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Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT) is a brief evidence-based couple therapy based in attachment theory. Since the development of EFT, efficacy and effectiveness research has accumulated to address a range of couple concerns. EFT meets or exceeds the guidelines for classification as an evidence-based couple therapy outlined for couple and family research. Furthermore, EFT researchers have examined the process of change and predictors of outcome in EFT. Future research in EFT will continue to examine the process of change in EFT and test the efficacy and effectiveness of EFT in new applications and for couples of diverse backgrounds and concerns.
A Review of the Research in Emotionally Focused
Therapy for Couples
Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT) is a brief evidence-based couple therapy
based in attachment theory. Since the development of EFT, efficacy and effectiveness
research has accumulated to address a range of couple concerns. EFT meets or exceeds the
guidelines for classification as an evidence-based couple therapy outlined for couple and
family research. Furthermore, EFT researchers have examined the process of change and
predictors of outcome in EFT. Future research in EFT will continue to examine the process
of change in EFT and test the efficacy and effectiveness of EFT in new applications and for
couples of diverse backgrounds and concerns.
Keywords: Couple therapy; Emotionally Focused Therapy; Evidence-based practice
Fam Proc 55:390–407, 2016
Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT) is a brief attachment-based couple
therapy that draws on humanistic and systemic principles to help couples improve
their relationship functioning by creating a more secure attachment bond in their rela-
tionship (Johnson, 2004). EFT conceptualizes the negative, rigid interaction patterns
and absorbing negative affect that typify distress in couple relationships in terms of
emotional disconnection and insecure attachment. This model integrates the intrapsy-
chic perspective afforded by experiential approaches with an interpersonal systemic per-
spective and uses both kinds of interventions to help distressed partners shape
emotional accessibility, responsiveness, and engagementthe key elements of attach-
ment securityin their relationships (Burgess Moser & Johnson, 2008; Johnson, 2004).
Couples are encouraged to explore here-and-now emotional experiencing, uncovering
primary emotions that are often blocked from awareness by reactive surface emotions
and responses, and share these with their partner in the session. Their partner will
then be shown how to listen and respond in an emotionally attuned way. The new emo-
tional music then elicits new responses and, gradually, changes the dance between
The process of EFT has been outlined in three stages by Johnson (2004). In the
first stage, cycle de-escalation, couples develop an understanding of the negative inter-
action cycle that drives distress in their relationship. The therapist tracks and reflects
*Ottawa Couple and Family Institute, The Ottawa Hospital, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada.
Ottawa Couple and Family Institute, International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy,
Ottawa, ON, Canada.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Stephanie Wiebe, Ottawa Couple and
Family Institute, The Ottawa Hospital, University of Ottawa, Ottawa ON, Canada. E-mail: stephanie.a.
Family Process, Vol. 55, No. 3, 2016 ©2016 Family Process Institute
doi: 10.1111/famp.12229
the patterns of interaction, identifying the negative cycles, such as criticize/attack fol-
lowed by defend/distance, that constrain the responses of each partner. At the end of
this stage, the couple has a meta-perspective on their interactions and begins to see
their negative cycle as the problem that maintains their insecurity and emotional dis-
tress in their relationship. The second stage, restructuring interactions, involves the
shaping of new core emotional experiences, and new interactions that lead to more
secure connection. Partners are encouraged to explore and share their attachment vul-
nerabilities and needs with their partner in session, in focused, structured enactments.
They are guided to respond in an emotionally attuned and supportive way, and blocks
to this process are explored. Newly formulated emotional responses, for example, the
fear of failure and rejection that underlies withdrawal or a lack of responsiveness, are
expressed in such a way as to evoke new responses in the other partner, for example,
compassion rather than anger and blaming, that constitute a shift in interactional
positions. Withdrawer re-engagement is a key therapeutic event in which the partner
who previously avoided engaging with their partner in conflict now expresses their
attachment needs clearly and also becomes more open and responsive to their partner.
Blamer-softening is a second key therapeutic event in which the partner who would
previously pursue their partner with blame and criticism begins to express their more
vulnerable primary emotions, such as hurt, sadness, fear, or shame, in a soft but clear
way that invites connection. Their partner is then encouraged to listen and respond.
These events create new constructive cycles of contact and caring, fostering secure
attachment. The third stage of EFT, consolidation, involves helping couples use their
more secure attachment bond and improved relationship functioning to solve problems
in their everyday lives and creating a story of resilience and mastery in their relation-
ship (Johnson, 2004).
In EFT, the therapist is a process consultant who, by empathically attuning to and vali-
dating each partner, creates a safe place that allows each partner to become more engaged
with their own experience and with the other. Change in EFT is presumed to occur, not
from insight, catharsis, or improved skills per se, but from the formulation and expression
of new emotional experience that transforms the nature of the interactional drama, partic-
ularly as it pertains to attachment needs and emotions. The EFT therapist stays close to
the “leading edge” of the client’s experience and uses the experiential interventions of
reflection, evocative questions, validation, heightening emotion, and empathic conjecture
to expand that experience. Systemic interactions of reframing (the problem is your con-
strained dance, not your personality or your differences with your lover), reflecting inter-
actional patterns and their self-perpetuating nature, and directing and sculpting new
interactions are also used. Since its development in the 1980s, EFT has accumulated
strong empirical support with a substantial evidence base of efficacy and effectiveness
studies. Furthermore, EFT research has a strong tradition of examining key therapeutic
factors in the process of change. What follows is a review of this research from 1985 to the
Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples has a long tradition of efficacy research
across a variety of settings with distressed couples coping with a range of difficulties.
Johnson and Greenberg (1985a) were the first researchers to examine the EFT model
and found, for the first time, that explicitly focusing on emotions and using them to
shape new interactions in couple therapy resulted in more favorable outcomes than a
strategic problem-solving approach. Specifically, they compared couples randomized to
receive either EFT, the strategic problem-solving approach, or to be on a wait-list
Fam. Proc., Vol. 55, September, 2016
control. They found that couples randomly assigned to receive EFT reported more
gains in relationship satisfaction and intimacy, and greater target complaint reduc-
tion than couples who received the strategic problem-solving intervention. Couples in
both treatment conditions fared better than the wait-list controls in terms of tar-
get complaint reduction and relationship satisfaction. In a second study, Johnson and
Greenberg (1985b) examined couples who received EFT, and tested their
outcome scores against their own pretreatment control scores measured 8 weeks prior
to receiving EFT. They found that these couples reported significantly higher rela-
tionship satisfaction at posttherapy as compared to their pretreatment control scores.
In general, early EFT research aimed to examine the efficacy of EFT relative to the
predominantly behavioral approaches that existed in the field of couple therapy at the
time. EFT researchers were interested in determining whether an alternative
approachbuilding emotional connection in the relationshipcould result in better
outcomes. James (1991) compared couples receiving EFT (n=14) and couples receiv-
ing EFT plus communications training with a control group (n=14) and found that
both groups had significantly better relationship adjustment and improvement in the
target problem at posttherapy than the control group; the addition of communications
training did not improve outcomes over and above EFT alone. In a randomized clinical
trial, Dandeneau and Johnson (1994) found that couples who received EFT (n=12)
had higher empathy and self-disclosure at posttherapy, higher observed intimacy at
follow-up, and evidenced greater stability in follow-up than a cognitive couple therapy
group (n=12), whose improvements receded after therapy had ended. Both treatment
groups were significantly higher than the control group (n=12) in self-reported inti-
macy after treatment. Johnson and Talitman (1997) examined 36 couples receiving
EFT, and measured relationship satisfaction at pretherapy, posttherapy, and at 3
months follow-up. They found significant improvement in relationship satisfaction at
posttherapy with 50% of couples being classified as reliably recovered in terms of rela-
tionship distress at posttherapy and 70% at 3-month follow-up. The researchers also
investigated clinically significant change as measured using the Reliable Change Index
(RCI; Jacobson & Truax, 1991), and found that 79% of couples demonstrated clinically
significant improvement at posttherapy and 82% of couples demonstrated clinically
significant improvement from pretherapy at the 3-month follow-up time point. These
results suggest that couples tended to continue to improve even after completing EFT,
a phenomenon that has been documented consistently and continues to be a focus of
EFT research (Cloutier, Manion, Walker, & Johnson, 2002; Wiebe et al., 2014). Den-
ton, Burleson, Clark, Rodriguez, and Hobbs (2000) examined the efficacy of 8 weekly
sessions of EFT for couples, implemented by novice therapists, compared to a wait-list
control group. After the 8 weekly sessions of EFT, couples (n=22) scored significantly
higher on relationship satisfaction than couples in the 8-week waitlist control group
(n=14). After the 8-week waitlist control period, these couples were also offered 8
weekly EFT sessions and scores were examined comparing the 8-week control to
scores after receiving EFT. They found that couples reported significantly higher rela-
tionship satisfaction after EFT as compared to scores before and after the 8-week wait
In a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials in EFT available at the time, Johnson
et al. (1999) found a large effect size of 1.3 across rigorous clinical trials and a 70 to 73%
recovery rate. At this point, EFT researchers turned their attention to the efficacy of EFT
among couples facing specific concerns that arise for couplescoping with depression,
past trauma, medical illness, and emotional injuries such as infidelity.
