February 10, 2024

Who created emotionally focused therapy?

Two people hugging



  • Introduction to Dr. Sue Johnson 
  • History of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)
  • EFT in Practice

When it comes to marriage and couples counseling, there are a number of approaches and techniques developed by talented and skilled therapists. Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is one type of marriage counseling that has gained significant recognition for its effectiveness in addressing relationship issues (Learn about it’s effectiveness here). But who is behind this groundbreaking therapy? In this article, we will explore the origins of Emotionally Focused Therapy and the mind behind it.

Photo of Dr. Sue Johnson
Photo of Dr. Sue Johnson

Introduction to Dr. Sue Johnson

Emotionally Focused Therapy owes its existence to Dr. Susan Johnson, a Canadian psychologist and researcher. Born in the 1940s, Johnson has spent decades dedicated to the study of human emotions and their influence on relationships. Her journey towards the development of EFT can be traced back to her deep fascination with the human need for emotional connection.

Dr. Johnson began her career as a researcher and therapist in the field of family systems. She was intrigued by the emotional underpinnings of relationships and was one of the first to recognize the role emotions play in shaping human connections. Prior to her work, there was an absence of evidence-based therapeutic models that effectively addressed the emotional dynamics within relationships. This awareness became the catalyst for the creation of Emotionally Focused Therapy.

History of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)

In the early 1980s, Dr. Johnson, along with her colleague Les Greenberg, started working on what would become the foundation of Emotionally Focused Therapy. They began by integrating attachment theory into their therapeutic approach. The primary idea was that humans are wired to seek emotional connections, and the quality of these bonds has a direct impact on our emotional well-being.

EFT is firmly rooted in the belief that our emotional responses are fundamental to who we are as individuals, and they significantly influence the quality of our relationships. By focusing on these emotions and the interactions they trigger in relationships, Dr, Johnson found that it was possible to help couples break free from destructive communication patterns and develop healthier and more secure connections.

Happy couple laughing

EFT in Practice

Emotionally Focused Therapy typically consists of three main phases:

  1. De-escalation: In this initial phase, the therapist helps the couple identify and understand the negative communication patterns that are causing so much pain in the relationship. Typically these patterns involve criticism, blame, shutting down and withdrawing, and intense emotional reactions.
  2. Restructuring: During this phase, the therapist assists the couple in reshaping their emotional responses and interactions to develop a new pattern. The goal is to promote more positive, secure emotional connections. This typically involves helping partners express their feelings and needs more effectively.
  3. Consolidation: The final phase focuses on strengthening the new, healthier patterns of interaction developed in the previous stages. The couple works on deepening their emotional bond and learning to respond to each other in more positive ways.

EFT has been successfully applied not only to couples but also to families and individuals dealing with various emotional and relational challenges. Its effectiveness in addressing a wide range of issues, from marital conflicts to trauma and depression, has made it a widely accepted and respected therapeutic approach. You can learn more about it’s effectiveness here.

​Over the years, Emotionally Focused Therapy has gained aa lot of recognition in the field of mental health counseling and psychotherapy. It’s known for its effectiveness as well as the large body of research validating its success in helping couples and individuals overcome emotional barriers and build stronger relationships.

Dr. Susan Johnson’s work transformed the field of couple and family therapy. Her dedication to understanding the emotional bonds that connect us and her commitment to helping people achieve healthier, more secure relationships have left an indelible mark on the world of marriage and family therapy.

Looking to start Emotionally Focused Therapy?

Elizabeth Polinsky Counseling provides online EFT marriage counseling and sex therapy to those looking to improve their relationships throughout the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, 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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