What Is Emotion-Focused Therapy?

EFT Theory & Practice in Brief

  • Fundamentally, emotions are an adaptive orienting system — a critical source of information about how we are doing with respect to our goals and relationships. They also organize our bodies to take action to get our needs met.
  • Emotions combine with cognition, bodily felt sensations, sensory impressions, narrative, and meaning elements to produce complex, idiosyncratic emotion schemes
  • When our histories include things like trauma, abuse, neglect, and the adopting of “rules” that don’t suit our actual needs, this naturally adaptive emotion system can become dis-orienting: Some emotions are disowned/avoided and perhaps hardly felt at all; other emotions are activated at inopportune times, becoming maladaptive. Maladaptive emotions schemes organize us for behavior that doesn’t help us achieve our goals or enhance our relationships. 
  • Merely talking about emotions has not been shown to be sufficient to produce change. Instead, EFT proposes client experiencing (attending to and exploring feelings & meanings) as the primary source of new information — and change — in psychotherapy. This is quite distinct from things like skills training, challenging maladaptive thoughts, or interpretations.
  • In the context of a safe, warm, genuine, and empathic relationship, maladaptive emotion schemes are intentionally activated during the session in order to restructure them. 
  • Restructuring is accomplished by accessing the client’s adaptive emotions while the maladaptive emotion scheme is active. This is the core of EFT.
  • Some of this comes about through the corrective emotional experience provided by the empathic relationship with the therapist.
  • In addition, EFT therapists utilize a system of markers and tasks to evoke change. 
  • Markers are particular client behaviors that suggest a specific therapeutic task may be useful. Therapeutic tasks are carefully mapped collaborative undertakings, each of which is designed to overcome a specific emotional processing difficulty (i.e., bring adaptive emotion to bear on a maladaptive scheme). EFT tasks are backed up by decades of change process research.

Below you will find further resources on this exciting and powerful model of psychotherapy.