EFT for partners with depression
Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples researchers have examined whether EFT is
effective for couples coping with the effects of depression on their relationship, and
whether EFT can help improve mood in a partner who is depressed. Dessaulles, Johnson,
and Denton (2003) conducted a pilot study to examine the effects of EFT for couples in
which the female partner met criteria for depression. They recruited a small sample of 12
depressed women and their partners and randomized them to receive either 16 weekly
sessions of EFT (n=7) by doctoral interns with experience in EFT, or pharmacotherapy
(n=5) for depression (desipramine, trimipramine, or trazadone). They found no difference
in depressive symptoms at 16 weeks between the women who received EFT with their
partners and no medication as compared to those who received medication and no EFT.
Women in both groups demonstrated significant decreases in depressive symptoms from
pre- to posttreatment. Women in the EFT group demonstrated continued significant
reductions in depressive symptoms from posttherapy to 6-month follow-up. Women in the
medication group did not receive medication beyond the 16-week treatment period, and
did not demonstrate continued improvements during the 6-month follow-up period. There
was no significant difference found in depressive symptoms between the medication and
EFT groups at the 6-month follow-up time point. The findings of this pilot study suggest
that EFT may be effective in treating depression in the context of relationship distress,
and that EFT may even help foster further reductions in depressive symptoms following
In order to further test the effects of EFT for depressive symptoms, Denton, Witten-
born, and Golden (2012) randomly assigned 24 couples to receive either (1) medication
alone or (2) EFT in combination with medication. They found that both groups reported a
significant reduction in depressive symptoms. In the EFT group, however, couples
reported significant relationship improvement as well.
EFT for partners with post-traumatic stress
According to attachment theory, those with a secure attachment will be better able to
regulate distressing affect, and seek emotional support in times of need (Bowlby, 1988;
Mikulincer & Shaver, 2015). Indeed, attachment researchers have found that attachment
often mediates or moderates the relationship between experiencing a traumatic event and
psychological adjustment (Andersen, Elklit, & Vase, 2011; Basham, 2008; Benoit, Bouthil-
lier, Moss, Rousseau, & Brunet, 2010; Berant & Pizem, 2015).
Two studies have found EFT to be effective for couples with a partner who has a history
of childhood abuse (Dalton, Greenman, Classen, & Johnson, 2013; MacIntosh & Johnson,
2008). MacIntosh and Johnson (2008) recruited 10 couples in which one partner had
reported past childhood sexual abuse and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Distress
Disorder (PTSD). These couples were given an average of 19 sessions of EFT (ranging from
1126 sessions). Half of these couples reported a clinically significant reduction in trauma
symptoms and improvements in relationship satisfaction. Dalton et al. (2013) conducted a
randomized controlled trial to more rigorously examine the efficacy of EFT in couples in
which one partner has experienced past childhood abuse. They recruited 32 couples and
randomly assigned them to either receive 22 sessions of EFT, or be assigned to the waitlist
control group. They found that couples assigned to receive EFT demonstrated significantly
higher relationship satisfaction scores posttreatment as compared to couples assigned to
the waitlist control, however, there were no significant reductions found in trauma symp-
toms among the partners with a history of childhood abuse in this particular study.
Fam. Proc., Vol. 55, September, 2016
Weissman et al. (2012) conducted a small pilot study to examine the efficacy of EFT for
veterans diagnosed with PTSD. Seven veterans and their spouses were given between 26
36 sessions of EFT and given self-report measures pre- and posttherapy on relationship
satisfaction, symptoms of PTSD, and symptoms of depression. The researchers found sta-
tistically significant reductions at posttherapy in terms of symptoms of PTSD, improve-
ments in mood, and increased relationship satisfaction (Weissman et al., 2012).
Taken together, these studies suggest that EFT holds promise not only for improvement
of relationship satisfaction in couples facing the effects of trauma, but that helping couples
improve their relationships in EFT may potentially also contribute to symptom reduction
and improved coping, though the results thus far have been somewhat mixed. Further
studies will be necessary to demonstrate the efficacy of EFT with couples to help partners
reduce trauma symptoms; however, given the target of EFT to improve secure attachment,
and the association between attachment security and improved psychological adaptation
to trauma, and given the focus of EFT on affect coregulation through a focus on emotional
experiencing in sessions, EFT is likely to emerge as an effective treatment for symptoms
of post-traumatic stress.
EFT for couples coping with illness
Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples appears to be an effective couple therapy for
couples in distress who are coping with the effects of illness in their lives. The first study
of this kind was carried out with parents of children with chronic illnesses (Walker, Man-
ion, Cloutier, & Johnson, 1992). The illness of a child is a well-documented risk factor for
relationship distress (Quittner, DiGirolamo, Michel, & Eigen, 1992; Speechley & Noh,
1992). Walker et al. (1992) examined whether EFT could be effective for these couples.
They randomly assigned 32 distressed couples with chronically ill children to one of two
groups, a group receiving ten sessions of EFT and a wait-list control group. They found
that couples who received EFT reported statistically significant improvements in relation-
ship satisfaction, communication, and intimacy after EFT. Relationship satisfaction and
communication scores were significantly higher in the EFT group as compared to the
wait-list control group at posttreatment and 5 months follow-up, and intimacy scores were
significantly higher at 5-month follow-up. Furthermore, a significantly greater percentage
of couples in the treatment group as compared to the wait-list control group demonstrated
clinically significant improvement and recovery at posttreatment and 5 months follow-up
(Walker et al., 1992). The researchers also conducted a 2-year follow-up study with these
same couples and found no significant decline in relationship satisfaction at 2-year follow-
up. Furthermore, in terms of clinically significant change in relationship satisfaction, they
found that 23.1% of couples maintained their gains, 38.5% made further gains, 30.8% had
no change, and 7.7% deteriorated from their pretreatment scores (Cloutier et al., 2002).
These initial results were promising for a sample of high risk couples experiencing the
effects of a chronic illness in their child.
The experience of medical illnesses such as cancer are increasingly understood as occur-
ring within not only the individual but the context of that person’s significant relation-
ships. Particularly, with marital relationships, coping with the effects of cancer have been
increasingly viewed as both affecting and being affected by that relationship (Northouse &
Peters-Golden, 1993). EFT researchers have examined whether EFT can be effective for
couples facing cancer who are also in relationship distress.
In a pilot study examining the efficacy of EFT for women with breast cancer and their
partners in distressed relationships, researchers randomized 12 couples to receive 20 ses-
sions of either 45-minute psychoeducation sessions about breast cancer or 60-minute EFT
(Naaman, 2008). They found that in the group randomized to receive EFT, 44% of the EFT
couples demonstrated statistically significant improvements in relationship satisfaction.
