As psychotherapists in private practice, we always give careful consideration to what training we choose to invest our time and money in. We want to learn the most effective models so we can offer the best and most efficient help to our clients. It also has to be a model that sits well with our way of working. So, when we decided to train in couples therapy, we were both keen to find something that incorporated the scientifically sound theory of adult attachment styles in relationships. We were concerned that some models, which are primarily based on teaching tools and techniques, would be like trying to put a sticking plaster over our client’s relationship wounds; a solution that would neither be long lasting or truly heal in a deep and meaningful way.
During our search for a reputable model to train in we came across Emotionally Focussed Therapy (EFT) which seemed to fit what we were looking for. With some impressive science behind it and growing acclaim in theUS, we were sold. It was quite an investment to train in this model, but after some deliberation we dug deep into our training budgets , threw ourselves into the first part of the training and never looked back.
What is this EFT and why is it so helpful for couples?
EFT was founded by Dr Sue Johnston in the 1980s and the model continues to be developed and refined to this day. It is based on the premise that we each have our own way of dealing with conflict and emotions, which most likely originate from a combination of our gender, our upbringing and our past relationship experiences. Out of the context of an intimate relationship, these coping strategies are often successful, but when in a relationship, these ways of coping can trigger our partner’s own strategies which often clash, causing friction and disconnect.
Take Bob and Vicky, for example.
Vicky’s way of coping with her painful emotions was to reach out and express her feelings to her partner,Bob. By telling him about her struggles and sharing her pain, she was trying to elicit some comfort and feel connected to Bob. Bob, however, tended to cope with difficult or painful emotions by taking time out alone to process it or throw himself into work to distract himself.
So, when Vicky was feeling completely overwhelmed with her work and looking after the home and family, she became tearful and tried to talk to Bob about her feelings. Bob, who is used to dealing with emotions with logic and distraction, tried to give her some strategies to structure her day. When this wasn’t received well, he would seem to shut down and start looking at his phone or throw himself into his work. Vicky, still yearning for Bob’s comfort, would feel her blood start to boil, often raising her voice at Bob to try and help him understand. But the more she raised her voice, the more Bob felt as though he was failing his wife and would further withdraw into his distractions. Of course, his withdrawal further fuelled Vicky’s frustration and need to be understood meaning her emotions would escalate leading to an endless vicious cycle. After years of this going on, they had grown progressively further apart and were desperately in need of help to reconnect.
The vicious cycles of withdraw and pursue.
In EFT terms, Bob would be described as a ‘withdrawer’ which is someone who tends to manage their emotional discomfort by taking space and dealing with it alone. Vicky, on the other hand is a ‘pursuer’, someone who wants to connect in her emotional discomfort, resolve the conflict together and share the pain with her loved one. So, with such different ways of coping, you can see how they get caught in a cycle of disconnect.
If Bob and Vicky were to attend EFT therapy, they would first begin to understand their personal cycles of conflict and disconnect and their positions in the cycles. The task for us as therapists is to help them begin to see the cycle as the problem rather than each other. Once they can recognise their cycles, Bob and Vicky would start to step back from or repair from them more quickly. With less conflict present they would be in a better place to explore their inner worlds and share them with each other in a way that helps deeply bond themas a couple again.
EFT is a model of therapy that is not about giving the couple tools, rather it helps build awareness of themselves and each other. This open exploration with a trained therapist leads to the couple being able to practice sharing their deeper truths in and out of sessions a completely new way.
You can find further information about EFT at theInternational Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy www.iceeft.com or the British EmotionallyFocused Therapy Centre www.beftcentre.org
NB: Bob and Vicky area fictional couple.