This content is researched and written independently of the views or opinions of BestOnlineTherapy's editorial team. BestOnlineTherapy may earn a commission from purchases of products featured in this article. Full disclosure available here.

What is Emotion-Focused Therapy?

Medically Reviewed and Edited by 
Olga Kyrychenko, Psychologist

EFT is defined by the APA as a therapy that focuses on emotion’s critical role in promoting substantial change. The therapeutic approach of EFT is mainly centered on encouraging you to be more aware and accepting of your emotions. It also helps you express your emotions as well as learn to regulate them. 

Through EFT, you will be expected to have a stronger sense of self. As an intervention, EFT guides you into transforming your emotions as a primary influencer of your “perception, cognition, and behavior”. With such a goal, you are then expected to view a negative experience as less troubling and react more appropriately so as to not feel distressed.

The goal of EFT is to help individuals gain a better understanding and acceptance of their emotions, express them more effectively, and regulate them in a healthy and adaptive manner.

My aim with this guide is to help you understand how therapists practicing EFT are able to achieve these therapeutic goals. This article will then discuss the different types of emotion-focused therapy, the process of EFT itself including the techniques therapists use throughout the process, the utility of this therapy option, its effectiveness, and its pros and cons. 

Types of Emotion-Focused Therapy

Other therapy experts refer to EFT as Emotionally Focused Therapy – that and Emotion-Focused Therapy may be used interchangeably. Types of EFT mainly use the former terminology and the differences between them are mostly in what context the process is used rather than the implementation of the techniques. EFT types are as follows:

Emotionally Focused Individual Therapy (EFIT)

In EFIT, there are three stages. The first stage of EFIT is stabilization wherein the therapist will encourage you to discuss experiences with them that elicited strong emotions. 

The goal of this EFIT stage is to identify the treatment goals and what your strengths are. Once you have identified your core strengths, the therapist will then employ those to make you more resilient should there come a time another distressing event occurs.

The second stage of EFIT is restructuring. In this stage, the overbearing emotions you have recalled from the previous stage will be processed. These emotions will then be used to create a “stronger sense of self”.

Lastly, for the third stage of EFIT, we have consolidation. This is the conclusion of the EFIT sessions wherein the treatment goals previously established are the key objectives of the stage. Alongside those goals, you are expected to have better emotion regulation as well as more adaptive behaviors.

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFCT)

Similar to EFIT, the ECFT process also has three stages. Its first stage is de-escalating conflict: the therapist guides you and your partner to identify your emotions. Through such, you and your partner are able to break the negative cycle because you both recognize each other’s feelings and understand what actions you both take.

During the second stage – restructuring – you and your partner are expected to realize if a negative cycle is about to start then quickly regulate your emotions so that your partner can follow suit as well. Once you and your partner have learned how to take these steps, you are able to empathize with each other and the negative cycle would not commence.

The conclusion of EFCT or the third stage is when you and your partner have already learned how to deal with old and recurring problems. The negative cycles your relationship has undergone will then be ceased and new, healthier, and more adaptive cycles will replace them. EFCT is a very popular method of couples therapy and is often used online. See here for a list of couples therapy sites.

Emotionally Focused Family Therapy (EFFT)

EFFT also follows three stages. Parallel to EFCT, EFFT’s first stage is also de-escalation. Your family will undergo an assessment and enumerate the main negative interactions that bring you great distress. After identifying those interactions, the core emotions will also be listed down so that you and your family will be able to understand them and later on, regulate them.

The restructuring stage, much like in the previous types of EFT, mainly revolves around the needs that are required to be addressed and satisfied. Moving towards the last stage which is the consolidation stage, past negative interactions will now be avoided because positive patterns of behaviors have now been learned by the members of the family.

While less common than couples therapy, EFT is still widely used by most of the online family therapy sites.

Emotion-Focused Therapy Techniques

Rather than distinctive techniques that deal with different aspects of the self, EFT techniques are mainly focused on emotions. The techniques of EFT are anchored on emotional change which is, as I have previously discussed, hallmarked by change in behavior, perception, and cognition.

Awareness

Being aware of your emotions is not simply knowing what you are feeling. It is recognizing your emotions after a distressing experience or a triggering episode and then knowing how to respond to them. 

As the EFT sessions continues, you will also grasp the swift way of determining what emotion you are feeling should there be negative circumstances. With that, you will be able to prevent maladaptive behavior patterns that stem from negative feelings.

Expression

EFT encourages you to express your feelings rather than repress or avoid them no matter how uncomfortable those emotions can be. The therapist will guide you through how you should express those emotions. 

The factors include what emotions you need to express, what caused that emotion to manifest, how it should be expressed, by whom or to whom, and lastly in what and under what conditions should such feelings be expressed.

Regulation

This technique of EFT may be the most challenging for you to apply especially beyond the sessions you have with your therapist. Being able to regulate your emotions is dependent on your environment. Your environment has to be “safe, calming, validating, and empathic”.