In contrast, none of the couples in the psychoeducation group demonstrated significant
changes in relationship satisfaction. In terms of quality of life, 88.9% of couples in the EFT
group demonstrated significant improvement compared to none of the couples in the psy-
choeducation group. Interestingly, observing the trends in this small sample, the authors
noted that those couples who demonstrated significant improvements in their relationship
satisfaction also demonstrated improvements in natural killer cell cytotoxicity, a signifi-
cant marker of breast cancer progression. This study provided preliminary evidence that
EFT may be effective to improve relationship satisfaction and quality of life for couples
undergoing treatment for cancer (Naaman, 2008).
Mclean, Walton, Rodin, Esplen, and Jones (2013) randomized 42 couples facing termi-
nal metastatic cancer in distressed relationships to receive either eight sessions of EFT
plus standard care or standard care alone provided by a multidisciplinary team in a
healthcare setting. At posttreatment, couples assigned to EFT reported significantly
greater improvement in relationship satisfaction, and greater improvement in the
patient’s experience of their caregiver’s empathic care as compared to couples assigned to
standard care alone (Mclean et al., 2013).
Taken together, there is preliminary evidence that EFT can be an effective treatment
for relationship distress in couples experiencing illnesses in their lives or the lives of their
children. Moreover, there is preliminary evidence that EFT may also help couples improve
their ability to cope with the illness. It will be important for future research to further
examine the efficacy of EFT for couples in health populations, and to investigate the ways
in which improvements made in the couple relationship may impact coping and even ill-
ness progression.
Forgiveness in EFT
Often couples seeking therapy report an incident in their relationship when one partner
felt abandoned, betrayed, or a breach of trust occurred in the relationship. These
moments, termed attachment injuries in EFT literature, often arise as barriers to key
change events in stage 2 of EFT (Makinen & Johnson, 2006).
Steps toward fostering forgiveness of attachment injuries in therapy were outlined in
the Attachment Injury Resolution Model (AIRM) and tested by Makinen and Johnson
(2006) as part of EFT for couples. This model asserts that the processing of anger, sadness,
and fear underlying attachment injuries is crucial for forgiveness to occur in a close
attachment bond between partners. The in-depth processing of the injury itself, the struc-
turing of specific responsive dialogues where the pain is shared, an emotionally engaged
apology, and reparative comfort are offered acts as an antidote to the original injury. In an
outcome study of 24 couples with an attachment injury, using this model, Makinen and
Johnson (2006) found that 63% of the injured partners were able to resolve the injury, for-
give their partner, and continue the therapeutic process, including moving into key bond-
ing moments in the second stage of EFT. Those who resolved the attachment injury
demonstrated significant improvements in relationship satisfaction and forgiveness,
whereas those who did not resolve the injury did not show significant improvement from
pre- to posttreatment. These results were maintained in a 3-year follow-up assessment of
these same couples (Halchuk, Makinen, & Johnson, 2010). The researchers found no
reduction in attachment anxiety or avoidance among resolved couples in this particular
study (Makinen & Johnson, 2006). In follow-up, resolved couples demonstrated lower
attachment avoidance as compared to non-resolved couples, but no difference in
Fam. Proc., Vol. 55, September, 2016
attachment anxiety (Halchuk et al., 2010). Couples who were unable to resolve the attach-
ment injury were those who reported lower trust at pretherapy and tended to have multi-
ple attachment injuries throughout the course of the relationship (Makinen & Johnson,
2006). Zuccarini, Johnson, Dalgleish, and Makinen (2013) examined the process of change
in resolving attachment injuries following the steps outlined by Makinen and Johnson
(2006) with 24 couples from that study, finding that couples who resolved their attach-
ment injuries demonstrated deeper emotional engagement in key sessions of therapy, a
more reflective stance in processing this experience, and more specific affiliative behaviors
in interactions with their partner compared to couples who were unable to resolve the
injury. Therapists of resolved couples tended to make greater use of interventions such as
reflecting primary emotions, evocative questions to deepen emotional experience, and
enactments to increase engagement and responsiveness to attachment related emotions
and needs.
Greenberg, Warwar, and Malcom (2010) also developed a model for working with cou-
ples struggling to repair an emotional injury from a betrayal in the relationship. Through
task analysis of couples’ sessions, steps specific to forgiveness of the injury were outlined.
Steps taken by the injuring partner included (1) Expressing nondefensive acceptance of
responsibility for the injury, (2) Expressing shame/empathic distress, and (3) Offering a
heartfelt apology. In response, the injured partner expressed shifts in their view of their
partner, followed by acceptance of forgiveness by the injuring partner (Woldarsky Mene-
ses & Greenberg, 2011, 2014). In a sample of 20 couples who experienced an emotional
injury, Greenberg et al. (2010) found that after 1012 sessions of EFT, 11 couples had
resolved the injury and 6 couples indicated progress toward forgiveness. Three couples
had indicated progress during the wait-list control period in the 1012 weeks prior to ther-
apy. In general, these couples improved significantly in terms of relationship satisfaction,
trust, and forgiveness.
Sexual satisfaction change in EFT
Preliminary research has addressed the efficacy of EFT to help couples improve their
sexual relationship. McPhee, Johnson, and van der Veer (1995) conducted a randomized
controlled trial offering 12 sessions of EFT to 49 couples in which the female partner
experienced inhibited sexual desire and randomly assigned them to receive EFT or a
waitlist control group. The women assigned to receive EFT demonstrated higher sexual
desire and lower depressive symptomatology than the control group at posttherapy. In a
more recent study, Elliott et al. (2014) examined trajectories in sexual satisfaction in 32
couples who received an average of 21 sessions of EFT (range of 835 sessions) from
pretherapy to posttherapy and across a 2-year follow-up phase. They found that couples
tended to increase in sexual satisfaction from pre- to posttherapy with continued
improvements across the follow-up phase. Furthermore, they found that a reduction in
attachment avoidance in therapy was a significant predictor of improved sexual satis-
faction across follow-up. These studies provide preliminary evidence for the efficacy of
EFT to help couples improve their sexual relationship. Notably, EFT does not focus very
much on sexual functioning as part of the general therapy model; however, EFT does
focus on creating a more secure attachment between partners, which has been associ-
ated with better sexual functioning in the literature (Birnbaum, Reis, Mikulincer, Gil-
lath, & Orpaz, 2006). Johnson and Zuccarini (2010) outline a model for addressing
sexual concerns in EFT. Future research should investigate the process of addressing
sexual concerns in EFT sessions and explore the links between attachment and sexual
satisfaction further in EFT.
Attachment change in EFT
In a recent series of studies, EFT researchers aimed to examine the efficacy of EFT in
creating changes in attachment security. The goal of EFT is to help couples create a secure
attachment bond. According to EFT theory, improvements in relationship satisfaction are
largely due to increased levels of attachment security in the relationship. However, this
had been largely left unstudied until recently. In this series of studies, EFT researchers
measured self-reported relationship specific attachment security before therapy and then
after each EFT session, as well as at four follow-up time points across 2 years after the
completion of EFT with 32 couples. Attachment security was also measured behaviorally
pre- and posttherapy, as well as at a 2-year follow-up through a coded interaction task
using the validated Secure Base Scoring System (SBSS; Crowell et al., 2002). In the
attachment and neurophysiological research, secure attachment relationships have been
found to facilitate adaptive neurophysiological stress regulation (Coan, 2010). Therefore,
they also examined neurophysiological threat responding, (using electric shock as the
threat) using fMRI scans at pre- and posttherapy in an experimental paradigm modeled
after studies by Coan and colleagues (i.e., Coan, Schaefer, & Davidson, 2006) to examine
the co-regulation of threat in couples.
