So you know how it goes, she says something in an arugment, he says something back to defend himself and you can predict with great accuracy what will come next, and in more cases than not, it is bad, very, very bad. And so it goes and goes and goes until the relationship is splitting at the seams. The power of Emotionally Focused Therapy by a trained EFT therapist is to help couples slow these nasty cycles down so they can have a different, more healthy conversation that won’t hijack their relationship. Below is an example of ‘Chet’ the negative cycle and how he takes a couple down and what can happen when the couple changes that pattern. You will love this.
What we thought we knew about addiction is not quite right as evidenced by the research indicated in this amazing video by Johann Hari, as he shares how imperative attachment is for recovery.
Here is another informative, yet brief video entitled ‘Rat Park’ to help you better understand the power of connection when it comes to recovery from addiction and what drives that.
Give a listen to Sam Tieleman’s presentation on Sexual Intimacy as it relates to addiction, in this case drinking, with a live couple who was willing to share their process to better understand what a couple therapy session sounds utilizing EFT.
Looking at attachment as it relates to addiction is a revolutionary concept that changes the way we see and treat addiction. On this link JimThomas, LMFT from Colorado shares his expertise regarding shame and recovery as it relates to healing from substances. If you want only his presentation, start at minute 14.
In this The Couch PodCast with Michael Barnett LCP from Atlanta, Michael shares his experience working with couples struggling with addiction by utilizing the power of Emotionally Focused Therapy compared to other forms of therapy in order to better help partners heal from substance issues.
We all become caught in negative cycles, the EFT tern for arguments, from time to time, but when couples first come to see me, they are caught in them more frequently then not. These negative cycles are more than toxic and can literally hijack the relationship, creating anger, distrust and disconnection.
This Youtube video by Sharon Mead LMFT is a lovely way to learn about the negative cycles that block couples from connection.
The primary goal of EFT Couple Therapy is to help partners safely turn to one another in times of distress, and to work through their problems from the past and present for the rest of their relationship together, rather than turning to an individual therapist when things go wrong for years down the line in their relationship. The challenge occurs when partners do concurrent individual therapy and while also doing ongoing EFT couple therapy, and each or both partners are still turning to their individual therapists for support rather than risking, with the EFT therapist’s help, to turn to their partners. Instead, each partner may have learned to attach to their individual therapist. This means, when a couple hits a hard spot, their respective ‘go to’ for support is someone outside their relationship, not each other. This basically leaves the couple in the same place when they started EFT couple therapy and is counterproductive to the EFT process where we are working to have the couple safely attach to one another.
In some instances it is recommended partners see an individual therapist during ongoing EFT couple therapy when there are substance abuse/dependence problems, also known as process addictions, that are not managed, major depression with suicidal ideation, difficulty functioning with severe anxiety and PTSD, moderate to severe dissociation, as well as delusions and hallucinations. In these instances, both the individual and couple therapists would need to communicate with one another frequently, with the client’s consent, of course, to ensure all parties are ‘on the same page’ and working towards ‘similar goals’.
Beyond these exceptions, there are several other concerns one needs to be aware of when continuing individual therapy or pursing individual therapy during ongoing EFT couple therapy. There may be serious implications and complications, such as when the individual therapist and the couple therapist are working towards two opposite goals. An example of this conflict occurs is when the individual therapist believes it is in the client’s best interest to leave the marriage or the relationship. This is usually based on their inaccurate perception of the relationship, even though they have not worked with the partner and is based on one-sided information from the partner. Concurrently, the EFT couple therapist is working to deepen the relationship. This can be extremely confusing for the client and may lead to the client acting out by continuing an affair, medicating with substances or other process addictions, as a way to cope, or not being fully engaged with the EFT process. This may also harken back to an earlier time, such as when the client’s parents were arguing or disconnected and the client fell through the cracks as a kid or teen while being given confusing messages. It also makes doing the couple therapy very arduous and unproductive, causing the process to stall, if not fail.
