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What is Emotionally Focused Therapy?

Educating counsellors, social workers and therapists in Emotionally Focused Therapy throughout Australia.

What is Emotionally Focused Therapy?

Emotionally focused therapy blog

Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) was developed initially by Leslie Greenberg, Robert Elliott and Laura Rice. Others, including Jeanne Watson, Rhonda Goldman, Sandra Paivio and Antonio Pascual-Leone have made important contributions subsequently.

EFT is an evidence-based therapy; based on a systematic program of outcome research on both efficacy and change processes that spans more than 20 years.

This form of therapy draws on current emotion theory and research and affective neurosciences.

The therapy focuses on immediate-in-the-moment experiencing since it is thought that immediate experiencing is the basis of human thought, feeling and action. The therapy also employs therapeutic tasks that are experiential.

EFT was originally an offshoot of the PCE (Person-Centred & Experiential) school of therapies and was underpinned by PC principles. The EFT theory is being utilised increasingly alongside a number of therapeutic models including narrative therapy.

How does EFT work?

Emotionally Focused Therapy emphasises the experience of emotion. Greenberg has found that the deeper the ‘in therapy’ emotional experiencing → the deeper the emotion processing → the less the likelihood of relapse.

EFT also:

  • Emphasises the crucial role of the experience of ‘adaptive emotion’ in therapeutic change.
  • Emphasises the importance of processing previously unprocessed emotional material.
  • Privileges the work of identifying, working with and synthesising parts of self and voices.
  • Privileges work with interpersonal difficulties, attachment difficulties, non-valuing in relationships and interpersonal alienation. Focuses on resolving past emotional injuries.
  • Involves emotion coaching and psycho-education, which in turn can increase emotional intelligence. It helps to label and identify emotional experiences and recognise underlying needs.
  • Focuses on helping a client to recognise and change maladaptive emotional experience.
  • Focuses on helping a client to access, experience and embrace adaptive emotional experience and carry adaptive emotion through to action.
  • Supports both under-regulated and over-regulated emotional experience to come into balance.
  • Generates a re-organisation of emotion schemes and personal meaning.
  • Presents a series of steps for resolving interpersonal injuries involving emotional expression and reprocessing.
  • Presents a series of steps for resolving intrapsychic conflict and self-criticism.
  • Emphasises/Stresses therapist development, because Working with emotional depth requires a particular quality of presence and holding.
  • Assists in the understanding of emotion taxonomy and emotion schemes, which gives valuable data for client assessment of behaviour and dysfunction.


Why is Emotion Important?

Emotions are a rich source of information. The way we construct meaning and reality is emotionally based. Subjective internal experience (feelings and associated meanings) is the primary source of new information used in the construction of new meaning.

  • Emotion tells us what is personally important and whether things are going our way.
  • Emotions help us to survive by providing an efficient, automatic way of responding rapidly to important situations.
  • Emotions have within them wishes and needs. Once realised these wishes and needs can propel us to adaptive action.
  • Our emotional reaction organises and changes how we think and how we perceive reality in a palpable sense.
  • Affect regulation is the primary motivator of behaviour.
    • For example, we seek to feel calm, joy, pleasure, pride, excitement and interest, and equally, we seek not to feel sadness, shame and fear. We seek certain relationships or achievements because they give us certain feelings.
  • Motivation is based on emotion.
    • Thus, without fear there would be no harm avoidance, without interest there would be no involvement, without pride there would be no identity and without joy no pleasure in connection.

To learn more about how to develop your understanding take a look at our accredited postgraduate courses in a:

Or Improve your counselling and therapy expertise with a topic workshop from IEFT.