Emotionally focused couples therapy

Sue Johnson, Ph.D. is the co-founder of the “Emotionally Focused” model of therapy. Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy has demonstrated its effectiveness with couples in over 25 years of clinical research. Dr. Johnson describes patterns that couples engage in, in to attempt to meet their intimacy needs.

Her model helps couples learn what these steps are in their “dance” and how to change them. What we think we knows most often follows what we feel. Feelings engage us, engross us, capture our attention immediately. When we live with a person who is sensitive and responsive to our needs, we feel safe and cared for.

When that doesn't happen, however, there are predictable ways we respond, based upon our earliest history. These Johnson calls "Dances." When they work, they are like a Tango. When they don't, they are demonic wrangling: Demon Dances.

Click the picture to watch Sue Johnson, Ph.D. working with a real couple.

Demon dances

These predictable “dances” are based upon “attachment style.” Attachment styles are the way we connect and rely on important others. Attachment styles are a significant predictor of relationship satisfaction. Distressed relationships are often insecure bonds. This means that an individual can’t get basic healthy attachment needs met because of rigid interaction patterns (“demon dances”) that block emotional connections. The Therapists at Couples Therapy Inc provide couples with a set of questions that determines your attachment style and we begin treatment with a fundamental understanding of each of your attachment styles. It guides our work.

We're examined how fighting is analyzed in EFT here.

Elements of emotionally focused couples therapy

Every element of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy: 

(a)  the EFT perspective on relationship distress; 

(b)  the way of treating this distress, 

(c)  the process of change, and 

(d)  the attachment framework

—all have research support.

Attachment injuries

It is important in this work to help couples to recognize emotional wounds or deep “attachment injuries.” These are times when one or both of you really needed the other, and felt let down by the other.

These may have happened at some point in your relationship, maybe years ago, but never got resolved. The goal of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is to help you to work through these attachment injuries. 

Many of our clinicians have studied her work both formally and informally. Formal training involves the following steps:

(1) Externship (four-day training)

(2) Core Skills (eight-day training)

(3) Supervision, including videotaped review of actual couples therapy sessions

(4) Passing formal certification, including acceptable demonstration of clinical competence.

If you would like to work with a clinician who's major focus is emotionally focused couples therapy, or is certified in this approach, you can find one by reading our Team page or contacting us.

Learn more about evidence-based models of couples therapy

Originally published March 11, 2016

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Dr. Kathy McMahon

Dr. Kathy McMahon (Dr. K) is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist. She is also the founder and president of Couples Therapy Inc. Dr. K feels passionate about couples therapy and sex therapy and holds a deep respect towards those who invest in making their relationship better. She is currently conducting online and in person private couples retreats.

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