The researchers recruited 32 distressed couples who were also insecurely attached as
determined by a self-reported attachment score on the Experiences in Close Relationships
Scale (ECR; Brennan, Clark & Shaver, 1998) above the 95% confidence interval of the
norms in the attachment literature (Shaver, Schachner, & Mikulincer, 2005). All couples
were assigned to one of 14 therapists experienced in EFT and received an average of 21
sessions (with a range of 835 sessions). Burgess Moser et al. (2016) examined self-
reported attachment anxiety and avoidance session-by-session and behaviorally measured
attachment security at pre- and posttreatment using Hierarchical Linear Modelling
(HLM; Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002), finding significant linear decreases in attachment
avoidance across EFT sessions. In terms of attachment anxiety, only those couples who
had achieved a blamer-softening event in stage two of EFT demonstrated significant lin-
ear decreases in attachment anxiety across sessions. This event is a key change event in
EFT in which the partner who takes a blaming stance in the relationship expresses their
distress in terms of attachment needs and primary emotions, and the previously with-
drawn partner in the relationship responds in an emotionally attuned way (Bradley &
Furrow, 2004). This event is understood in EFT as a corrective emotional experience of
secure connection for both partners. Generally, the more withdrawn partner is encouraged
to open up first and become available; the more pursuing partner is then encouraged to
risk and reach for connection. When this happens both are accessible, emotionally respon-
sive, and engaged (A.R.E. in EFT terms, as in Are you there for me?). Both can now
express their needs for comfort and care in a soft, emotionally congruent way that fosters
an empathic response from their partner (Johnson, 2004). The researchers also found that
couples improved from pre- to posttherapy in behaviorally observed attachment security
using an interaction task in which couples were asked to discuss a topic of disagreement
in their relationship. The couples’ interactions were then coded by two independent coders
along two dimensions, secure base use and secure base support using the Secure Base
Scoring System (Crowell et al., 2002). Secure base use represents behaviors reflective of a
secure attachment to one’s partner (clarity of attachment signaling, signal maintenance,
approach, ability to be comforted) and secure base support represents responsive behav-
iors that support secure attachment in the other partner (interest in the partner’s distress,
recognition of distress, attuned interpretation of distress, and responsiveness to the dis-
tress). The researchers found that couples demonstrated significant improvement in both
secure base use and secure base support posttherapy. Furthermore, these researchers
Fam. Proc., Vol. 55, September, 2016
examined the association between self-reported attachment and relationship satisfaction.
They found that linear reductions in attachment anxiety and avoidance were significantly
associated with linear improvements in relationship satisfaction across EFT sessions
(Burgess Moser et al., 2016). This is the first study to demonstrate that couple therapy
interventions can impact, not just current relationship satisfaction, but the security of an
attachment bond.
Wiebe et al. (2014) examined attachment in a 2-year follow-up study with the same 32
couples in the study outlined above. They examined trajectories of self-reported relation-
ship specific attachment anxiety and avoidance across six time points (pretherapy, post-
therapy, 6, 12, 18, and 24 months follow-up) using HLM. They also examined the trajecto-
ries of secure base use and secure base support attachment behaviors in these couples at
pretherapy, posttherapy, and 24 months follow-up. They found that attachment anxiety,
secure base use, secure base support, and relationship satisfaction continued to improve
from pre- to posttherapy and across the follow-up time points (Wiebe, et al., 2014). How-
ever, attachment avoidance did not follow this same trajectory. This study raises the possi-
bility that the attachment avoidance changes in therapy as found by Burgess Moser et al.
(2016) may be less likely to continue improving in follow-up. Future research is needed to
determine possible reasons for this. One possible explanation may be that attachment
avoidance is generally less amenable to change in therapy than attachment anxiety (Wise-
man & Tishby, 2014).
These researchers also examined neurological threat responses in female partners
using fMRI scans at pretherapy and posttherapy (Johnson et al., 2013). Female partners
were primed with the threat of electric shock delivered to their ankles under three condi-
tions: (1) lying alone in the fMRI scanner, (2) while holding a stranger’s hand, (3) while
holding their partner’s hand. The results showed that brain areas involved in processing
fear were highly active when the women were lying alone in the fMRI scanner, holding
the hand of a stranger, and holding their partner’s hand at pretherapy. At posttherapy,
their brains still registered alarm when alone or holding a stranger’s hand; however, when
holding their partner’s hand after therapy, the neurological alarm response was signifi-
cantly attenuated. That is, after EFT, when holding their partner’s hand, female partners
demonstrated significantly less neurological threat activation and also reported less pain
from the shock when it was delivered (some 20% of the time).
Most research in EFT has been conducted in controlled settings with specific inclusion
and exclusion criteria for enrollment. However, the advent of a new application of EFT in
the form of a group-based educational format that has been widely adopted has lent itself
well to a broad-based evaluation of these services. This group-based version of EFT for
couples is called “Hold Me Tight: Conversations for Connection”. This program outlines
the steps of EFT in the form of structured conversations, as formulated in the book Hold
Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love (Johnson, 2008), that less distressed
couples can grasp and practice at home. A recently conducted effectiveness study exam-
ined the outcomes of this program applied across multiple settings in the United States
and Canada (Kennedy, Johnson, Wiebe, & Tasca, 2015). Specifically, these researchers
enrolled 95 couples in 16 HMT groups across Canada and the United States and examined
relationship satisfaction, attachment, trust, and intimacy at 8 weeks before the start of
the group, the first group session (pregroup), at the last session (postgroup) and follow-up
(follow-up data were gathered between 36 months after the end of group). Nine of the
groups were held as 8 weekly sessions and seven of the groups were held as weekend
retreats. Overall, in terms of relationship functioning, these couples were, on average, in
the nondistressed range (M =106.63; SD =10.08). These couples demonstrated signifi-
cant improvements in relationship satisfaction from baseline to postgroup in terms of rela-
tionship satisfaction, and the effects were large (d =.81), but no significant change from
baseline to pregroup, suggesting that participation in the group was involved in the
improvement of relationship functioning as opposed to simply the passage of time. Using
hierarchical linear modeling (HLM), these researchers modeled the trajectory of change in
relationship satisfaction for the couples in the HMT groups. They found that couples
demonstrated very little change from baseline (8 weeks prior to the start of group) to pre-
group (the first session), and increases from pre- to postgroup, and a decrease from post-
group to follow-up. An increase in trust was also found from baseline to postgroup with a
medium effect size (d=0.42), but not from baseline to pregroup. The trajectory of change
in trust across time involved no change from baseline to pregroup, increases from pre-
group to postgroup with decreases from postgroup to follow-up (Kennedy et al., 2015).
There were no significant changes found for attachment or intimacy. These results sug-
gest that the EFT model, as formatted in the Hold Me Tight group-based program, can be
effective for nondistressed couples across North America.
Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples research has a strong tradition of exploring
the factors involved in promoting successful outcomes for couples. In the first years of the
formulation of the EFT model, Johnson and Greenberg, (1988) explored how partner state-
ments in EFT sessions predicted outcomes. They found that a greater depth of experienc-
ing and more affiliative interpersonal responding by partners in EFT sessions predicted
more improved relationship functioning for couples in therapy. Since this first EFT pro-
cess study, EFT researchers have delved into exploring the many aspects that can impact
the outcomes of therapy, including couple and partner factors, therapeutic events, and
therapist interventions (Greenman & Johnson, 2013).
Predictors of Outcome in EFT
The first researchers to examine baseline characteristics of couples at the start of ther-
apy as possible predictors of outcome were Johnson and Talitman (1997). They recruited
36 couples for the study to receive 12 weekly sessions of EFT. Each couple was assigned to
one of 13 doctoral level therapists in clinical psychology who were experienced in provid-
ing EFT. They examined theoretically relevant factors at baseline via self-report measures
including attachment, emotional self-disclosure, trust, and traditionality. They also exam-
ined demographic variables such as age and relationship length as predictors of outcome.
