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Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT): What Is It and How To Learn More?

Posted on: October 3, 2022

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) revolves around helping people form stronger, more intimate relationships and communicate with each other effectively. EFT certification is available through ICEEFT, however, therapists can implement EFT practices and ideas into their practice without specialized training. 

Excited to learn more about EFT, its history and how it helps different types of patients? Keep reading: 


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What is Emotionally Focused Therapy?

As the name suggests, EFT is a humanistic approach to short-term psychotherapy that centers emotions as the main decision-makers. It typically lasts between eight and 20 sessions for patients, depending on their unique needs. It was developed from the science of adult attachment and aims to understand how humans develop bonds with each other. Specifically, adult attachment theory proposes that all individuals are innately driven to form relationships with others, including familial or romantic bonds.  

EFT also digs deeper into human dysfunction by helping people identify emotions and recognize the cause and effect of negative emotions. By doing so, patients suffering from mental health issues may be able to form healthier coping mechanisms to regulate maladaptive emotions. This can lead to improved, more productive relationships and interactions with others. 

This type of therapeutic approach is often used to treat couples. However, it’s also been used to improve relationships between family members and in individual therapy. 


How was Emotionally Focused Therapy developed?

EFT was originally developed by Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg in the 1980s as a form of couples therapy, now with over 30 years of empirical research to back it. Dr. Johnson and Dr. Greenberg based EFT on attachment theory and research on love to understand how to help adults bond and improve relationships. 

Dr. Johnson has expanded EFT principles to work beyond couples and apply them to individuals in Emotionally Focused Individual Therapy (EFIT). Many therapists have taken these concepts to complement their one-on-one sessions with patients. 

Since then, Dr. Johnson has offered resources, training and more about EFT with her in-depth books that detail her complete research, case studies and more. 

Written for EFT clinicians and students, Becoming an Emotionally Focused Therapist: The Workbook is a clear-cut, comprehensive resource that’s been revised by expert therapists — including Dr. Johnson, herself! This book covers the EFT process alongside practice exercises and clinical examples. Interested in a sneak peek of this invaluable text? Download a free chapter.

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Learn More about EFT from Sue Johnson and Other Leading Clinicians  

This free chapter on The Nature of EFT from Becoming an Emotionally Focused Therapist: The Workbook, 2nd Edition provides an overview of how and why Emotionally Focused Therapy works. It explains how attachment theory guides the EFT process and informs its 5 core principles: focus on emotion; growth and exploration; emotional balance; present experience; and the experiential map. 

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Want to learn from the original definitive guide? Read the third edition of Dr. Johnson’s The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy: Creating Connection, which includes fundamental EFT practices, as well as changes that have been applied to couples therapy and updated research. This includes an expansion on clinical interventions, emotional regulation, adult attachment, neuroscience and more. 

The Emotionally Focused Casebook: New Directions in Treating Couples by Dr. Johnson, James L. Furrow and Brent A. Bradley serves as a go-to text for clinicians, students, professors and more to reference theoretical, conceptual and treatment applications of EFT knowledge. Every single chapter details an example case study approach and how to apply them to specific treatment populations as a therapist.  

Discover recent EFT research with clinical transcripts and firsthand case examples in Emotionally Focused Family Therapy: Restoring Connection and Promoting Resilience by Dr. Johnson, James L. Furrow, Gail Palmer, George Faller and Lisa Palmer-Olsen. This book was written for mental health professionals that are treating families and want to improve their understanding of family dynamics with EFT concepts. 


Therapy is for everyone

Who can benefit from Emotionally Focused Therapy?

Although EFT was originally developed for couples therapy, it has since been expanded to apply to different groups — and individuals. Below are those who can benefit from EFT, according to Dr. Johnson: 


When applied to couples, EFT is referred to as Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFCT). EFCT can benefit those in relationships that may struggle with depression, anxiety, trauma symptoms, chronic medical illness or emotional disputes that challenge forgiveness. Per Dr. Johnson, the technique aims to improve the emotional connection between traditional and non-traditional couples. Relationship problems are analyzed — taking into account interactional responses and patterns — to improve the attachment bond between couples. 


Emotionally Focused Family Therapy (EFFT) was developed to help families reestablish secure attachment patterns and resilience. The key is to repair emotional bonds and improve negative interaction patterns between parents and children. To do this, the EFFT therapist provides a step-by-step approach to parental availability, responsiveness and coherent attachment communications. Alongside these concepts, parents are encouraged to understand why their child or adolescent may act out or respond negatively based on their unique attachment needs or fears. 

Beyond the direct relationship between parent and child, an EFFT therapist will work through generational influences on both parties.  