With the use of this EFT technique, you will also be taught how to identify and avoid triggers. By doing so you will be then able to distance yourself from those triggers, do self-soothing, practice therapeutic breathing, be distracted, and ultimately, replace negative emotions with positive ones.

Reflection

Much like with other therapy options, EFT promotes reflection. Being able to make sense of your emotional experiences is the core of this therapeutic approach. The reason is that through reflection, you are able to be in control of such experiences and subsequently, help you feel more connected with yourself through your emotions.

Transformation

This EFT technique is the most rigorous as well as the most incessant since this is what your therapist would expect you to do outside of therapy sessions. Transformation simply means being able to direct your behavior using your new understanding of your emotions. You are now capable of shifting from maladaptive behaviors to healthier action patterns.

Emotion-Focused Therapy Uses

EFT is a therapy option that emphasizes the central role of emotions in mental health and well-being. By addressing the emotional root of mental health issues, EFT can help you develop greater resilience, improve your emotional intelligence, and improve your overall mental health. 

Therefore, EFT is mainly used in treating affective disorders which are characterized by emotional disturbances. 

However, it is also worth noting that since emotions are a core aspect of many mental disorders, EFT has been found to be beneficial for a wide range of psychological conditions. Here are the most common conditions where EFT is used as a treatment:

In addition to treating people with psychological disorders, EFT is also utilized in non-intensive counseling sessions. If you are experiencing mild emotional distress or if you are simply looking to improve your emotional well-being, EFT can be a beneficial tool for you.

Is Emotion-Focused Therapy Effective?

EFT is an evidence-based treatment – numerous studies have cited its efficacy on a wide array of psychological conditions. Besides clinical populations, EFT is also an effective way to receive counseling for relationships and family troubles because of the positive outcomes it yields for people with interpersonal problems. 

As for online EFT, the type that is mostly done is EFCT. Though there are a few studies wherein online EFT is used among populations with severe mental distress. Take for example those who are experiencing anxiety if further interventions other than EFT alone are considered, it is most likely that the positive effects will be long-term.

What are the Benefits of Emotion-Focused Therapy?

Emotions are really the center of EFT and as many experts conclude, dysregulated emotions are the root causes of many psychological problems. With that said, it is proper to acknowledge that EFT offers several benefits for individuals struggling with psychological distress. 

Some of the key benefits of EFT include:

  • Improved emotional regulation
  • Enhanced interpersonal relationships
  • Increased self-awareness

By becoming more aware of your internal experiences, you can develop greater self-acceptance and self-compassion, leading to improved self-esteem and confidence.

Should you undergo EFT sessions, you will learn how to develop more positive and healthy coping strategies that can help you better manage your emotions. Additionally, your empathic and communication skills will also improve thus resulting in better relationships.

What are the Drawbacks of Emotion-Focused Therapy?

The disadvantages and limitations of EFT are just as important to discuss as its benefits.  One potential limitation is that focusing on emotions can sometimes be challenging and distressing for you especially if you have experienced trauma or have difficulty expressing your emotions.

Additionally, EFT may not be suitable for you if you have a more cognitive or behavioral orientation, as it tends to focus primarily on emotions and relationships rather than on specific maladaptive thoughts or behaviors. For such individuals, CBT might be a better fit.

Another EFT drawback is that it requires a significant investment of time and effort, as the therapy typically involves multiple sessions over an extended period of time. This can be challenging for you if you have limited time or resources, or are unable to commit to ongoing therapy.

Getting Started With Emotion-Focused Therapy

Similar to other types of therapy, EFT is a widely-available option in the US. Most private clinics have therapists who are either trained in EFT or even have it as their main specialty. Numerous online therapy sites also provide EFT as a treatment option.

If you are having trouble getting in touch with an EFT therapist, the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT) has a directory of EFT therapists

Once you have found your preferred therapist, the first step in the therapy process typically involves an initial consultation or intake session. During your first session, the therapist will assess your needs and determine whether EFT is an appropriate treatment approach. If EFT is deemed appropriate, the therapist will work with you to develop a treatment plan and schedule the sessions.

Is Emotion-Focused Therapy Right For You?

EFT is a widely used and very effective therapy strategy. Although its is quite structured, given that we all have different emotional experiences, an EFT therapist will  work with you and tailor the sessions based on your particular needs.  

By undergoing EFT, you’ll be able to acquire emotion regulation skills which you can use to improve your relationship with others. Consequentially, you may develop a stronger and healthier sense of self. You will be able to have a more positive outlook in life because you are not bound to your negative emotions anymore.

Nevertheless, it is important to understand that EFT has its drawbacks and might not be effective for everyone. It is advised that you weigh the benefits and disadvantages of EFT before deciding whether to undergo lengthy sessions. One option might be to consider one of our recommended affordable therapy options online, since EFT tends to be a fairly long commitment.

If you believe that the pros of CBT exceed its cons and would like to seek treatment, it is crucial to locate a licensed therapist who has a strong grasp of EFT and its techniques.

To conclude this article, I should remind you that EFT can be used in a variety of settings, including individual, group, and couple counseling. Given these options, you are surely able to choose which will benefit you and the people close to you the most.