The findings revealed that older age of the male partner was a predictor of improvements
in relationship satisfaction from pre- to posttherapy and higher relationship satisfaction
at 3 months follow-up. They also found that male partner proximity seeking (a dimension
of attachment) was associated with higher relationship satisfaction at posttherapy. Fur-
thermore, male partners who were lower in proximity seeking tended to have greater
improvement in couple relationship functioning from pre-to posttherapy. These results
suggest that when male partners tend to turn to their partners more readily at the start of
therapy, the couple tends to be less distressed at the end of therapy. However, those cou-
ples in which the male partner is less likely to turn to his partner emotionally improve
more in therapy in relationship functioning, presumably because EFT therapists focus on
fostering proximity seeking during therapy. Consistent with these results, they also found
that male partners who were rated as low in self-disclosure by their partners at baseline
improved most in terms of relationship satisfaction. In terms of trust, female partners
Fam. Proc., Vol. 55, September, 2016
with higher levels of faith in their partner’s caring at baseline significantly predicted cou-
ple relationships satisfaction at posttherapy. They also found that the ‘task dimension’ of
the therapeutic alliance was a significant predictor of outcome, which is an aspect of the
alliance reflecting the client-perceived relevance of the therapy sessions to addressing
their concerns. A key factor in the success of EFT appears to be that clients perceive its
focus and interventions as on target and getting to the heart of their issues. The initial
level of relationship distress at intake had no impact on the success of EFT.
A recent study by Dalgleish, Johnson, Burgess Moser, Lafontaine et al. (2015) sought to
examine theoretically relevant baseline variables as possible predictors of session-by-ses-
sion shifts in relationship satisfaction using hierarchical linear modeling (HLM). They
found that higher relationship-specific attachment anxiety and higher emotional control
at the start of therapy predicted linear improvements in relationship satisfaction across
EFT sessions (Dalgleish, Johnson, Burgess Moser, Lafontaine et al., 2015). This finding is
consistent with the findings of Johnson and Talitman (1997) that partners who tend to
hold back from reaching out to their partner emotionally tend to benefit most from EFT.
The finding by Dalgleish, Johnson, Burgess Moser, Lafontaine et al. (2015) that couples
with higher attachment anxiety in the relationship tend to benefit more from EFT makes
sense given that EFT therapists focus on helping partners share attachment anxieties and
promoting responsiveness to one another’s attachment signaling. In this way, the thera-
pist helps the couple create a safe haven in their relationship that would serve as antidote
for attachment anxiety.
In a follow-up study with these same couples, Wiebe, Johnson, Burgess Moser, Dal-
gleish, Lafontaine, and Tasca (2014) examined changes from pre- to posttherapy in theo-
retically relevant variables as possible predictors of the trajectories of relationship
satisfaction across four follow-up time points (6, 12, 18, and 24 months follow-up). They
found that reductions in attachment anxiety, attachment avoidance, and improvements in
trust in the relationship, as well as greater depth of experiencing in therapy sessions, pre-
dicted increases in relationship satisfaction across follow-up. They also found that the pre-
dictor that accounted for greater variance in relationship satisfaction across follow-up was
reduction in attachment avoidance in therapy. Thus, reductions in attachment avoidance
in therapy could be seen as a long-term prognostic factor of relationship satisfaction out-
comes after completing EFT. The implication for therapists is to actively target attach-
ment avoidance in therapy, and to monitor changes in attachment avoidance before
termination. Specifically, therapists should attend to hypo-activating strategies character-
istic of attachment avoidance through EFT interventions such as heightening and evoca-
tive responding.
Process Research in EFT
The emphasis on linking therapeutic process and outcome in EFT research has allowed
for a close relationship between research and practice in which each informs the other and
has contributed toward narrowing the research-practice gap that has been noted as an
ongoing problem in the field of psychotherapy (Sprenkle, 2003). Two main aspects of the
therapeutic process have been identified as key elements of change, depth of emotional
experiencing and the gradual shaping of interactions to help partners clearly express fears
and needs and to move toward affiliative responding with one another (Greenman & John-
son, 2013). A key aspect of the therapeutic process in EFT, the blamer softening change
event, has been found to predict successful outcomes and shifts in negative interaction
cycles (Bradley & Furrow, 2004, 2007; Dalgleish, Johnson, Burgess Moser, Wiebe, &
Tasca, 2015). Recent research by Dalgleish, Johnson, Burgess Moser, Lafontaine et al.
(2015) examined the blamer-softening event relative to shifts in relationship satisfaction
across EFT sessions. They found that the completion of a blamer-softening event in EFT
was associated with linear session-by-session improvements in relationship satisfaction.
Given the significance of the blamer-softening event in relation to outcomes in EFT,
Bradley and Furrow (2004) sought to better understand the therapist interventions
involved in fostering the blamer-softening event. They found that a number of key themes
emerged in the process of a successful blamer-softening event; specifically, the therapist
supported both partners to regulate emotion, and especially helped the blaming partner to
formulate and express underlying attachment fears. To further understand the therapist
behaviors that foster the blamer-softening event, Furrow, Edwards, Choi, and Bradley
(2012) analyzed nine therapy tapes involving successful or attempted softening attempts.
They coded these tapes for therapist vocal quality, and therapist awareness and respon-
siveness to the emotional content in the session. They found that the therapist’s emotional
presence and corresponding vocal quality were associated with successful softening
events. This is consistent with EFT theory that stresses the importance of emotionally
attuned responsiveness by the therapist in the session (Johnson, 2004).
McRae, Dalgleish, Johnson, Burgess Moser, and Killian (2014) examined whether emo-
tion regulation strategies at baseline, emotion self-awareness and emotion control, would
predict whether couples had a softening event or not. They found that neither of these
emotion regulation strategies were predictive of softening in EFT. Dalgleish, Johnson,
Burgess Moser, Wiebe, and Tasca (2015) examined relationship-specific attachment at
baseline as a possible predictor of the ability of couples to achieve a blamer-softening event
in EFT. They found that neither attachment avoidance nor attachment anxiety in the
relationship significantly predicted the occurrence of a softening event in therapy. How-
ever, they did find that among couples who did have a softening event, those who were
higher in attachment avoidance at intake demonstrated less improvement in relationship
satisfaction (Dalgleish, Johnson, Burgess Moser, Wiebe, & Tasca, 2015). This result is
interesting, as it seems to suggest that couples with higher attachment avoidance at base-
line benefited less from this key therapeutic event. The authors proposed that this may be
due to partners with higher attachment avoidance tending to use de-activating affect reg-
ulation strategies, thus making them less likely to take in and integrate their partner’s
open and clear sharing of attachment needs during the softening event and more likely in
contrast with maintaining emotional distance from their partner (Dalgleish, Johnson,
Burgess Moser, Wiebe, & Tasca, 2015).
In a second study with the same sample of couples, Burgess Moser et al. (2016) exam-
ined the process of session-by-session change in relationship-specific attachment among
the couples who achieved a blamer-softening event. Using Hierarchical Linear Modeling
(HLM) discontinuity analysis, they examined the rate of change in attachment before and
after the softening event as well as the degree of change. They found that at the blamer-
softening session, couples reported an increase in relationship-specific attachment
anxiety. However, this initial increase in attachment anxiety at the softening session was
followed by significant reductions in attachment anxiety across the remainder of sessions
at a steeper rate than couples who had not softened (Burgess Moser, Dalgleish, Johnson,
Wiebe, & Tasca, 2012). They also found that couples demonstrated significant increases in
relationship satisfaction and reductions in relationship-specific attachment avoidance
after the softening event (Burgess Moser et al., 2012). These results suggest that the soft-
ening session itself may initially result in increased attachment anxiety in the relation-
ship, but ultimately pays off in terms of greater attachment security for these couples by
the end of the therapy process as compared to those who did not soften. This is consistent
with EFT theory that stating attachment needs in a clear way to one’s partner is a risk
that may lead to feelings of vulnerability and fear in the moment. However, when one’s
attachment needs and fears are responded to in an emotionally attuned way, this paves
Fam. Proc., Vol. 55, September, 2016
the way for a more secure bond that would have never been possible had the risk to share
never been taken.