I have known some couples who started with a particular couple therapist, and then that couple therapist became an individual therapist, because one of the partners didn’t feel comfortable and the therapist began to work solely with the remaining partner on the relationship, without the other partner present. This can go on for years, ten years in one case that I am aware of. The now, individual client, may believe that they are working on the relationship without the partner present, which is not really individual therapy, it is relationship therapy, without the partner, and is ineffective. The rare exception to this dynamic working is when there is an EFT Individual Therapist (EFIT) helping from an attachment framework. Otherwise, most individual therapists hear one side of the relationship, the one with the partner complaining about their non-present partner, and arrive at negative biased conclusions that drive the marriage further apart, causing the relationship to end in separation or divorce.
Now, let’s say that the withdrawing partner has left the therapy and the remaining partner then decides to work with the couple therapist, who has now become an individual therapist. It turns out, there may not be any legal implications here, but there may be some ethical contraindications, because the therapist has allowed a couple to go from the client as a relationship, to the client as an individual, which changes the therapeutic relationship between the client and the therapist. Again, this is where Emotionally Focused Therapy is different. When a couple comes to see me, or a certified EFT Therapist, their relationship is my client. If a partner decides therapy isn’t what they want, the therapy is terminated and referrals are made to individual therapists, if that is what is requested. Why? Because, should the couple decide to return to therapy with the original couples therapist at a later time, the couple is the client once again and no significant alliance that has developed between one of the partners and the therapist causing a rupture in the therapeutic alliance. As a couple therapist, it is not advisable to go from seeing a couple, to seeing one of the partners for an extended period of time.
What else can happen when a couple therapist goes from individual therapy to couple therapy with the same partner? The client, who is supposed to be doing ‘individual work’ is actually doing ‘couples therapy’ without the partner present. When the therapist hears how miserable their client is as they complain and vent about their partner in the individual therapy, the individual therapist becomes supportive toward the client rather than the relationship and this can result in the therapist inadvertently persuading the client to leave the partner or block attachment to their partner. The biggest problem here, and there are many, is the therapist is getting a skewed view of the situation from the individual client who used to be seen as a couple and is not working from an attachment frame, which can negatively affect the couple therapy. This dynamic will also occur when one of the partners is seeing an individual therapist while seeing a couple therapist.
Also, and this is the big one, rather than helping the partner attach to their relationship parter through EFT therapy, the partner attaches, or is attached to the individual therapist and the partner and the relationship is left on the sidelines to continue on the path of disconnection. When you inadvertently choose between connecting with your individual therapist or your partner, this is a major warning sign. This is where Emotionally Focused Therapy is more effective, because by creating a safe, compassionate environment for both partners, the couple can work through their differences by understanding their negative cycle and work towards building their bridge of safe connection and secure attachment.
If an individual therapist is working with one of the partners of a couple who is in ongoing couple therapy, it is so important that all parties not collude with the individual client against the relationship or other partner by creating ‘secrets’ or biases. One way to ensure all parties are on this same page is for the couple to sign a ‘release of information form’ and to sign a ‘no secrets agreement’ in order for the therapists to communicate with the individual therapist to further the relationship and all be on the same page.
If however, access to the individual therapist by the couple therapist for one or both partners is not possible during ongoing couple therapy, the couple therapy may need to be terminated or delayed until all therapists are on the same page and or the individual client has worked to detached from their individual therapist in order to safely attaching to their partner, which is the primary goal of EFT.
At last, you made the decision to find a couple therapist focused on helping you with your relationship, but now you are faced with where to turn and who to turn to? Like most of us, you head to the internet, only to be bombarded by counselors, therapists, social-workers, psychologists, you name it, claiming they all have the skills to help you with your relationship. This makes the process even more daunting, and are once again left with the thought who is best suited to help me with the most important relationship of my life?
I seriously pondered the process couples face in their search for a relationship healer, and realized how much partners really do need help with this very challenging and vexing conundrum. Not long ago, two couples in one week told me they had seen 6 different therapists before arriving on my doorstep. The fact that these couples, and many others have hit multiple walls when it comes to finding help for their relationship, broke my heart, because the matter of helping partners connect is not to be taken lightly, and in fact, is sacred. Entering into this process with a therapist of limited experience or training does not have a neutral effect, despite the fact these couples may be limping along together. It had taken a serious toll on their relationship and their ability to trust one another. After six different therapists, my job becomes vastly more complicated, because, in addition to the map I utilize in helping them heal, now they feel hopeless and helpless.
