the restructuring of a house foundation. 

The three steps of restructuring are:

  1. Discuss emotions and attachment styles
  2. Accept partner’s attachment needs and emotions
  3. Discuss current behaviors and emotions, and learn how to express healthier ones.


The third and final stage of EFT is the application of restructuring. One of the most effective ways for change is to replace old habits with new ones. For example, if a person’s natural reaction is to harshly criticize their partner, they need to instead ask questions and offer support. 

The steps of integration are:

  1. Apply new communication style to work through current issues.
  2. Apply new communication styles and skills to create deeper emotional bonds and to create solution strategies in the future

Emotionally-Focused Therapy Techniques

Each of the five techniques of EFT serves a different purpose and achieves a different goal in rebuilding a relationship. 

  1. Relational techniques Find goals in the couple and create an ideal growing environment 
  2. Empathy techniques Work to identify vulnerabilities and affirm care for harsh emotions
  3. Experiencing techniques Work to re-learn emotional expression when experiencing a relationship problem
  4. Reprocessing tasks Allow a couple to deal with negative experiences by retelling the event, and working through problems
  5. Action tasks Involve taking action. For example, two people will sit in a chair across from each other and won’t be allowed to leave the chair until the problem is resolved

All of these techniques can be used in the three stages. The type of technique that a couple and therapist will use depends on the couple, their preferences, and the problem.

EFT vs the Gottman Method in Couples Counseling

The Gottman Method is another popular form of couples therapy. It was developed by Drs. John and Julie Gottman in the 1970s. The purpose of The Gottman Method is to re-evaluate behaviors and emotions in a relationship.

Related Article: The Gottman Method

The Gottman method follows the Sound-House Theory. It states that a relationship is like a house in which the walls are built from trust and commitment. The house has seven floors to it: 

  1. Love maps
  2. Share admiration
  3. Turn toward
  4. Positive perspective
  5. Conflict management
  6. Dream Achievement
  7. Shared Meaning

Gottman is better for couples who have issues in communication, where EFT is best for couples who have issues in connection.

In the end, the decision of which therapy to follow through with is for the couple and their therapist to decide on. 

Create Secure Attachments at Inner Balance

EFT is one of  the best solutions for attachment, trust, and other relationship issues. Inner Balance Counseling offers EFT both online and in-person to help anyone in a relationship build more secure attachments.

Request a consultation to get started. 

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© Inner Balance. All right reserved.