When I was researching emotional dependency, because that is a very common relationship issue between partners, one of the therapies I discovered for the problem was Emotionally Focused Therapy. Therefore, this piqued my psychological interest and we’re going to explore this fascinating therapy in today’s episodes. By the end of this clinical psychology episode, you’ll understand what is emotionally focused therapy, how does it work, why is it used and much more.
Today’s episode has been sponsored by Psychology Of Relationships: The Social Psychology of Friendships, Romantic Relationships and More. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
What Is Emotionally Focused Therapy?
Emotionally Focused Therapy is a short-term psychological therapy that aims to give a couple a way to rekindle their emotional and physical bond that tends to get lost to disappointment and alienation from a partner. This is a common dynamic in distressed couples.
As a result, Emotionally Focused Therapy draws on attachment theory and similar research so the therapy believes the best lever or vehicle of therapeutic change is the security of the partner connection. As well as this connection is a great source for individual and couple growth too. Therefore, the love in the relationship is transformative and the reforming of this emotional and physical bonds allow the couple to be open and responsive with each other. This allows them to create a mutually satisfying and supportive relationship, one that will last in the present and for the future.
In addition, Emotionally Focused Therapy works on the research showing that our emotions are the organising principles of our lives. As well as when a partner shows the emotions of longing and sadness compared to isolation then this is a powerful tool for reestablishing that lost contact and responsiveness of a partner. Then once this contact has been restored, it can become a source of mutual comfort. In other words, a buffer against the many stressors life might throw at our clients.
Moreover, Emotionally Focused Therapists allow couples to discover any unmet needs for closeness in the relationship are normally underlined by alienation or anger. Then the therapists help them realise that sharing this vulnerability opens new ways to communicate and create instant opportunities for the couple to be tender with each other. This was phrased by one of the developers of Emotionally Focused Therapy, Sue Johnson as “Emotional Responsiveness- tuning into and supporting the other- is the key defining element of love,”
How Does Emotionally Focused Therapy Work?
We know that Emotionally Focused Therapy focuses on a couple’s emotional experiences and reactions first and foremost, and it’s based on attachment theory and the importance we place on connections with others as a source of comfort and safety. As well as a vehicle for our own growth but the growth of the relationship too.
However, if we dive into this therapy a little more then we learn that these connections to others can be physical. Like our blood and flesh romantic partner. Yet they can be a mental representation of an important figure inside us that we form our relationships around. or these others can be the different parts of ourselves.
The human need for others is hardwired into us and it is only our connections that help us feel safe enough to grow, take risks, explore the world and develop into the person we want to be.
When this doesn’t happen then our nervous system takes over by experiencing arousal and people are prepared for avoidance of risk, vigilance because of perceived danger and they have a sense of hopelessness. According to Emotionally Focused Therapy, all these are risk factors for mental health difficulties.
Personally, going off my own experience here, this is definitely true I think because my mental health was at its worst when I didn’t feel safe in my own life and I felt utterly hopeless about my future. Therefore, if there is a psychotherapy that focuses on improving that sense of safety and security then this is only a good thing for the people that need it.
Additionally, regardless of whether Emotionally Focused Therapists are working with real partners, mental representations of relationships or in couples therapy, the therapy still explores the nature of our connections and the wide range of emotions they create. The therapy helps people to actively restructure these relationships too so the client can help pave the way for new, more rewarding experiences.
In other words, by restructuring these relationships, it will hopefully help the client not to keep having the same negative emotions and making the same “mistakes” in future relationships.
Overall, I’ve already spoken about the attachment theory bits but Emotionally Focused Therapy helps a client to understand how their negative ways of interacting in a relationship are normally related to fears of loss. Then a therapist can help the client to learn how to openly talk about their fears, identify any attachment needs that their fear masks and then instead of the client using their fear to distance themselves from the partner, they can use their vulnerabilities to seek closeness too. Allowing the couple to solve any problems they come across together.
When Is Emotionally Focused Therapy Used?
This form of psychotherapy is really useful when a couple comes to a therapist feeling distressed and alienated to the extent that they believe their relationship cannot be repaired. The couple might be showing signs of extreme grief, loss of trust, anger, fear or even a sense of betrayal. Also, these negative emotions are normally so strong that it’s believed they’re actually protests or despair over the loss of the connection and the lack of physical and emotional closeness that the couple once had. As well as linking to the section above, in Emotionally Focused Therapy these feelings are thought to be hiding unlovability, helplessness and fear that pop up when these bonds of closeness are damaged.
As a result, Emotionally Focused Therapy is useful for people and couples who have difficulties showing their emotions or they unfortunately believe that showing emotions are a sign of weakness. This is honestly one of my biggest, biggest pet hates in the entire world because emotions don’t make you weak. That is such an outdated, such a silly notion that I hated more than anything else on this entire planet.
I flat out hate it.
Anyway, Emotionally Focused Therapy can also be useful for people who have problems with emotional regulation as their intense reactivity is believed to be a result of emotional alarm bells being set off by fears of abandonment. Then in individual therapy using Emotionally Focused Therapy, the therapist helps to form a secure alliance with the client that becomes a safe space for any emotional expression and exploration.