On the positive side, I also realized that after seeing multiple therapists, there was an amazing bond between these partners, that even inadequate couple therapy couldn’t shake. That said, after numerous therapists, most partners are more than reluctant, feel war weary from the process and are financially depleted. This is the primary reason I am writing this blog, because it is my passion to help partners in distress and seeing multiple therapists for your relationship is tragic. Please know, I am not perfect and will post more in a future blog regarding the limits of couple therapy success. Don’t worry, many of the couples I work with make it and thrive.
Keeping all of the preceding in mind, I thought I would do what I could to help partners find the best, most well suited therapist for their relationship. Here are some steps to follow when going to the internet in search of a healer for your wounded partnership, this includes what to do if you have the name of a therapist from a friend or other referral.
The first set of postings you will see when googling ‘Couple Therapy in your area’, will be organizations such as ‘Psychology Today’, ‘Theravive’, and ‘GoodTherapy’. These are sites where multiple therapists are listed, some of which may indicate training in the field of couples, relationships, marriage etc., and some may not have specific training in couple and family therapy. Please look for certifications in the area of couple therapy on the therapists postings. Above all, please know this, the therapists listed on these sites pay to be on these listing, which means they may not actually have the training and experience you are looking for to help your relationship. Let’s face it, we all need to make a name for ourselves on the world wide web, but we also need to know what we are getting when we hire someone to help our disconnection.
AAMFT (American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists) had been the only organization designated to support and regulate Marriage and Family Therapists across the country, but their standards have significantly dropped. If you go to the AAMFT page link here you will see one listing for MFTs posted adjacent to a ‘Psychology Today’ listing all on one page. Here are posting of all levels of therapists, some with training in couple and family and others listed with without training, yet they are members of AAMFT, again because they paid a fee. The point is, AAMFT was initially designed for MFTs, similar to the National Association of Social Workers who represents social workers, but AAMFT has opened its doors to all disciplines, regardless, and as long as new members pay their dues and support AAMFT, they are listed as being able to work with relationships. That’s because the national agency designated to further the profession of Marriage and Family Therapists is more focused on membership than specialization in marriage and family therapy.
When doing your search, the next step is to focus on the couple therapist, or couple counselor’s credentials. Marriage and Family Therapists or MFTs have attended graduate school with the specific focus on relationships and family systems. Additionally, there are two prominent psychotherapy models in the field of couple and family therapy. 1) Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) and 2) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I was initially trained in CBT over 20 years ago, and provided this approach to couples for many years. Sadly, CBT didn’t have the success I have experienced with couples providing a pure ‘EFT’ approach, which the research bares out. EFT has a 70-90 percent success rate, which is why it is my modality of choice for helping partners connect at a deep and profound level. I have gone well beyond my grad school focus of Marriage, Family Therapy, to include an advanced certification in Emotionally Focused Therapy which took several years to obtain. This indicates a much more advanced skill set than simply taking some additional course work or and having attended several trainings.
In many ways, EFT has been pushed into the background, because it’s been around since the 80’s, wait, that means it has been a focus for 30 years. While CBT is considered the granddaddy of couple therapy, it only began being utilized in the 60’s. The challenge is, CBT is supported by the old guard of most Universities and Departments at Grad Schools who haven’t moved to open the doors to new, more effective therapuetic modalities. This means, CBT is what most American therapists are taught at most Universities and colleges. Conversely, EFT is flourishing around the globe and is close to replacing the old CBT model. I well am aware of many American graduate students who only know about EFT from Dr. Johnson’s books and journals, because they did a paper on it rather than an entire course focused on it. This is very unfortunate.
This old guard, who maintains the CBT approach in grad school, also affects the way insurance companies view therapy. Most insurance companies are more than happy to provide the names of individual therapists or therapists who provide CBT, which is only effective for the one partner, which in reality, doesn’t really help the relationship. An EFT therapist working with a couple can not only drastically help the primary relationship, but can help create a ripple effect be positively affecting their children and extended family members. When we are deeply connected, we can work through just about anything together, but when we aren’t, life can be so very challenging. We are meant to be connected and not turn to our therapists for help and support through out our marriage, but find safe ways to turn to our partner for love and support after completing the therapeutic EFT process.
