Various forms of couples therapy have been practiced over the decades, often focusing on specific relationship problems and trying to find the best resolutions for them. Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFCT) is a subform of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT).
EFCT allows couples to build more positive relationships through the development of the attachment bond. Actually, this is at the heart of EFCT.
What Is Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy?
Couples dealing with issues ranging from chronic illnesses to depression have utilized Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFCT). They did this in order to broaden their emotional responses to one another and to the events they encounter as couples.
EFT developed in the 1980s by Sue Johnson. She was a Canadian psychologist who saw that traditional therapeutic intervention methods often left out emotions. She considered emotions as being a fundamental flaw since emotional responses can sometimes tear apart relationships.
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy should not be confused with Emotion-Focused Therapy. The latter was developed by Robert Elliot and Leslie Greenberg. This one focuses more on the individual participating in one-on-one therapy sessions.
EFCT goes by the idea that our relationships are often hostages of our attachment-based fears. The most common one is the fear of abandonment. Negative patterns arise in relationships as the result of one or both partners whit needs that don’t meet. It can further influence relationship issues from the past that created or contributed to the deep fear of abandonment.
Stages and Steps in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy
Through the following nine steps (which separate into three stages), couples can work together with their therapists. Then, they will more effectively communicate their emotions with each other.
1. Cycle Deescalation
- First, they need to identify key issues.
- Negative interaction patterns that may lead to conflict come in line.
- The therapists helps the couple identify latent fears and negative attachment-based emotions.
- The therapist re-frames the attachment needs of each person. They also look at negative interaction patterns, and fears and emotions that have previously been hidden.
2. Changing Interaction Patters
- The therapist assists each person in vocalizing their needs and emotions.
- Then, the specialist guides each person on how to express compassion. They move on to acceptance for the needs and emotions of the other.
- The therapist guides each person in expressions of emotions and needs. Meanwhile, they are finding newer and more helpful ways of discussing the issues most likely to cause conflict.
3. Consolidation and Integration
- The couple receives guidance on how to use these new methods of communication. They must discuss previous problems and come up with newer and more helpful solutions.
- The couple employs what they have learned outside of therapy. The next step for them is to make a plan on how to keep using these new methods of communication after therapy ends.
Goals of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy
Overall, there are three main goals of EFCT.
- The first goal is to broaden and re-frame emotional responses. For example, this might mean going from You don’t love me! to Can you reassure me that you love me by holding me?
- The second goal of EFCT is to bring about new cycles of interaction. One partner might have previously been cold and distant. Therefore, a therapist would be able to guide them on how to express the emotions and fears that have kept them from being warm and attached.
- Finally, the third and most overarching goal is to strengthen the bond between the couple. This will look a little bit different for each couple. But couples should exit EFCT with a better toolbox for communicating with each other. They should know freely show their attachment to one another.
Other Issues That Relate to Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy
Through EFCT, couples are able to learn how to validate each other’s experiences, which they might have significantly struggled with before entering therapy. The therapist is there to heighten and interpret by repeating or re-framing what they expressed. Then, the specialist must give a fresh perspective on those experiences.
This model targets attachment injuries. These are are the old hurts and hang-ups in a relationship that prevent the building or rebuilding of trust. Some therapists who specialize in couples’ therapy swear by EFCT and value its effectiveness at getting couples to truly open up to and engage with one another. Additionally, EFCT is noted as truly living up to the gold standard of treatment. It also has empirical evidence that suggests it is an extremely beneficial form of therapy for couples coping with trauma and stress.
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy Treatment Options
As is the case with any type of couples’ therapy, both individuals have to be willing to participate. EFCT is generally short-term. So, it lasts somewhere between 8 and 30 sessions total. The first few sessions will encompass the first few steps of Stage One. Then, the therapist gets to know the couple and their history together. Sessions generally last an hour to an hour-and-a-half.
If one’s partner is unwilling to attend therapy at first, many therapists will do individual sessions with them. A therapist can help patients figure out a way to get their partner into the therapy. If, however, the partner remains unwilling, a therapist can still work with the other person one-on-one. This helps them find new ways to approach their relationship and emotions.
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy in Popular Media
There have been numerous books which focus on EFCT over the years, including works by Dr. Sue Johnson. One of Dr. Johnson’s books particularly outlines how EFCT is effectively used with couples coping with traumatic events.
Many of these books present cases in which EFCT has worked. There are also workbooks available to aid couples in their EFCT journeys.
Even if someone’s partner isn’t on board with Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy at first, there are many benefits that the individual can pull from this method of therapy.
The partner might not think it’s worthwhile. But EFCT can shed a lot of light on their attachments, fears, and emotions.