The Origins Of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) And How It Works

Emotionally Focused Therapy, or EFT, is an attachment-based approach to working with couples, families, and individuals. That means EFT looks at early attachments in a person’s life and how those histories help shape and form the ways in which people navigate adversity, relationships, and life as adults. 

In couples therapy and marriage counseling, we use EFT to identify any negative cycles in a relationship that may be creating disconnection or conflict. Poor communication, criticism, and fear of abandonment can all be explained and addressed by going back to the beginning, where, ultimately, we all develop our foundations for relationships.

EFT is also an experiential form of therapy because it seeks to help couples explore the emotions underlying how partners interact with and respond to each other. Once a certain pattern is identified, clients can use their new awareness to interrupt that negative dynamic and, in the process, reinforce a secure bond of trust, understanding, and intimacy.


Developed by Dr. Sue Johnson in the 1980s, Emotionally Focused Therapy was originally designed as a standardized model of couples and marriage counseling. Heavily influenced by Attachment Theory (John Bowlby), Structural Systems (Salvador Minuchin), Experiential Theory (Carl Rogers), Basic Emotion Theory (Magda B. Arnold), and Gestalt Therapy (Fritz Perls), EFT is considered a gold standard in couples therapy. 

Over the years, Emotionally Focused Therapy has also proven effective in treating families, individuals, and children for multiple issues, including anxiety, depression, and trauma.


How Does EFT Work—And What Do Sessions Look Like?


Although Emotionally Focused Therapy can help individuals and families, it’s particularly effective


for treating couples in hetero, same-sex, or polyamorous relationships.


The first three sessions of the therapeutic process make up the assessment phase. In the initial session, your EFT therapist will meet with you together to review your history as a couple, establish goals for therapy, and identify the current pattern of distress disrupting your relationship. For the next two sessions, you’ll meet individually in order to give you each the opportunity to be candid about your experiences without feeling like you have to censor yourself in front of your partner. 

This will also allow us to dig deeper into the past and explore each person’s attachment history with their family of origin. That is, we want to develop a clear and detailed understanding of your earliest relationships and how they may inform any negative patterns of interaction or communication in the present.

Once the assessment process is complete, we can begin the experiential element of EFT, working together as a couple to heal and repair the relationship. As we move through the therapeutic process, we’ll always regard your relationship as our client, so we’ll never judge or take sides.


And because EFT is a brief, structured approach to couples counseling, it often takes less time to see results than traditional talk therapy alone. That said, we recommend clients meet with us for eight to twelve sessions—though we are happy to support you as long as you like. 

Why is Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples So Effective?


This approach is focused primarily on restructuring interactions between partners. Rather than addressing superficial issues (“They don’t wash the dishes enough” or “they’re so defensive”), EFT seeks to get below the surface. It helps couples understand why certain interactions knock them off balance and gives them the tools to challenge the emotions and beliefs preventing them from responding in positive, compassionate ways. 

At its core, this approach isn’t simply about solving problems; it’s about helping partners understand the unspoken worries and fears that come up when they are in conflict with each other. EFT helps clients understand their own dynamics in the relationship and what is really happening with their emotions when they feel distressed by their partner. 

At the same time, EFT helps each person gain an intimate understanding of these relationship dynamics from their partner’s perspective. That awareness cultivates empathy, rebuilds trust, and empowers clients to change negative patterns in their relationship fueling the problem. 

Emotionally Focused Therapy at Key Counseling Group not only gives you an opportunity to fix day-to-day frustrations, it can also get to the heart of the conflict and disconnection in your relationship. It enables you to understand your own attachment wounds and what you can do to regulate yourself emotionally so you can feel more supported, validated, and connected to your partner. 

Would You Like To See How EFT Can Enhance Your Relational Well-Being?


In our work at Key Counseling Group, we have seen the tremendous impact that EFT can have on couples’ lives. This unique and powerful approach to therapy is capable of creating true change and transformation, fundamentally improving the way that you and your partner communicate, interact, and respond to each other’s needs.

Let's See What Kind of Difference EFT Can Make in Your Life

If you are ready to explore your attachment style and be the best you can be in your relationship, our highly trained EFT therapists at Key Counseling Group would be honored to help.

Please call 678-400-9477 for your free, 30-minute consultation to see if Emotionally Focused Therapy is right for you.


Lindsay Harris, LCSW

Michelle Hession, LCSW

Lauren Buongiovanni,