The gold standard search for a couple therapist, relationship therapist or marriage counselor is The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT linked here), because you can be assured, the Certified EFT Therapists in your area have under gone rigorous training needed to help you and your partner salvage and deepen your relationship. At this site you will also find the research to support the high effectiveness rate of EFT along with the parts of the world where EFT is thriving.
In addition, you may want to research the therapist you choose by doing an on line search on Google, or the search engine of our choice. If you do have a therapist in mind, type the prospective therapist’s name and credentials followed by ‘reviews’ or if you want to be very thorough, type ‘negative reviews’. If the reviews are negative, you may want to continue your search. Positive reviews can help narrow down the process of finding a good fit for you and your partner. If however, there are no positive or negative reviews, that is a cautionary sign, yet I would recommend you continue your search.
Finding a therapist trained to help you with your relationship is one of the most important decisions of your life. Please make yourself and your relationship a very important priority by doing thorough research to ensure you are comfortable with the person you hire to restore your connection with your parter. Some couples give up after one therapist, a select few hang on to see six or more therapists, you don’t want to do either. Start the process of therapy by doing all you can to ensure the best possible fit for your relationship.
“If we can reveal our inner vulnerability to our partner, we can have a corrective emotional experience if our partner empathically and compassionately responds. So I can say to you, “Here I am with all of my blemishes.” And if I can experience that you love me, in my nakedness I begin to feel lovable. This is the deepest and scariest place for couples to go. And yet EFT couples therapy can produce much deeper change than individual therapy, because it is your actual partner who can confirm and validate you. So it is a corrective emotional experience that disconfirms your negative beliefs about yourself, and your negative feelings about yourself.” Les Greenberg
Awhile back, you discussed couple therapy with your partner, but for whatever reason, it didn’t happen then. Turns out most couples come to therapy a good 6 years later then when it would have been ideal to start. But, because the negative cycles between you were so bad, you couldn’t even decide on someone together, and now ‘it is crunch time’. No pressure here, but it is important to know how divorce can affect your relationship and your future compared to effective, and by that I am referring to, Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples as one of the best, and well researched, couple therapy currently.
Nancy Michaels has written an eye-opening article entitled ‘Divorce = $1000,000 Love is Grand, but When It’s Gone, Divorce Can Cost More Than Twenty Grand’, In this article Nancy paints the picture for the average couple regarding the average costs of divorce, depending on your situation.
In another article by Frank Ginzburg, there are other financial costs to consider when comparing divorce to couple therapy:
- Splitting property, investments and income.
- Retirement accounts will need to be separated, which will likely incur fees.
- After divorce, you will probably need to obtain two separate medical benefits packages.
- child custody and visitation, as well as babysitting, may have financial implications.
- Legal fees can become a major factor in divorce. Legal fees can range in the tens of thousands or more.
- Compared to extensive EFT couple therapy with a certified EFT therapist, which can cost as little as a few thousand dollars.
- The same income you and your spouse receive now will need to support two separate households – making it unlikely that you and your spouse will be able to continue on in the level you have been accustomed to.
- Disagreements, complicated settlements and/or complicated custody decisions can cause legal fees to be become exorbitant.
- At times, one person, either by intention or obstinacy or even misunderstanding, can drive up the legal expenses for both partners considerably.
You do the math, because at the end of the day there is no comparison. Besides, returning to a loving, healed relationship with your partner and creating a space for your child or children to witness parents who can work through struggles and stay connected is worth it on so many levels.
Being caught in a relationship where your needs are not being met and where you don’t feel heard or understood, is debilitating. Now there is help in the form of Emotionally Focused Therapy. Couples who successfully complete the process of Emotionally Focused Therapy counseling can expect many of the following results:
- Improved communication
- Feeling supported and understood by their partners
- Finally being able to connect with each other again
- Understanding the types of cyclical, intense, heated, fights they get into and learning how to stop them, thereby allowing them to enjoy their relationship and begin to get closer
- Healing deep unresolved wounds together
A happy and healthy relationship affects all aspects of one’s life. So, depending on how your relationship problems are manifesting, you may experience some or many of the following as a result of a secure and happy relationship:
- Improved sleep
- Improved mood
- Better and more frequent intimacy
- More confidence, decreased stress and more energy
- Improved performance at work
- Reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression and or PTSD
- Better physical health and wellbeing
- Feeling cherished by your partner and actually cherishing him/her in return
If you are parents, you will have the added benefit of knowing that you are becoming positive role models for your children, showing them what a healthy, loving, relationship looks like and in turn setting your kids up for success in their future relationships. But, the best part is your kids won’t feel caught in the middle not knowing what to do and feeling so helpless not knowing how to help.
