Just as Emotionally Focused Therapy, EFT (Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, 2008) views the central problem in distressed couple relationships as the loss of a secure emotional connection, so too, EFFT (Emotionally Focused Family Therapy) sees the breakdown of safety in the parenting attachment system as the central problem in families. This occurs when insecurity regarding connection impacts family member’s ability to respond to one another.

    For example, parents and their adult children get caught in relational rigidity as their efforts to stay connected become colored during negotiation of emerging adulthood and adulthood issues. Parents can sense fear and failure in their ability to keep access with their adult child. As this occurs, they lose confidence in their ability to protect their children. So while they still are wired to care and protect, this doubt effects how they behave.

    Meanwhile, adult children’s conflicting needs for autonomy, on one hand, and protection on the other, causes them to send emotional signals that are very confusing and often dominated by anger or seeming indifference as well. EFFT helps us see that each family member is doing their best to manage the disconnection they are experiencing, while searching for connection and care.

    EFFT (Furrow et.al. 2019) is taught all over the world and has been adapted in clinical practice to families from many different cultural groups and educational levels.

    EFT is usually a short term, structured approach to couples therapy formulated in the early 80’s by Drs. Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg. EFT is also used with families. A substantial body of research outlining the effectiveness of EFT now exists. Research studies find that 70-75% of couples move from distress to recovery and approximately 90% show significant improvements. The major contraindication for EFT is ongoing violence in the relationship. EFT is being used with many different kinds of couples in private practice, university training centers and hospital clinics and many different cultural groups throughout the world. These distressed couples include partners suffering from disorders such as depression, post traumatic stress disorders and chronic illness.

    Strengths of Emotionally Focused Therapy

    • EFT is based on clear, explicit conceptualizations of marital distress and adult love. These conceptualizations are supported by empirical research on the nature of marital distress and adult attachment.
    • EFT is collaborative and respectful of clients combining experiential Rogerian techniques with structural systemic interventions.
    • Change strategies and interventions are specified.
    • Key moves and moments in the change process have been mapped into nine steps and three change events.
    • EFT has been validated by over 20 years of empirical research. There is also research on the change processes and predictors of success.
    • EFT has been applied to many different kinds of problems and populations.

    Goals of Emotionally Focused Family Therapy

    To expand and re-organize key emotional responses – the music of the attachment dance.

    To create a shift in family member’s interactional positions and initiate new cycles of interaction.

    To foster the creation of a secure bond between family members.

    Example of Change Process in EFFT

    In a family therapy session, an adult child’s painful, conflicted avoidance of a parent expands into a sense of helplessness, a feeling of being intimidated. He begins to assert his need to be seen as an individual and, in doing so, becomes more accessible to his parent. He moves from “There is no point in talking to you. I don’t want to fight,” to “I do want to be close. I want you to give me a chance. Let me be there for you and you for me, but let me be me.” The parent’s criticism and frustration then expand into sadness. the parent can move from, “You just don’t care,” to “It is so difficult to say – but I need you to know I’m there for you, and I miss you when too much time goes by.”

    New cycles of bonding interactions occur and replace negative cycles such as pursue-withdraw or criticize-defend. These positive cycles then become self-reinforcing and create permanent change. The relationship becomes a safe haven and a healing environment for both family members.