February 10, 2024

How effective is emotionally focused therapy?

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If you are looking for a couples counselor, you have probably come across Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT) and may be wondering if EFT is actually effective. This article will provide an overview of EFT couples therapy, explain the effectiveness of emotionally focused therapy, and discuss the benefits of working with an EFT couples counselor. 


  • Overview of Emotionally Focused Therapy
  • How does EFT Couples Therapy Work?
  • The effectiveness of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy 
  • Benefits of working with an EFT Couples Therapist
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Overview of Emotionally Focused Therapy. 

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a form of counseling that helps individuals improve their emotional connection and intimacy in relationships. While individual therapy and family therapy versions of EFT exist, this article will focus on the effectiveness of emotionally focused couple therapy.

EFT is based on attachment theory, which suggests that human beings have an innate need for emotional attachment and that attachment figures (typically parents or caregivers in childhood, and then romantic partners in adulthood) play a crucial role in shaping the development and ability to use emotional coping skills. While attachment theory began with an exploration of childhood relationships, it has  been extended to adult relationships in two ways: 1) It looks at how attachment relationships in childhood also influence adult relationships, and 2) It looks at the quality of the attachment bond between couples in romantic relationships.

In EFT couples therapy, the belief is that relationship problems stem from unmet emotional needs. Because of this, emotions (such as fear, anger, and sadness) are central to understanding and treating relationship problems. A primary goal of EFT is to help people identify and express their emotions and needs in an effective and productive way. Ultimately, an EFT couples therapist will try to help create a communication pattern that promotes emotional safety and intimacy within the couple relationship. To do this, EFT therapists help clients understand the underlying emotions that are driving their behavior, and to develop more effective communication and coping strategies. EFT can be used to treat a range of relationship problems, including communication difficulties, infidelity, and trauma.

EFT couple sessions typically involve a therapist and both partners of a couple. The therapist works with the couple to identify the underlying emotions that are driving their behavior and to develop strategies for managing those emotions in a more productive way. The EFT couples therapist may also help clients to develop new patterns of communication and behavior that lead to more emotional safety and intimacy. One way of doing this is by promoting emotional regulation with each partner. Emotional regulation involves the ability to identify, understand, and manage one’s own emotions in a healthy way. An EFT couples therapist will work with you and your partner to help you both develop greater emotional regulation skills, such as increasing awareness of your emotions, being able to pause in the moment to really hear and listen to each other, and to enhance your ability to intentionally respond versus just reacting.

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How does EFT Couples Therapy Work?

​EFT works by helping couples to identify the negative patterns of interaction that are contributing to their relationship distress. The goal is to help couples to identify their underlying emotions and needs, and to communicate these in a way that promotes connection and emotional safety. EFT therapists help couples to develop more effective communication and coping strategies, so that they can navigate difficult emotions and conflict in a healthier way.

​EFT sessions typically last for 60-90 minutes. The therapist works with the couple to identify the negative patterns of interaction that are contributing to their relationship distress, and to help them to develop more effective communication and coping strategies. The ultimate goal is the development of a sense of emotional security between partner that is characterized by emotional accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement. EFT therapists work with couples to help them to develop a deeper emotional understanding of each other, and to promote empathy and compassion between them.

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The Effectiveness of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT)

Research has shown that EFT is a highly effective form of therapy for couples and that it can lead to lasting improvements in relationship satisfaction and overall well-being. In clinical studies, EFT has about a 70-73% success rate at achieving the goals of the couple therapy, with a 90% improvement rate even when not all goals where achieved (Johnson et al., 1999; Wiebe & Johnson, 2016).  

One meta-analysis of 16 studies on EFT found that it was significantly more effective than other forms of couples therapy in improving relationship satisfaction and reducing relationship distress (Johnson et al., 1999). 

EFT has been found to be effective for couples recovering from various type of traumatic experiences such: recovering from as infidelity (Gordon et al., 2004), recovering from military related PTSD (Ganz et al., 2022), and treating couples where one partner had experienced childhood sexual abuse (MacIntosh & Johnson, 2008). 

Overall, research studies have consistently shown that EFT is a highly effective form of therapy for couples. EFT has been found to be more effective than other forms of couples therapy in improving relationship satisfaction and reducing relationship distress, and is currently the only evidenced based couple therapy for relationship distress according to the American Psychological Association. 

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Benefits of Working with an EFT Couples Therapist

As human beings, we all experience emotions, and our relationships with others are greatly affected by them. Here are some of the benefits of working with an EFT couples therapist.

1. Identifying and Changing Negative Communication Patterns

EFT therapists help couples to identify negative communication patterns in their relationships and work on building new healthier communication patterns. EFT coupes therapists do this by focusing on the emotions that drive negative communication, versus just the behaviors. By better understanding each others emotions, couples have a great ability to work towards resolving conflict in a way that leave them feeling good.

2. Increased Emotional Connection

In EFT couple therapy, couples learn to better understand their emotions and the emotions of their partner. This understanding, along with empathy and emotional attunement, allows couples to develop a deeper emotional connection. Overtime, couples learn to recognize and respond to each other’s emotional needs.

3. Improved Communication

A huge benefit of working with an EFT therapist is the improvements that happen in communication. In the sessions, the therapist helps couples practice new communication skills so they can communicate in effective and productive ways.  

4. Improved Problem-Solving

EFT focuses on solving the underlying communication problem the makes problem solving so hard on a day to day basis. As couples repair their emotional connection, they take things less personally and and are better able to  problem-solve situations from a place of togetherness. 

5. Benefits even after counseling

The research on EFT couple therapy indicated that couples who complete EFT couple therapy tend to have long term benefits even several years after the end of counseling. Not only are the benefits maintained, but many couples continue to improve after counseling when they continue the use of skills learned through EFT therapy. Ultimately, EFT helps couples build a healthy relationship foundation so their relationship can last a for the long haul.

EFT is currently the most effective treatment for relationship distress and helps couples improve their relationship by learning the foundational skills needed for health long term relationships. Working with an EFT couples therapist can help you change negative communication pattern, build good communication habits, help you better be able to problem solve, and ultimately build a greater sense of emotional closeness and connection in your relationship. 

Looking to start Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy?

Elizabeth Polinsky Counseling provides online Emotionally Focused Couples Counseling, as well as weekend-long Marriage Intensives, throughout the states of Virginia, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. Click the button below to schedule a complimentary consult. 

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    About Author

    Elizabeth Polinsky is a Certified Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist (EFT) providing EFT marriage counseling in the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. She also provides EFT training and supervision to therapists looking to become certified in EFT Couple Therapy. As a military spouse, she has a special passion for working with military and veteran couples, and is also the host of The Communicate & Connect Podcast for Military Relationships.


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