Mental Health
What Is Emotionally Focused Therapy?

What Is Emotionally Focused Therapy?

3 min read


Sonal Dani

Emotionally Focused Therapy is based on the premise that humans have an innate need for emotional connection. EFT zooms in on how we develop different styles of interaction with our primary caregiver when we are children. These interaction styles are called attachment styles, which can be a secure attachment or an insecure attachment. Based on these attachment styles, we transition into adult relationships with the same style. This creates unhealthy patterns, if our attachment style is insecure (which can be avoidant or anxious).

EFT addresses emotion regulation strategies based on our different attachment styles.

The Three Stages of EFT

The EFT model of change consists of three stages. Stage 1 is to clarify your emotional patterns and focus on trying to sort out your emotions. Stage 2 is to incorporate new emotional experiences in therapy sessions to create new strategies to engage with yourself, others and life in general. Stage 3 is to reinforce your newfound confidence in understanding your emotions and apply it to the situational problems and relationships in everyday life.

What is Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy?

Emotionally Focused Couples therapy  is based on the assumption that secure bonds between individuals in a relationship are created by accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement. We all have basic needs of safety, love and comfort, or “attachment needs.” These attachment needs are adaptive and need validation. Partners can get stuck in rigid patterns with each other and react based on how they were raised and their attachment style. Partners can also get limited with their options to respond in the moment, during a conflict because they get triggered by their significant other, based on their attachment style and need.

EFT uses emotion as the key to open the door to look at attachment behaviors and to create lasting change. Ultimately the goal of EFT is to create emotional engagement and new deeper bonding between partners.

Emotionally Focused Couples therapy was founded by Dr. Sue Johnson and she is the leading proponent of EFT for couples.

EFT is a present-focused process which guides you into your emotions by focusing on them and validating them. Couples EFT also works with each person’s position in their relationship and the structure of their relationship. The key in emotionally focused couples therapy is to shape positive bonding interactions in the moment, removning blocks and dealing with emotional injuries, risks and fears.

How Long Does Emotionally Focused Therapy Take?

EFT is a short-term therapy. Research shows that emotionally focused therapy typically takes between 8-20 sessions to move a couple through three stages of this process.

However, every couple is unique and, depending on you, your partner, and your relationship, this process might take longer.

How Does Emotionally Focused Therapy Work?

Emotionally focused therapy is basically a map that helps you know where you are and where you are going.

EFT has three stages.

In emotionally-focused couples therapy, the first stage begins with working with the negative interactional cycle between the partners. The sessions involve learning to recognize this cycle, learn individual positions in the cycle and learn to exit the cycle, as soon as the person realizes they are in the cycle.

Stage 2 promotes awareness of previously unseen needs and aspects of oneself that lead to strengthening the negative cycle. This stage also promotes acceptance of each partner’s experience and creating new responses towards each other. Acceptance helps partners directly express their needs.  In turn, the need to create emotional engagement and new bonding comes to light.

Stage 3 is to continue to create new solutions to the old negative patterns, thereby developing new cycles of closeness and safe attachment.

This model is based on John Bowlby’s attachment theory: “Attachment theory emphasizes that adult’s desire for comfort and support in adversity should not be regarded as childish or immature dependence; instead it should be respected as being an intrinsic part of human nature that contributes to personal health and well-being.” (Feeney & Collins, 2004). EFT stresses that secure attachment offers a safe haven; it says,”I will be there for you”.


EFT addresses the inherent needs we all have. Some of them are: “Are you there for me?”, “Are you accessible- Do I matter?”, “ Can I depend on you?”, and “Are you engaged with me?”.

EFT uses the solution of emotional presence. In emotionally focused therapy, the therapist will listen and validate each partner’s experience. The therapist will view behaviors as an effort to cope with the threat of isolation and abandonment and will facilitate the sharing of the desire of each other’s availability and commitment.

Download MyWellbeing's 2024 Mental Health Planner!
Thank you! Your download was sent to your email.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form. Please try again.
Think this could help someone?
Share it with your network!
Want more helpful content like this sent to your inbox weekly?
Click here to sign up for the MyWellbeing Newsletter!

Recommended Reading

Author's headshot

About the author

Sonal Dani, LMFT has been working in the mental health field in various capacities for 17 years. Her approach to therapy is neuroscience informed, which includes polyvagal theory and addressing trauma in all forms. Neuroscience informed therapy connects complicated brain research with therapeutic strategies for anxiety, depression and trauma. Polyvagal theory emphasizes the importance of our physiological state in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. She uses evidence-based practices such as Cognitive Behavioral therapy for anxiety and depression, Cognitive Processing therapy for trauma and mindfulness-based therapy to address where and how individuals are stuck without pathologizing their condition.

Sonal works with couples using Emotionally Focused therapy. This modality provides a roadmap as to how to bring couples emotionally close, deepen their bond and enable them to have a different emotional experience, which has long-lasting positive outcomes.

You can learn more about Sonal Dani and schedule an appointment with her on her profile page.

Find the right therapist or coach for you

Complete our free, confidential questionnaire to easily and quickly match with 3 personalized coaches or therapists.

Get matched