Zuccarini et al. (2013) sought to better understand the therapeutic interventions
involved in fostering healing of attachment injuries in EFT. They found that interventions
as formulated in the EFT model including evocative responding, increasing awareness of
process patterns and emotions, structuring enactments, and facilitation of softer, primary
emotions were associated with the resolution of an attachment injury in the relationship
(Greenman & Johnson, 2013; Zuccarini et al., 2013). This is consistent with the emphasis
in EFT on interventions that deepen the exploration and sharing of attachment needs and
primary affect in the relationship are central to successful outcome.
Given the importance of the therapeutic alliance toward predicting treatment outcomes
in EFT, Swank and Wittenborn (2013) examined the process of repairing a ruptured ther-
apeutic alliance in EFT through task analysis. The authors outlined the steps involved in
repairing an alliance rupture in a rational-empirical model in which the therapist would
(1) verbally inquire and raise concern about the possible rupture, (2) support the client in
exploring their emotional reaction to the event that precipitated the rupture, (3) express
remorse and take responsibility for their role in the event, and (4) show appreciation for
the disclosure by the client and inquiring about the reaction of the other partner.
Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples researchers have developed model specific
measures in two main areas, fidelity and couple responsiveness.
EFT Fidelity Assessment
Adherence to the EFT model has traditionally been maintained through close super-
vision or through adherence checklists (i.e., Makinen & Johnson, 2006). However, more
recently, Denton, Johnson, and Burleson (2009) developed the Emotion-Focused Ther-
apy-Therapist Fidelity Scale (EFT-TFS) as a tool to assess therapist fidelity to the EFT
model in therapy sessions. The EFT-TFS is a scale involving 13 skills that are central
to faithfully implementing the EFT model. The therapy session would be rated accord-
ing to these 13 skills to determine the extent to which the therapy session adhered to
the EFT model. Sandberg et al. (2015) conducted a validation study to assess the scale’s
reliability and validity. They had six EFT therapists rate 12 therapy sessions with the
scale. They found a high degree of inter-rater reliability between coders, and a good
ability of the scale to distinguish between sessions with low versus high adherence to
the EFT model.
Partner responsiveness in EFT
Attachment self-report measures have been developed to measure adult attachment
styles, such as the Experiences in Close Relationships Scale (ECR; Brennan, Clark & Sha-
ver, 1998), however, these measures focus less on specific behaviors and more on cognitive
aspects of attachment. Bowlby (1973) emphasized accessibility and responsiveness as key
attachment behaviors that promote attachment security. Sandberg, Busby, Johnson, and
Yoshida (2012) developed a self-report measure to assess partner accessibility and respon-
siveness to one another called the Brief Accessibility, Responsiveness, and Engagement
(BARE) scale. This validation study found good internal consistency reliability and predic-
tive validity of the BARE scale. The authors found that the scale significantly predicted
relationship stability and satisfaction.
A branch of EFT research that stands out is the interest in the impact of training in
EFT on couple therapy practice and the lives of couple therapists. Most of these studies
are qualitative or exploratory in nature, and provide a nuanced picture of the experi-
ence of training as an EFT therapist. To assess the influence of EFT training on thera-
pists’ couple therapy practice, Montagno, Svatovic, and Levenson (2011) surveyed 76
couple therapists after a 4-day training externship that included didactic training, live
demonstrations of EFT, and interactive role-play, and followed up with a subset of these
therapists (N=29) 8 months later to assess changes in EFT knowledge and compe-
tence, attachment, affect regulation, and self-compassion. They found that therapists
reported increased EFT knowledge and competence, improvements in affect regulation,
reductions in attachment avoidance, and improved personal relationship functioning
after the training. They did find a significant reduction in knowledge from posttraining
to 8 months follow-up; however, follow-up scores remained higher than pretraining
scores. Sandberg and Knestel (2011) investigated the experience of learning EFT in 122
EFT therapists through online self-report questionnaires. Therapists indicated that
learning EFT had a positive impact on their practice and also on their personal rela-
tionships. The therapists also raised a number of challenges that they encountered in
learning EFT including the time and effort required of them through training and
supervision to develop competency in this model. However, the overall feedback was
that the training in EFT was worthwhile and had a positive impact on their practice as
well as their personal relationships. Sandberg, Knestel, and Schade (2013) conducted a
qualitative study to further explore therapists’ perceptions of the effect of training in
EFT on their therapy practice. They surveyed 124 clinicians who had trained in EFT
with open ended questions on the impact of EFT training on their practice. Therapists
reported specific positive changes in their therapeutic practice including focusing on
emotion, slowing down their pace in session, demonstrating more empathy, and caring
in therapy sessions. Therapists also reported improvements in their own close relation-
ships with family and friends.
EFT researchers have also explored the impact of therapist characteristics on delivery
of EFT in new EFT therapists. Wittenborn (2012) explored the attachment orientations of
novice therapists and their delivery of EFT in a simulated session. They found that thera-
pists with more secure attachment styles tended to demonstrate greater competence in
working with attachment needs and emotions in the session, and fewer alliance ruptures.
Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples researchers have also focused on factors that
facilitate or impede progress in learning EFT. Duplassie, Macknee, and Williams (2008)
examined incidents and experiences that helped or hindered the process of training as an
EFT therapist. They interviewed 14 therapists about critical incidents that they felt
helped or hindered their training. Helpful factors included exposure to EFT sessions, and
discussion of EFT concepts. Unhelpful incidents included experiencing anxiety about
being an effective EFT therapist, counter transference reactions. These findings are con-
sistent with the EFT training model focusing on discussion and exposure to live sessions,
as well as supervision in the process of training to be a certified EFT therapist.
In a qualitative analysis of effective EFT supervision, Palmer-Olsen, Gold, and Woolley
(2011) interviewed 17 EFT therapists about their views of effective EFT supervision. They
identified six themes: (1) secure supervisory alliance, (2) processing self-of-the-therapist
issues and emotion regulation, (3) modeling EFT interventions, (4) live session review
with specific positive and corrective feedback, (5) utilizing didactic training materials, and
(6) goal-setting and evaluation. With this feedback, the authors formulated a model for
EFT supervision along the six themes.
Fam. Proc., Vol. 55, September, 2016
Overall, learning EFT appears to be perceived by trainees as a valuable endeavor with
positive impacts on their practice with couples, as well as their own relationships. Taken
together, this body of work has culminated in the development of a training model for new
EFT therapists that is comprehensive, structured, and evidence based (Palmer-Olsen
et al., 2011).
Since the development of EFT in the mid-1980s, researchers have established EFT as
an evidence based treatment that meets or often exceeds the guidelines for being classified
as an evidence-based couple therapy at the very highest level outlined by Sexton et al.
(2011). It also appears to be the only couple intervention to meet these criteria. The only
area in which empirical research is missing is in testing EFT across different cultures.
However, attachment theory, the basis of EFT, posits a universality in attachment needs
and fears, and research suggests a universality in the structure of emotion, even in the
face of different cultural rules about emotional expression. Future research in EFT will
continue to address the areas, such as the process of change, that are most important to
clinicians and to rigorously test the EFT model in new areas, such as in the currently
ongoing research on an EFT group intervention for helping couples cope with physical ill-
ness, such as heart disease.
Finally, it is worth noting that EFT is a model of intervention based on a coherent and
well-researched theory of adult love relationships which then allows for focused interven-
tion directed toward the core defining variables in love relationships. EFT practice has
developed over the last 30 years in tandem with the new science of adult bonding and has
also contributed to this with studies such as the brain scan study (Johnson et al., 2013)
noted above, the results of which support the main tenets of attachment theory. We
appear to be beginning a new and promising era in our understanding of our most crucial
relationships and thus our ability to shape them.
