What Is Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy?

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What is emotionally focused couples therapy?

Emotionally focused couples therapy (EFCT) is a popular treatment for improving the emotional bond between couples. The therapy was developed by Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg in the early 1980s and is heavily based on research into human emotion.

EFCT is one of the most popular forms of relationship counselling and has helped thousands of couples improve their relationships since it was developed.

Despite its popularity, attending an emotionally focused couples therapy session can be a daunting experience – especially if you have never attended a counselling session before.

This guide should help you prepare for the session with an open mind, allowing you to know what to expect and how emotion focused couples therapy can help you.

What is emotionally focused couples therapy, and what does it consist of?

How was it developed?

Emotionally focused couples therapy was developed in tandem with the science of adult attachment. This takes the view that human relationships are innately relational, social and wired for intimate bonding with others. EFCT prioritises the emotional aspect of human bonding as the key to relationship interactions. As a result, it is suitable for all relationships, regardless of personality type and sexuality.

The basic premise of EFCT

The basic premise of EFCT is to expand and reorganise emotional responses in an attempt to create a positive shift in individual interactions and behaviours. This helps to foster a secure bond between both parties.

Techniques involved

During a typical EFCT session, the therapist will use several tried and tested techniques to resolve conflicts between couples. These include reflective listening, narrative therapy, and solution-focused therapy. These are mostly short-term goal-orientated exercises that use an evidence-based therapeutic approach to develop understanding between the two parties.

How long it takes to be effective

This depends on each individual couple’s circumstances. Your couples therapist will advise you on roughly how many sessions will be required once they have assessed you.

What are the aims of EFCT?

The goal of emotionally focused couples therapy is to reorganise key emotional responses in an attempt to shift each partner’s interaction patterns. This helps to foster a sense of bond between each other.

A typical treatment plan is split into the following three phases:

  • Phase One – Assessment

During phase one, the therapist will seek to uncover the underlying emotional problems that are causing distress.

  • Phase Two – Change Events

In phase two, the focus is on developing new emotional experiences to replace the negative patterns and emotions identified in phase one.

  • Phase Three – Consolidation of change

During the final phase, the therapist will create a plan for continued development outside the therapist’s office.

What issues and aspects of a relationship can be improved by emotionally focused couples therapy?

Emotion focused therapy can be used to help a wide range of relationship problems. However, before beginning the treatment, the therapist will need to assess whether the treatment will be ideal for you. Couples therapists are trained to assess what type of treatment will be the most effective for different couples and circumstances.

Generally speaking, EFCT is suitable for treating the following relationship issues:

Emotional attachment

This is the feeling of affection and closeness that you feel for a partner. It is different from a romantic or sexual attraction in that you can feel an emotional connection to someone without being romantically involved with them.

To help couples connect

During an EFCT session, the therapist will explore what connects you to your partner. This will help you to seek support from each other in situations where you feel threatened or stressed. Find out how couples therapy can improve communication here.

To help couples understand their emotional response

Examining your emotional responses will give you a greater understanding of your partner’s emotional needs and desires. Misunderstanding underlying emotion can be harmful to the success of the relationship.

Help facilitate the creation of secure, lasting bonds

Early in the treatment plan, the therapist will seek to understand the existing bonds between each party. Reinforcing pre-existing bonds can help couples re-engage and build a deeper connection with each other.

Help couples increase security

Security plays a vital role in any healthy relationship. Emotionally focused therapy can help you identify feelings of insecurity in your partner so that you understand when they need your support.

Are you trying to overcome relationship issues? Find out how we can help you here.

Couple undergoing therapy

What tasks might be recommended to you by your therapist?

To get the most out of emotionally focused therapy, you must continue to work on your relationship outside the therapist’s office. To help you achieve this, the therapist will set you several tasks to carry out between sessions.

These tasks might include:

Creating rituals to connect

Ritualistic behaviour is proven to help humans interact and bond with each other. Examples of rituals you may be asked to complete include eating and exercising together and finding time to talk to each other.

Practising emotional responses

Managing your emotional responses can take a little work. Your therapist may ask you to practise these by writing down how you respond in certain situations at home. These will then be reviewed during the session.

Practising being emotionally engaged

Being emotionally engaged with your partner is vital if any relationship is to succeed. Your therapist will provide you with a few simple exercises to help develop your self-awareness. This will free you up to become more emotionally engaged.

Trying to stay present in discussions and consider the other partner’s point of view

Sometimes problems in a relationship arise because one partner fails to consider the other’s point of view. In this case, the therapist may ask you to emphasize your feelings in conversation to help your partner identify them.

Making sure your partner feels valued

We all lead busy lives, which, if we are not careful, can lead us to neglect the feelings of our partners. You may both be asked to set aside time each day for each other.

How effective is emotionally focused couples therapy?

Several studies have shown that 70-75% of couples saw an improvement in their relationship following EFCT therapy.

How do you prepare for your first session?

Preparing for your first EFCT session can be intimidating, but there’s nothing to worry about. During the first session, the therapist will seek to understand why you are here and how they can help.

So, it helps if you can prepare your thoughts for the following questions:

  • What relationship problems have brought you along to the session?

Think about how long you have been experiencing negative emotions and why you are trying therapy now.

  • What are your goals for counselling?

Think about what you hope to achieve from the sessions. Do you want a more fulfilling relationship? The answer to these questions will help guide the therapist.

  • What are the potential obstacles to these goals?

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to you achieving this goal? Does it feel insurmountable, or can you work around it to gain a satisfactory solution to the problem?

  • Do you have any worries or concerns about couples counselling?

It is natural to have concerns about counselling, especially if this is your first session. Write down what concerns you have and discuss them with your therapist during the session.

Find out more about what to expect from your first session.

Follow-up session

Typically, the first EFCT session takes place with both you and your partner present. Following this initial session, the psychologist may ask each partner to attend an individual session.

This will allow them to understand what each person contributes to the relationship. They may also ask a few questions regarding the state of the relationship and where each partner feels things are going wrong. This will give them a better understanding of each partner’s perspective.

How can British CBT & Counselling help?

If you are experiencing relationship distress, the expert counsellors at British CBT can help. We offer a range of solutions for distressed couples, including EFCT and cognitive behavioural therapy. We provide a sensitive and compassionate service to support couples in finding a way to move forward.

British CBT’s experienced psychologists, psychotherapists and therapists have experience dealing with countless different relationship issues, and will be able to suggest the best approach for you. Our psychologists have spent between seven and nine years training to enable people to overcome their emotional difficulties, and many hold senior positions in the NHS. At British CBT & Counselling, we offer online therapy to allow more flexibility and help you find time for therapy in your busy schedule.

For more information about any of our counselling services, get in touch by completing the contact form here.

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