On April 23, 2024, the world of psychology lost a trailblazer and innovator with the passing of Dr. Sue Johnson, the co-creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). Dr. Johnson’s groundbreaking work revolutionized the field of couples therapy, providing a powerful framework for helping partners strengthen their emotional bonds and create more secure, loving relationships.

While many have stories about Sue Johnson, here’s mine:

It was many years ago at a conference. I was sitting in the balcony, listening to a lecture by the late David Schnarch, Ph.D. He was talking about differentiation, (the active, ongoing process of defining self, revealing self, clarifying boundaries, and managing the anxiety that comes from risking either greater intimacy or potential separation.) Sue sat down beside me.

She could not contain herself and began to mutter aloud. “That’s nonsense” she said to whoever was in earshot, and because she was on a corner aisle, and I was right next to her, it was me. “Tell me why” I asked, as I had followed David’s work with great interest. “People define themselves in relationships” she told me, “they don’t grow in isolation, they don’t grow by being apart. You manage your anxiety within a relationship, not within yourself.”

She said a few other things, and then left. She couldn’t bear to hear any more.

I didn’t know who she was at the time, but I knew immediately that she was a “somebody.” She had a powerful presence, and I remember her being tall, although I don’t know if that was more her aura than her height. She reminded me of Virgina Satire, another powerful force who, I believe, was not only a giant of a force in psychology, but like Sue, I remember her as larger than life.

A visionary in her field

Dr. Johnson’s journey began with a fascination for the intricacies of human connection. She grew up in a 1950’s British pub, where class lines were blurred and keeping the peace of utmost importance. And she never lost that “common touch.” She loved her three children, their partners, and the Argentine Tango.

As a clinical psychologist, she recognized the limitations of traditional behavioral approaches to couples therapy and sought to develop a more effective, emotionally-focused model. Drawing from attachment theory and the latest research on adult love, Dr. Johnson created EFT in the 1980s, which has since become one of the most empirically validated and widely practiced forms of couples therapy worldwide.1

The impact of her work cannot be overstated. Dr. Johnson’s bestselling book, “Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love,” has sold over 1 million copies and has been translated into 25 languages. Her teachings have reached countless therapists and couples, offering a roadmap for navigating the complexities of intimate relationships and fostering deeper, more fulfilling connections.

The power of emotional responsiveness

At the heart of EFT lies the concept of emotional responsiveness—the ability of partners to tune into each other’s feelings, needs, and longings. Dr. Johnson emphasized that it is not enough for couples to simply communicate; they must learn to express their deepest emotions and vulnerabilities in a way that elicits empathy, understanding, and support from their partner.

As Dr. Johnson eloquently stated, “In EFT, we see that the key to a lifetime of love is emotional responsiveness. It’s about sending the message, ‘I hear you. I’m here for you. You matter to me.'”2 This simple yet profound insight has transformed the way therapists approach couples therapy, shifting the focus from surface-level problem-solving to fostering a deep, secure emotional bond between partners.

Love is not the icing on the cake of life. It is a basic primary need, like oxygen or water. Once we understand and accept this, we can more easily get to the heart of relationship problems.

The science behind EFT

Dr. Johnson’s work was not merely theoretical; it was grounded in rigorous scientific research. Numerous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of EFT in helping couples improve their relationship satisfaction, intimacy, and emotional connection. A meta-analysis of 23 studies found that EFT was associated with significant improvements in relationship distress, with an average effect size of 1.31, which is considered large.3

EFT has also been shown to have lasting benefits. In a landmark study, Dr. Johnson and her colleagues found that 70-75% of couples who completed EFT reported significant improvements in relationship satisfaction, and these gains were maintained up to three years after treatment.4 These findings provide compelling evidence for the power of EFT to create meaningful, enduring change in couples’ lives.

Lessons for love and life

Beyond her academic achievements, Dr. Johnson’s legacy lies in the countless lives she touched through her work. Her insights into the nature of love and connection have resonated with people from all walks of life, offering a path towards more fulfilling, resilient relationships.

One of Dr. Johnson’s most powerful messages was that love is not a mysterious force beyond our control, but a skill that can be learned and nurtured. As she wrote, “Love is not the icing on the cake of life. It is a basic primary need, like oxygen or water. Once we understand and accept this, we can more easily get to the heart of relationship problems.”5

Dr. Johnson’s work also highlighted the importance of vulnerability in creating deep, authentic connections. By learning to share our fears, hopes, and dreams with our partner, we create a safe haven where we can be fully seen, heard, and accepted. This emotional intimacy is the foundation of a strong, lasting relationship.

When marriages fail, it is not increasing conflict that is the cause. It is decreasing affection and emotional responsiveness…

Sue Johnson, Ph.D.

A legacy that lives on

Although Dr. Johnson’s passing is a profound loss, her legacy will continue to inspire and guide couples and therapists for generations to come. Her work has forever changed the landscape of couples therapy, providing a roadmap for creating relationships characterized by deep emotional connection, trust, and resilience.

As we mourn the loss of this remarkable woman, let us also celebrate her life and the countless lives she touched through her groundbreaking work. Dr. Sue Johnson’s insights into the nature of love and connection will continue to light the way for all those seeking to build stronger, more fulfilling relationships.

I hear you. I’m here for you. You matter to me.

Sue Johnson, Ph.D.


Dr. Sue Johnson, the creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), passed away on April 23, 2024, leaving behind a legacy that has revolutionized the field of couples therapy. Her work, grounded in attachment theory and scientific research, emphasized the importance of emotional responsiveness and vulnerability in creating deep, lasting connections between partners. Dr. Johnson’s insights have touched countless lives and will continue to inspire and guide couples and therapists for generations to come.


  1. Johnson, S. M. (2004). The practice of emotionally focused couple therapy: Creating connection. Brunner-Routledge. Johnson, S. M. (2008). Hold me tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love. Little, Brown and Company.
  2. Johnson, S. M., Hunsley, J., Greenberg, L., & Schindler, D. (1999). Emotionally focused couples therapy: Status and challenges. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 6(1), 67-79.
  3. Wiebe, S. A., & Johnson, S. M. (2016). A review of the research in emotionally focused therapy for couples. Family Process, 55(3), 390-407.
  4. Johnson, S. M. (2013). Love sense: The revolutionary new science of romantic relationships. Little, Brown and Company.