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... Emotionally focused couple therapy (EFT; Johnson, 1996Johnson, , 2004Johnson, , 2020 is one of the modalities with the strongest research support (Sprenkle, 2012;Wiebe & Johnson, 2016) and is considered to be evidence-based (Sexton et al., 2011). EFTan attachment-based couple therapy built on humanistic and systemic principles-views the negative cycles of interaction typically presented by distressed couples as a reflection of an insecure attachment bond. ...
... EFT has accumulated a large body of both process and outcome studies (for review, see Wiebe & Johnson, 2016). Previous metaanalyses of EFT have contributed to establishing EFT as an evidence-based couple therapy, notwithstanding significant limitations in methodology. ...
... Prior meta-analyses and reviews on EFT (e.g., Beasley & Ager, 2019;Johnson et al., 1999;Rathgeber et al., 2018;Roddy et al., 2020;Wiebe & Johnson, 2016;Wood et al., 2005) and the ICEEFT website were examined for EFT outcome studies. Forward and backward searching of identified studies was conducted for all identified studies. ...
... To better understand the mechanisms of adult attachment, various empirically supported treatments for couples have been developed and tested in the last few decades [100][101][102][103][104][105]. The most prominent evidence base is for attachment-focused and communication enhancing models including emotionally focused couples therapy (EFcT), integrative behavioural couples therapy (IBCT) and the Gottman method. ...
... Moser et al. [110] found that there were measured decreases in attachment avoidance and attachment anxiety (following blamer softening sessions) and an overall increase in relational satisfaction upon completion of EFcT. Therefore, changes in relationship-specific attachment anxiety, secure attachment behaviours and relationship functioning may be long-lasting and continue to improve in the years following therapy for those couples who engaged in and completed EFcT [104]. ...
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This chapter focuses on the theoretical basis behind intergenerational attachment styles and how they present in romantic relationships. In this chapter, we review the conceptual literature on attachment styles, their development and maintenance across the lifespan. We also explore the role of mutual emotional regulation in disrupting relational distress and improving relationship functioning. We proceed to synthesise efficacy studies and evidence-based research on relational interventions with couples, most commonly presenting concerns in couples therapy and the role of couples therapy in improving romantic relationships across cultural contexts, gender and sexuality identifications. We summarise what has worked, with whom and why while reviewing the various measures and types of clinical interventions offered to couples and report on change scores in outcomes of attachment avoidance/anxiety, relational conflict, relationship functioning and partner satisfaction. Finally, the book chapter presents three case studies with South-Asian couples across diverse life stages, relationship statuses, gender identities and sexual orientations using attachment-based and emotion-focused interventions.
... EFT has been validated in Canada and the USA as an evidence-based treatment that has proven to be successful in helping distressed couples, including couples in which one partner is facing other health issues such as depression, PTSD, or terminal illness [18]. A recent meta-analysis found that EFT treatment produces a large effect (Hedge's g= 2.09), with sustained improvement at follow-up [19]. ...
... Inclusion and exclusion criteria for participants are detailed in Table 1 and reflect the eligibility criteria used in other studies about EFT conducted in English-speaking countries [18,21]. ...
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Background: Couple relationship distress is common and associated with poor physical, psychological, relational outcomes for both partners. Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples (EFT) is a short-term structured approach based on attachment theory that integrates a humanistic, experiential approach to restructuring emotional experience and a systemic structural approach to restructuring interactions. This model has been shown to be an effective treatment for couple distress. The supporting research, however, has only been conducted with English-speaking couples. Despite Spanish being the second-most spoken language and meaningful cultural differences between English- and Spanish-speaking countries, the efficacy of EFT has not been examined in this cultural context. This study will examine the efficacy of EFT in this particular context and advance the understanding of potential mechanisms of change. Methods: We will use a multicenter randomized wait-list controlled design to examine the efficacy of EFT in a Spanish-speaking sample of moderately distressed couples. One hundred forty individuals in 70 couples in Argentina, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, and Spain will be randomly assigned to receive 19-21 sessions of EFT or be placed on a wait list. Outcomes on a range of relational and individual mental health variables will be assessed prior to random assignment, throughout treatment, and at the conclusion of treatment. Primary outcomes will include dyadic adjustment, couple satisfaction, and attachment. Secondary variables, such as loneliness, parenting, affective communication, and sexual satisfaction, will be included as potential mediators of the treatment effect. Couples in the treatment group will also be assessed at 3-, 6-, 12-, 18-, and 24-month follow-ups. Process variables such as the therapeutic alliance will also be assessed routinely in couples assigned to the treatment group. Couples in the waitlist will receive a psychoeducational program based on EFT after completing the study. Discussion: This study will be the first RCT of Emotionally Focused Therapy in a Spanish-speaking context. The results of the study will inform researchers interested in whether treatments developed and tested in the US and Canada can be effective in differing cultural contexts. It may also point researchers and clinicians to areas where cultural adaptation is needed to improve efficacy. Trial registration: NCT04277325; February 20, 2020.
... Noticer interventions have much in common with those found in mindfulnessinterventions and emotion focused interventions, especially those that emphasize observing, identifying, describing and non-reactivity to feelings (Greenberg & Pascual-Leone, 2006;Gu et al., 2015;Wiebe & Johnson, 2016) and have been shown to improve our connection with our emotions (Cooper, Yap, & Batalha, 2019). By helping people to end their war with their body, we believe noticer interventions reduce the feeling of emotional alienation and promote visceral, emotional connection to meaning. ...
We all must confront existential crises such as sickness, death of loved ones, loss of job, mistreatment from others, and relationship breakdown. These crises can shatter our sense of meaning. How can we face that moment with honesty and courage, embrace the distress, and create new meaning? This chapter provides a theory of how language and self-awareness can lead us into existential crisis and loss of meaning. It then provides an evidence-based account of how the DNA-V model of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can help people to answer “Yes” to Camus’ most important philosophical question, “Is life worth living?”. ACT can help people recreate coherence after a coherence-shattering event, overcome alienation from the body, overcome inertia, overcome a sense of self that is self-destroying or feels “empty,” and bridge the gulf between self and others and create genuine connection.KeywordsExistentialismAcceptance and commitment therapyMindfulnessAcceptanceDNA-V
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Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is an empirically supported treatment for couples experiencing relationship distress. EFT therapists use the pursue-withdraw cycle to track and attend to couples’ patterns of interaction and attachment behaviors. However, the relationships between pursue-withdraw categorization and gender and attachment in clinical couples are underexplored. We examined the theoretical mechanisms associated with these relationships and analyzed data from an RCT evaluating EFT’s effectiveness addressing couples’ relationship satisfaction and depression. Our analysis indicated that study therapists categorized all men as withdrawers and women as pursuers. Conversely, the relationship between attachment and pursue-withdraw categorization was non-significant. Clinical implications are discussed.
Conference Paper
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La Terapia Focalizada en las Emociones (TFE) es uno de los modelos de terapia de pareja que cuenta con más estudios empíricos que evidencian su eficacia como tratamiento capaz de mejorar la calidad de la relación (Beasley y Ager 2019; Wiebe y Johnson 2016; Wood et al. 2005). Además de ser eficaz para intervenir a nivel relacional, este modelo parece también tener el potencial de generar un impacto positivo en otras áreas como, por ejemplo, la salud mental. En concreto, estudios realizados dentro del marco de la TFE que compararon los niveles de sintomatología depresiva al inicio y al final del tratamiento, encontraron que ésta disminuye al finalizar la intervención (Alder et al. 2018; Dessaulles et al. 2003; Weissman et al. 2018; Wittenborn et al. 2019). El objetivo de esta comunicación es presentar los resultados de un estudio que busca evaluar si la EFT es un modelo eficaz para mejorar el ajuste diádico y la salud mental en comparación con la opción de no tratamiento. Los datos proceden de una muestra de 16 parejas españolas participantes en el ensayo clínico E(f)FECTS (Emotionally FocusEd Couple Therapy in Spanish-NCT04277325). Las variables objeto de esta comunicación han sido evaluadas a través del cuestionario DAS (Dyadic Adjustment Scale; Spanier 1976) sobre la calidad de la relación, y el DASS-21 (Depression Anxiety Stress Scale; Antony et al. 1998) que mide los niveles de ansiedad, depresión y estrés. Las hipótesis de este estudio son tres. Primera, que las personas en tratamiento experimentarán una mejora significativa en la calidad de su relación en comparación con su puntuación pre-tratamiento y con el grupo control. Segunda, que las personas en tratamiento experimentarán una mejora significativa en su salud mental en comparación con su puntuación pre-tratamiento y con el grupo control. Tercera, entre las parejas del grupo tratamiento, quienes presenten una mejora mayor en la calidad de su relación, serán también quienes presenten una mejora mayor en su salud mental. Se discutirán los resultados, sus implicaciones clínicas y posibles investigaciones futuras.