Similar to other EFT methods, the EFIT approach dives into how individuals engage with others and how to reshape those patterns in a positive manner. Emotions are the main focus, and patients are taught how to identify and improve interactional patterns. Explorations of self and vulnerability are also covered. 

To learn more about EFIT, read A Primer for Emotionally Focused Individual Therapy (EFIT): Cultivating Fitness and Growth in Every Client by Dr. Johnson and T. Leanne Campbell. This introductory text was written for any therapist, at any level of expertise. It covers EFIT interventions, techniques and change processes as a concise and clinical guide. It specifically gives an overview of how a therapist can use EFIT to help clients with depression, anxiety and traumatic stress. You can download a free chapter of this book. 


Therapy techniques

Emotionally Focused Therapy techniques 

The EFT process is broken into three clearly defined stages: De-escalation, restructuring and consolidation. These techniques guide the therapist’s approach to patients to provide a clear path toward healing. 


This EFT technique teaches the client how to identify negative interaction patterns that cause distress within relationships. These patterns are then linked to attachment issues to reveal the root of unhealthy and/or hurtful behaviors.  

By digging into the cause of potential fears (for example, abandonment), partners can recognize when their actions are impairing their interactional relationship. These actions are referred to as “protests of disconnection” and can cause insecurity to grow in the relationship.  


Restructuring gives clients a stage to focus on improving how they communicate and share with each other. Partners learn to discuss emotions while also showing empathy and compassion. The fundamental goal of this EFT technique is to build security within the relationship. 

Therapists encourage their clients to be vulnerable with each other and engage in a healthy manner that can strengthen their attachment bond. 


Finally, EFT comes to the consolidation stage. This is where the therapist teaches their clients new communication skills and how to engage with each other in a positive way. In these sessions, clients can practice their newly acquired EFT skills and dissect how they can reduce the chances of a negative experience or conflict. In this way, couples can prevent further disconnection and begin to reconnect. 

As consolidation is reached, new interaction patterns replace the old habits, which may have included reactionary criticism and defensiveness. The goal is for this to be a permanent change for both partners. 


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What are the advantages of Emotionally Focused Therapy? 

EFT has a long, proven history of empirical research, which makes it extremely useful for therapists and mental health clients alike. There are a number of benefits, including: 

  • Better understanding of attachment needs. Patients can explore why they feel certain emotions and how this affects their interpersonal relationships. This provides them with the tools they need to break prior negative habits. 
  • Improved bonds and emotional connections with others. EFT prioritizes how individuals relate with one another and create secure attachments.  
  • Increased compassion and empathy. By exploring the root behind emotions and how those emotions impact actions, patients can develop a deeper understanding of others. 


Taylor & Francis resources for Emotionally Focused Therapy

For mental health professionals, staying up-to-date with the latest techniques, research and case studies is an integral part of the job. Taylor & Francis carries a wide assortment of professional books and resources designed to help therapists, clinicians, students and others to build their knowledge for the future.

If you’re interested in reading more about EFT practices and specialized topics, below is an additional curated list of some of our top books on the subject to read alongside those authored and co-authored by Sue Johnson: 

An Emotionally Focused Workbook for Couples: The Two of Us by Veronica Kallos-Lilly and Jennifer Fitzgerald is an ideal resource to provide for couples who are battling relationship distress or distance. It walks the patients through the EFT journey with guided reading, reflection, discussion and illustrative examples. The authors have also incorporated new EFT developments and research to help couples through their therapy sessions. 

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Each patient brings their own background and life experience to their EFT sessions. Due to this, it’s vital that an EFT therapist can adapt and cater their practices to each patient’s unique needs. A great resource for this is Paul T. Guillory’s Emotionally Focused Therapy with African American Couples: Love Heals. It emphasizes cultural humanity and gives professionals an evidence-based model that can benefit patients with race-based distress, breaking down understanding racial trauma with real-life case studies.  

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Lorrie L. Brubacher wrote Stepping into Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy: Key Ingredients of Change to make EFT widely accessible to therapists of different backgrounds and orientations. It explores practical tools, case examples and straightforward guidance to ease clinicians into the EFT process. Its key teachings show readers how to engage with clients moment-by-moment. 

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In Clare Rosoman’s book, An Emotionally Focused Guide to Relationship Loss: Life After Love, EFT and attachment theory are used to show how to help patients navigate relationships and relationship loss. It specifically studies how romantic love is an attachment bond, and how relationship dynamics can lead to security or insecurity. It also explores beyond romantic relationships to include family and friendships. It’s accessible for LGBT+ couples and references cultural humility to promote inclusivity in EFT practices. 

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