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What is Emotion Focused Therapy?

Kristin Hall

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 6/11/2021

Have you ever heard of Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT)? If not, chances are you’re not alone. 

In the world of therapy heavy hitters (like more broadly used techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy) EFT is a lesser known approach to psychotherapy and telepsychiatry

EFT therapists are licensed mental health therapists who have additional training in emotion focused therapy.

What Is Emotion Focused Therapy? 

EFT is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on adult relationships and attachment. 

This short-term form of therapy uses the principles of attachment theory and neuroscience, and looks at existing patterns within a relationship to help develop trust and create a more secure bond.

The goal of EFT is to move relationships in a healthy, positive direction.

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Who May Benefit from EFT? 

While there isn’t much research available on EFT as it’s still a developing practice, therapists who support this approach often use it in couples therapy. 

They believe that EFT can help couples reconnect, heal from betrayals and resolve conflicts. 

According to mental health professionals who use the theories of EFT to help their patients, it can be used in all stages of relationships, from premarital counseling to reviving closeness after years of distance.

Therapists may also use EFT to help couples who are having trouble coping with an illness -- whether it’s their own, or that of a child.

Additionally, EFT has shown promise in treating social anxiety disorder. 

What To Expect From an EFT Session

Therapists who undergo EFT training learn to understand the experience of each patient and approach them in a non-blaming way. 

These techniques help create an atmosphere where it’s okay for patients to feel open, vulnerable and make their needs known. 

Since EFT often focuses on relationships, there is a high likelihood that during therapy sessions, the mental health professional will observe the interactions between patients. 

The therapist will then help reshape the conversation and encourage the patient/s to discover feelings and emotions that they may not have realized they had.

When compared to other types of therapy, EFT is considered a “brief” model.  

EFT therapists are trained to guide patients and help them rebuild relationships in a relatively short period of time.  At least, that’s the goal. Unfortunately, there isn’t much research to support this, yet.

How Does EFT Work? 

Instead of just helping people change their behavior and improve their communication skills, EFT focuses on the bonds and connections people make when they first meet.

According to the theories of EFT, when those bonds feel threatened, the brain reacts as if it’s in danger, triggering a fight, flight or freeze reaction. 

In relationships, the emotional responses manifest as arguments, distancing and stonewalling.

EFT works with the belief that when the danger response is triggered repeatedly, people begin to react strongly to small things. Over time, this creates a negative cycle of fighting and disengaging.

Therapists that use EFT to help their patients aim to teach them that it’s this cycle that is actually the enemy — which, in turn, may help slow down reactions, decrease defensiveness and allow patients to truly listen to their partners.

The goal for those practicing EFT is to be able to exit the arguing, have heartfelt conversations that help resolve concerns and ultimately create a deeper understanding of themselves and their partners.

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The Bottom Line

While there is a lot of widely available research on EFT, therapists trained in it say they have seen positive results when working with distressed couples who need help reconnecting.

And although EFT is a relatively lesser-used approach than some other more popular techniques, it has also been an effective method for helping individuals suffering from depression.

If you’re having a hard time building meaningful relationships, or if you have issues trusting or connecting with friends, partners and loved ones, EFT may be right for you.

5 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Different approaches to psychotherapy. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/topics/psychotherapy/approaches
  2. Emotionally focused therapy. (n.d) Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/emotionally-focused-therapy
  3. Philadelphia Center for EFT (n.d) Retrieved from https://philadelphiacenterforeft.org/
  4. Shahar B. (2020). New Developments in Emotion-Focused Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder. Journal of clinical medicine, 9(9), 2918. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7565910/
  5. Philadelphia Center for EFT (n.d) https://philadelphiacenterforeft.org/couples/marriage-counseling-proven-method/

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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