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Introduction: Spousal breach of promise is a factor that undermines the hope and mental health of many women. Aim: This study was conducted to compare the effectiveness of emotion-based therapy based on attachment injury and spirituality-based schema therapy on hopelessness and mental health of women affected by the spousal breach of promise. Method: The present research was a quasi-experimental study with a pretest-posttest control group design. The statistical population included women affected by the spousal breach of promise in the city of Bandar Abbas in the spring of 2021, and the sample group consisted of 48 people of these women who were purposefully selected and then randomly assigned into two experimental groups and one control group (16 people in each group). The Beck Hopelessness Scale (BHS) and the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) were used to collect data. The emotion-based therapy based on attachment injury and the spirituality-based schema therapy was performed in 10 sessions of 90 minutes each. Data were analyzed using the analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) and SPSS-26. Results: The results showed that after controlling the pretest, the effectiveness of treatment in reducing hopelessness (F=4.49, P=0.017) and increasing mental health (F=5.94, P=0.005) was significant. The comparison of groups showed that emotion-based therapy based on attachment injury effectively reduced hopelessness (P=0.014) and spirituality-based schema therapy effectively increased mental health (P=0.004). Conclusion: The effectiveness of emotion-based therapy based on therapeutic attachment injury in reducing hopelessness and the effectiveness of spirituality-based schema therapy on mental health was confirmed in the present study. It is suggested that these two therapies be used to help women affected by the spousal breach of promise.
This paper provides a critical analysis and synthesis of the current status and emerging developments in contemporary couple therapy. Its narrative centers on the evolution of couple therapy into a prominent intervention modality and coherent body of practice. The review begins with the consideration of the field's strong empirical underpinnings derived from research on couple therapy and basic relational science. Couple therapy comprises the widely accepted method for reducing relationship distress and enhancing relationship quality. Moreover, both as a stand-alone intervention and in conjunction with other treatment formats, couple-based interventions have garnered considerable empirical support for their effectiveness in addressing a broad spectrum of specific relational dysfunctions as well as individual emotional and physical health problems. We highlight the convergence of methods through common factors, shared strategies, and remarkably similar arrangements across approaches. Our review also points to key differences among approaches, the importance of recognizing respective strengths and limitations linked to these differences, and building on differences across models when selecting and tailoring interventions for a given couple. The discussion concludes with a consideration of recent trends in the field including the impact of telehealth and related digital technologies, the expansion of specific treatments for specific problems and diverse populations, the interface of couple therapy with relationship education, and enduring challenges as well as new opportunities addressing broader systemic and global dynamics.
This study examined the heart rate synchrony between a single couple in emotionally focused therapy (EFT) as a method of measuring coregulatory effects over the course of treatment. A clinician who is an EFT certified therapist, supervisor, and trainer administered all eight sessions in a private practice setting. Surrogate synchrony analysis assessed heart rate synchrony between partners, indicating that significant heart rate synchrony was more likely over time. Significant heart rate synchrony was more likely during sessions that focused on clients’ sharing attachment injuries, bonds, and longings with their partner compared to sessions more focused on cognitive processing of the relationship. Additionally, there were delays in heart rate synchrony that occurred between the couple, which may be indicative of the emotional processing speed of the empathic response of each partner. Understanding the physiological synchrony patterns between dyads in treatment could clarify the potential of coregulation in the therapeutic process.
Emotionally focused couple therapy (EFT) has contributed substantially to the field of couple interventions. In particular, it has led the way in developing interventions that change emotion regulation and responses in ways that lead to increased emotional responsiveness and bonding interactions.
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Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT; Johnson, 2004) treats relationship distress by targeting couples' relationship-specific attachment insecurity. In this study, we used hierarchical linear modeling (Singer & Willett, 2003) to examine intercept and slope discontinuities in softened couples' trajectories of change in relationship satisfaction and relationship-specific attachment over the course of therapy from a total sample of 32 couples. Softened couples (n = 16) reported a significant increase in relationship satisfaction and a significant decrease in attachment avoidance at the softening session. Although softened couples displayed an initial increase in relationship-specific attachment anxiety at the softening session, their scores significantly decreased across post-softening sessions. Results demonstrated the importance of the blamer-softening change event in facilitating change in EFT.
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Emotionally focused couple therapy (EFT; Johnson, The practice of emotionally focused couple therapy (1st/2nd edition). Brunner-Routledge, New York, 2004) is an effective treatment of relationship distress (Johnson et al., Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 1999; 6, 67). However, less is known about EFT's impact on couples' relationship-specific attachment bond. Using hierarchical linear modeling with a sample of 32 couples, we examined session-by-session changes in couples' relationship-specific attachment anxiety and avoidance and pre- to posttherapy changes in their relationship-specific attachment behaviors. Couples significantly decreased in relationship-specific attachment avoidance, and those who completed a blamer softening significantly decreased in relationship-specific attachment anxiety. Couples' attachment behavior significantly increased toward security. Finally, session-by-session decreases in relationship-specific attachment anxiety and avoidance were significant associated with increases in relationship satisfaction across sessions. These results provide empirical support for the attachment-based assumptions of EFT.
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Data was drawn from 15 sessions of couple's therapy where clinicians attempted to apply the EFT model. Results provide initial support for the Emotionally Focused Therapy —Therapist Fidelity Scale (EFT-TFS) as a reliable and useful measure of fidelity. In addition, results suggest the measure can discriminate effectively (95% correct classification) between low and high fidelity EFT. The findings suggest that certain in-session therapist behaviors (maintaining session focus on attachment and emotion) may be more predictive of high fidelity EFT. Implications regarding the EFT-TFS as a training and practice tool, as well as direction for future research, are discussed.
Emotionally focused couple therapy (EFT) is an integrative approach which combines theory and techniques from experiential and client-centered approaches with attachment theory and systems theory. The following paper will outline the humanistic foundations of EFT, and will demonstrate how systems and attachment theory strongly complement the client-centered and experiential underpinnings of this approach. The paper will go on to show how specific aspects of these theories combine to provide a comprehensive framework in which to conceptualize and treat relational distress. Finally, clinical examples will be provided on how the combined techniques from these approaches are used in the treatment of relationship distress.
This book is a revision and updating of the 1996 book titled Emotionally Focused Marital Theory. It is intended to serve as the basic therapeutic manual for Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT). As in the first edition, there is also one chapter on Emotionally Focused Family Therapy (EFFT).
According to attachment theory, a sense of attachment security (confidence that others will be responsive and supportive when needed) is a resilience resource in times of need and a building block of mental health and social adjustment. In this article we review what has been learned during the last decade about the causal effects of contextually activating security-enhancing mental representations in adulthood. We begin with a brief account of attachment theory and the cognitive underpinnings of the sense of attachment security. We then review findings from laboratory studies showing that the experimental priming of mental representations of security has positive effects on emotion regulation, appraisals of self and others, mental health, and prosocial behavior.