Basically, the goal of EFT couples therapy is to assist you, as a couple, understand the old patterns that hijack your relationship and help you find new ways to alter those emotional and behavioral patterns together. This allows you to feel better understood and no longer feel emotionally out of control in your relationship. Once safe enough to understand your relationship patterns and how you got off track with each other, you will be further aided to create a deeper more meaningful level of connection where you will begin to build a bridge to each other’s hearts and compassionately face one another in new and healthier ways.
If you and your partner are experiencing the following problems, EFT is unlikely suited for you until these issues are resolved:
Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence
In cases where the couple has ongoing and current relationship violence or aggression, therapy may ill advised or may be seriously contraindicated, as this could pose a safety issue. In those cases, it may be best to seek individual therapy with a therapist trained to work with relationship aggression or to go to your local Domestic Violence Shelter. If this information is withheld, during the assessment phase and aggressive behavior occurs, therapy is contraindicated and will be terminated, for safety reasons. That said, if there has been aggressive behavior which occurred years ago, due to discovering an affair or due to a trauma, and the aggression has stopped, that may be a better indicator for a positive outcome with EFT.
If the affair has just been discovered, or is an old wound that goes way back, working on the relationship is very difficult when there is ongoing infidelity. Couples therapy can become extremely complicated and may stall if the affair continues during the therapy. This can result in a waste of time, money and energy because it does not make the process of therapy safe, for either one of you. If you or your partner are still maintaining outside relationships and are unwilling to stop, this creates an impasse that needs to be resolved prior to the start of therapy. EFT Therapy can be highly effective for many couples to heal from the trauma of infidelity, but when the primary relationship is not the focus, therapy may be ineffective.
Ongoing extreme substance abuse struggles
Serious substance abuse issues may exacerbate the couples therapy and the couples therapy may worsen the substance issues initially. Therefore, a thorough assessment may be warranted and if in excess, the therapy may be delayed until an appropriate time. More recent research shows that early trauma and or neglect from primary relationships may be at the root of many substance issues. When children don’t receive the love and connection so necessary to thrive, substances such as alcohol and drugs, become a replacement form of connection as children become adults. Attaching to substances is not a healthy lasting connection, but when partnering at a deeper level becomes safer and more stable the substance can then be replaced by a caring, loving attachment. If however, the substance continues to be the main focus of the therapy, it is best if the partner receive treatment focused on recover while doing the couples work. If they are not willing to seek help for recovery, EFT couple therapy will need to end.
- Couples struggling with one another by finding themselves in the same circular fights again and again.
- Partners who don’t know how to communicate their deeper feelings with one another and are stuck in anger or shut-down.
- Partners who are so frustrated with their relationship and yet, not sure what to do next.
- Recovery from affairs, when the third party is no longer in the picture.
- Significant others desperate to connect with each other but have no idea how to, which can lead to helplessness and failure because nothing they have tried has worked.
- Partners who are interested in deepening an already strong relationship.
- Couples considering married or a serious commitment but are plagued by difficulties, even though they know they love each other.
- Blended families, where parents experience difficulty coming together on parenting issues.
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is designed for couples who are committed to trying to work things out, regardless of how much distress they are in. Please be advised, while EFT is highly effective for helping many couples struggling with disconnection, the relationship between EFT therapist and couple is essential so please unsure a good fit.
Success in couples counseling requires a commitment because the sessions are weekly in order to prevent the couples from falling back into their automatic, negative cycles. For this reason, if you are someone who has a difficult time following through with what you start, please let me know and we can explore together what gets in your way and find ways to help you stay committed to your relationship journey. If the sessions are spread out, progress may not only become slow, but may be halting. A substantial amount of research has been done to learn what makes EFT therapy work, just showing up weekly for therapy can make a big difference.
If you are ready to prioritize your relationship and take steps toward improving it, EFT couples counseling may be just what you need to help you connected to your partner.