That’s the reason why this therapy can be used for people with emotional dependency because Emotionally Focused Therapy helps to deal with fears of abandonment, intense reactions and their unhealthy attachment styles. That is really good to know about for future reference.
It is worth noting that Emotionally Focused Therapy can be used in a lot of other places too because it does directly target emotional isolation. This is important because emotional isolation is believed to be the core aspect of a range of mental health difficulties like depression and anxiety and my personal favourite trauma. Also, this therapy can be used to repair family bonds where parent-child relationships have become negative, for instance.
Personally, I mentioned this earlier, because I can understand how Emotionally Focused Therapy is useful in trauma victims. Since my own trauma, it does make you feel very alone, very shameful and very guilty so you cannot talk to or express your emotions to other people very easily and this causes tons of mental distress. Therefore, by creating a safe space for this emotional expression is flat out critical. I know a lot of therapeutic orientations do this space safe work because it is basically the therapeutic alliance, but Emotionally Focused Therapy seems to focus on it more.
What Should You Expect From Emotionally Focused Therapy?
When it comes to the therapy, Emotionally Focused Therapy is typically delivered once a week for 8 to 20 sessions. Then after the therapist understands the history of the couple, they will start to watch their interaction patterns with the couple being asked to identify their most pressing issues. After questioning, listening and watching the couple, the therapist can start to understand the unspoken insecurities and fears that underline their negative interaction
Normally, the first few sessions of the therapy focus on de-escalating the emotional reactivity and distress that the couple experiences, even more so in their life outside the therapy session. They do this by getting the couple to expand their emotional response patterns so they can respond and recognise their partner’s needs.
In the second stage of the therapy, the focus changes to restore the deep emotional bond between the partners. This allows the couple to create a sense of security that allows partners to share their insecurities and vulnerabilities so they can comfort each other and this serves as a secure base for the individual’s and couple’s growth and their exploration of the world.
Remember everything in this therapy comes back to attachment theory.
Furthermore, it has to be mentioned that an Emotionally Focused Therapist isn’t a passive person in the therapy process, they’re very active in the therapy. Since the therapist has to reframe the distancing behaviour as withdrawal or fear and highlight that this isn’t a pathology, this is actually a misguided attempt at a connection. This allows a partner to express their deep feelings for each other and what they need from their partner in a more adaptive way.
Finally, the final sessions focus on consolidating the gains made by the couple in the other sessions. Such as, the couple have managed to improve their mutual support system and then they’re asked to talk about an ongoing or an old problem so they can develop new solutions to it. This helps to get the clients to practice connecting and being comfortable instead of disconnecting whenever the relationship gets difficult. This can only happen because the couple now understand the true emotional needs that used to drive their negative interaction patterns.
Clinical Psychology Conclusion
Personally, I always enjoy looking at different forms of psychological therapies because we only really get to learn about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. And as much as I love that therapy, it is certainly nice to change things up at times and broaden our therapeutic horizons.
Therefore, Emotionally Focused Therapy is based on attachment theory and a couple’s emotional experiences and reactions as well as the importance humans place on connections with others as a source of comfort and safety. As well as a vehicle for our own growth but the growth of the relationship too. Then by restoring this connection in a relationship, the therapy helps a couple to recognise and deal with the emotional needs of the other person.
And something I am recognising more and more as I deepen my own knowledge about clinical psychology, it is there is seriously no one way to help a client. Also, no single therapy has all the answers for a client so I truly believe the most important thing we can do as current or future psychologists is to try and learn about as many therapies as possible so we can pull different levers and use different techniques depending on the client.
Adaptability really is the name of the game when it comes to clinical psychology and Emotionally Focused Therapy certainly helps us adapt for our clients.
I really hope you enjoyed today’s clinical psychology podcast episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Psychology Of Relationships: The Social Psychology of Friendships, Romantic Relationships and More. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
Have a great day.
Clinical Psychology References
Greenberg, L. S. (2010). Emotion-focused therapy: An overview. Turkish Psychological Counseling and Guidance Journal, 4(33), 1-12.
Greenberg, L. S., & Goldman, R. N. (2019). Clinical handbook of emotion-focused therapy (pp. xiv-534). American Psychological Association.
Greenberg, L. S., & Johnson, S. M. (1988). Emotionally focused therapy for couples. Guilford Press.
Greenberg, L. S., Ford, C. L., Alden, L. S., & Johnson, S. M. (1993). In-session change in emotionally focused therapy. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 61(1), 78.
Johnson, S. M. (2009). Attachment theory and emotionally focused therapy for individuals and couples. Attachment theory and research in clinical work with adults, 410-433.
Johnson, S. M. (2019). Attachment theory in practice: Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) with individuals, couples, and families. Guilford Publications.
Rathgeber, M., Bürkner, P. C., Schiller, E. M., & Holling, H. (2019). The efficacy of emotionally focused couples therapy and behavioral couples therapy: A meta‐analysis. Journal of marital and family therapy, 45(3), 447-463.
Wiebe, S. A., & Johnson, S. M. (2016). A review of the research in emotionally focused therapy for couples. Family Process, 55(3), 390-407.
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