Much of the statistics on Emotionally Focused Therapy, as established in a recent meta-analysis (a compilation of several academic studies):
* Roughly 9 out of 10 couples who complete EFT will improve their relationship more than an untreated couple. (1)
* More than half of distressed couples who complete EFT wind up not just improved, but recovered. (See definitions below.) (1) UPDATE: A second meta analysis has raised the recovery rate with EFT to up to 73 percent. (3)
* Participants in EFT complete the process with higher ratings of adjustment, intellectual intimacy, and improvement on their target complaints than couples who complete a therapy focused specifically on problem-solving.(1)
* EFT is designed to be completed in 15 to 22 weekly sessions.(1) Trauma, substance issues, prior DV and infidelity may delay progress, but can still be effective.
Distressed – A couple is said to be “distressed” if their scores on measures of relationship satisfaction place them at major risk for separation or divorce, based on long-term studies of other couples. Distressed couples have historically been the hardest for therapists to treat successfully; Emotionally Focused Therapy seems to work quite well.
Improved – A couple completing treatment is considered “improved” if their scores on relationship satisfaction measures have increased beyond what could be expected by chance. “Improved” is one way of saying a couple’s relationship has gotten better.
Recovered – A couple completing treatment is said to have “recovered” only if all of the following are true: They entered therapy as a “distressed” couple; they made significant and reliable improvement through the course of therapy; and at the end of therapy, they no longer qualify as “distressed” on measures of relationship satisfaction.
In the practice of EFT attachment injuries (infidelity, perceived abandonment and or rejection, betrayals, constant criticism, etc.) often block the progress in couple’s therapy. In moments where there is a high need for connection with one’s partner, these attachment injuries block connection and trigger panic and insecurity instead. Studies conducted on the outlined steps for forgiving attachment injuries (2006) used in a brief EFT intervention show: 63% of the couples were able to forgive the injury and complete the therapy events that predict success in EFT: these results were found to be stable in a follow-up study (2010). Less effective results were reported in couples who: had multiple attachment injuries: had lower levels of initial trust: reported the intervention was too brief.
Finally, EFT research indicates that a couple’s engagement in the therapy sessions is more significant as a predictor of treatment success than their level of distress at the time they initiated therapy (1996).
Note: These are in order of their appearance above.
1. Byrne, M., Carr, A., & Clark, M. (2004). The efficacy of behavioral couples therapy and emotionally focused therapy for couple distress. Contemporary Family Therapy, 26(4), 361-387.
2. Cloutier, P. F., Manion, I. G. Walker, J. G., & Johnson, S. M. (2002). Emotionally focused interventions for couples with chronically ill children: A two year follow-up. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 28(4), 391-398.
3. Johnson, S. M. (2002). Marital problems. In Sprenkle, D. H. (Ed.), Effectiveness research in marriage and family therapy. Washington, DC: AAMFT.
*Much of the information provided above is by Dr. Benjamin Caldwell
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Empirically validated: It’s one of the few approaches to couple therapy shown by research to be effective – even with highly distressed couples. An impressive 90% of couples experienced at least some improvement in their relationship.
See EFT research PDF.
Based on John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory: As applied to adult love relationships, it recognizes the ongoing need we all have for reliable attachment figures in our intimate relationships and assumes that a secure attachment with our partner provides the solid base that helps us manage emotional distress.
An experiential approach: Couples change by identifying and expressing their ongoing need for strong, accessible, responsive emotional connections. Emotions are the focus because they are compelling and instructive; they tell us what’s important to us.
Growth oriented: The focus is on individual and couple strengths and recognizes that human beings have an inherent drive towards growth and healthy relationships.
Collaborative: A strong alliance – where couples are the experts on their own experience and can express this in therapy – is key. The therapist’s role is that of process consultant, helping partners connect their own internal experience with their couple interactions.
Focused on the present: While history often plays an important role in shaping our ways of relating, it is the emotionally driven interactions in the here and now that are the focus of therapy.
Emotionally engaging: The active, evocative approach is especially effective at drawing out men, who often have more difficulty accessing and expressing their emotions.
Clear and concise: Susan Johnson, the principal developer of EFT for couples, has clearly elaborated a therapy model that relies on attachment theory as the basis for understanding adult love relationships, including the nature of conflict and the change process in couple therapy.
“Rigorous studies during the past fifteen years have shown that 70 to 75 percent of couples who go through EFT recover from distress and are happy in their relationships. The results appear lasting, even with couples at high risk for divorce.”
-Dr. Sue Johnson, Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Ottawa; Director of Ottawa Couple and Family Institute and International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (www.iceeft.com); Research Professor, Alliant University (www.alliant.edu).
“EFT is a proven road map to the process of change in couple therapy.”
-John M. Gottman, Ph.D., world-renowned marriage expert, cofounder of the Seattle Marital and Family Institute, Professor of Psychology, University of Washington, and bestselling author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. (www.gottman.com)
“EFT is one of the best documented, most substantive and well researched approaches to couple therapy.”
-Alan S. Gurman, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Family Therapy Training, University of Wisconsin Medical School, and a leading authority on the clinical practice of couple therapy.
EFT is “one of the few approaches to marital therapy that has been proven to be effective.”
-Jay Lebow, Ph.D., LMFT, ABPP, Past President, Division of Family Psychology, American Psychological Association (www.apa.org); Research Consultant, The Family Institute, Northwestern University (www.family-institute.org).
For more information about EFT, EFT training and EFT research, read Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, by Dr. Sue Johnson and go to www.iceeft.com, www.emotionallyfocusedtherapy.us, and www.holdmetight.com.