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Emotionally Focused Therapy

writtenByWritten by: Melissa Dowd (Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist)
Melissa Dowd (Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist)

Melissa Dowd (Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist)

Melissa Dowd received her Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Dominican University of CA and is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. In addition to her work as a clinical therapist, Melissa is passionate about promoting emotional wellness through leading workshops, guest appearances, and across social media platforms.

Read more posts by this author.

December 3, 2020 Read Time - 5 minutes

Please note, PlushCare does not offer couples or family therapy at this time. Our trusted therapists can provide individual therapy for adults 18 years and up.

Emotionally Focused Therapy

Have you heard about emotionally focused therapy (EFT)? The phrase may have come up if you’re looking into couple’s therapy or family therapy. It can actually be extremely effective for individuals, couples, and families. So, what is it, and how does it work?

What is Emotionally Focused Therapy?

Emotionally focused therapy is a type of attachment therapy that is generally used to help couples or families improve their relationships, although it can also be used to help individuals get in touch with their emotions. It has been well studied and is quite effective, especially with couple’s therapy.  

Read: How to Find a Therapist

How Do You Know When to Use Emotionally Focused Therapy? 

Do you find yourself having the same argument over and over again with your spouse or a family member? Emotionally focused therapy can help you find the emotion at the root of your disagreement to help you solve the underlying cause of the problem. This process not only resolves issues but helps you feel more attached to your significant other or family member. 

How Does Emotionally Focused Therapy Work? 

Emotionally focused therapy uses attachment theory to help the therapist see and understand the complex network of emotions, distress, and needs between partners. The therapist can then direct new conversations and interactions based on honest feelings.

Through emotion-focused therapy exercises, people may discover deeper vulnerabilities and feelings that are blocked by the more immediate emotions and concerns displayed at any given moment in a relationship.

Theory and Background of EFT

British psychologist Sue Johnson was the primary originator of emotionally focused therapy for couples in the 1980s, while Drs. Leslie Greenberg and Robert Elliot developed emotion-focused therapy for individuals. Since then, many studies have shown its effectiveness. 

What Is the Goal of Emotionally Focused Therapy?

The goal of emotionally focused therapy is to create a more secure emotional bond between people by expressing deep, underlying emotions from a place of vulnerability and asking for their needs to be met.

When to Use Emotionally Focused Therapy

While it was originally designed for couples, emotionally focused family therapy can help families connect and improve emotional attachment.

Emotionally focused therapy is ideal for reducing conflict in couples and families, although it can also be used to help individuals better understand their emotions. 

What Are the Stages of EFT?

EFT has nine treatment steps arranged into three stages:

  • De-escalate the negative cycle of interactions, and help clients see and understand what is going on in their relationship. Help them realize that their problems stem from underlying insecurities.
  • Restructure interactions: The therapist helps clients talk about their fears in the relationship with language that doesn’t push the other person or people away. Clients learn to discuss their needs, turn toward each other, and become more responsive and open to each other.
  • Consolidation: The therapist helps clients see how they fell into negative patterns and teaches them how to change those patterns and continue positive conversations even after therapy is concluded.

What to Look for in an Emotionally Focused Therapist

First and foremost you need to find a therapist who is certified in emotionally focused therapy. You’ll also want to find someone that all participants are comfortable with. EFT is most successful when all parties can speak honestly about emotions. If this doesn’t happen immediately, there’s no need to panic. It’s part of the therapist’s job to help people become more comfortable with sharing how they truly feel.

Read: All There is to Know About Online Therapy

Does Emotionally Focused Therapy Work?

Yes! Emotionally focused therapy is one of the most well-understood variations of therapy. According to psychologist Susan Johnson, “In terms of the number of positive follow-up studies, this model [emotionally focused therapy] now represents the gold standard for empirical interventions in the couple therapy field.”

Emotionally Focused Therapy Online

Luckily, more and more therapists are providing their services online these days, either on their own or through a telehealth website. Not all therapists provide emotionally focused therapy, though, so do your research to find one that does. 

While PlushCare does not offer couple’s therapy at this time, our online therapists can help individuals over 18 with their mental health needs. Our trusted therapists can help you overcome emotional barriers, reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, and provide emotional support when you need it. Book your therapy appointment here.

Read More About Therapy


Johnson, Susan. “The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy: Creating Connection.” Accessed on November 19, 2020.

ICEEFT. What Is EFT? Accessed on November 19, 2020 at

APA PsycNet. Resolving attachment injuries in couples using emotionally focused therapy: Steps toward forgiveness and reconciliation. Accessed on November 19, 2020 at

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