Explaining emotion-focused therapy (EFT)

What EFT is, its core principles and why it can be an effective form of relationship therapy.

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This page was clinically reviewed by Dayton Steelman (BA, MA, MSc, UKCP), Senior Systemic and Family Psychotherapist at Priory Hospital Bristol, in March 2024.

If you struggle with understanding and expressing your emotions, emotion-focused therapy (EFT) may help you. EFT is a unique and effective form of therapy that emphasises the role of emotions in our lives.

This article explains EFT's principles, techniques, and how it's different from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Learn about EFT to understand how it can help you, especially in areas like relationships.

What is EFT?

EFT is a therapeutic approach that harnesses the power of emotions to facilitate healing and growth. Dr Leslie Greenberg created EFT in the 1980s. It's based on the premise that emotions greatly influence our decisions and actions.

EFT helps you understand and make sense of your emotions, instead of just changing your thoughts or actions. By understanding your feelings better, you can fix any hidden problems and develop a healthier way of living.

In EFT sessions, you're encouraged to acknowledge and discuss emotions, even if they're complex or hard to express. This process helps you to gain a better understanding of your feelings, helping you to communicate more effectively. An EFT therapist will create a caring setting to identify and experience negative emotions.

The core principles of EFT

EFT helps you to become more aware of your emotions and learn to accept them. You can then use this new information to better regulate emotions, and improve your mental health. Several EFT techniques work towards this goal.

You can summarise the six principles of EFT as:

  • Identify emotions: learn about your emotions and how they affect your life. Explore feelings and become more aware of them
  • Expression: EFT values authentic emotional expression, guiding you to express your feelings in a constructive and meaningful way
  • Regulation: you'll learn strategies for managing intense emotions, helping you to respond to emotional challenges in healthier ways
  • Reflection: this principle involves a deep exploration of your emotional experiences, fostering understanding and insight
  • Transformation: EFT aims to transform unhelpful emotional experiences into healthier, more adaptive ones, promoting personal growth and wellbeing
  • Corrective emotional experiences: the therapy environment provides a safe space for new, positive emotional experiences, helping to reshape your emotional responses

What to expect in an EFT therapy session

EFT sessions are unique and tailored to each person’s needs, but generally, you can expect to work on the following:

  • Identifying emotions: learning to recognise and name different emotional states, which is crucial for emotional awareness and understanding
  • Exploring emotional patterns: understanding how certain situations trigger specific emotional responses and uncovering the patterns in these emotional reactions
  • Expressing emotions safely: means finding safe and helpful ways to express suppressed or misunderstood feelings
  • Developing emotional intelligence: enhancing the ability to perceive, understand, use, and manage emotions effectively in oneself and in relation to others
  • Working through emotional blocks: addressing and working through barriers that prevent the healthy expression and processing of emotions
  • Understanding the impact of past experiences: exploring how past experiences, including trauma or childhood events, have shaped emotional responses and behaviours
  • Building emotional resilience: developing strategies to handle intense emotions without becoming overwhelmed, thus improving emotional resilience
  • Fostering self-compassion: encouraging a kinder, more compassionate attitude towards yourself and your emotional experiences
  • Creating new emotional experiences: engaging in corrective emotional experiences within the therapy setting, to replace negative emotional patterns with positive ones
  • Enhancing interpersonal skills: using emotional insights to improve communication and relationships with others

Fast access to a therapist

Speak to a mental health expert about the right treatment pathway for you, with fast access to a therapist at Priory. Take the first step by calling our friendly team today.

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What’s the difference between CBT and EFT?

CBT and EFT represent two distinct approaches to therapy. CBT is used to help with mental health issues like depression and anxiety. It looks at the connection between thoughts, emotions and actions. The theory states that dysfunctional thinking causes negative emotional and behavioural responses.

CBT therapists work with people to identify and challenge these negative thought patterns. In time, reframing how you process these thoughts can have a positive effect on your emotions and behaviours.

EFT explores the transformation of emotions themselves. It teaches that emotions can impact thoughts and actions, and that understanding and changing emotions is important for wellbeing. EFT therapists guide clients through a process of deep emotional engagement and expression.

EFT lets you explore emotions more freely than CBT. This is helpful for people who feel restricted by CBT's structured approach.

EFT and relationships

Research has shown that EFT is particularly effective for relationship therapy and counselling. It helps people and couples to understand how their emotions affect their relationships. This can uncover each person's needs and fears.

Partners can improve their communication by learning to share their feelings positively. This can lead to better understanding and caring within the relationship.

EFT also addresses attachment issues. By increasing awareness of a couple's negative patterns, you can foster a stronger emotional bond and resilience. This approach has shown significant success in strengthening the bond between the couple.

EFT offers significant benefits in improving relationship dynamics:

  • Enhanced communication: EFT teaches couples to express their emotions clearly, leading to better understanding and reduced conflicts
  • Deepened emotional connection: by exploring and sharing emotions, couples can forge a stronger emotional bond
  • Conflict resolution: EFT provides tools for effectively navigating and resolving social conflicts
  • Increased empathy: partners learn to understand and empathise with each other's emotional experiences
  • Attachment strengthening: EFT addresses attachment-related issues, promoting secure and fulfilling relationships

This approach has been instrumental in transforming many couple's relationships, improving resilience and intimacy.

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