Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy (EFCT)

Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy (EFCT)

Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy (EFCT) is short-term, structured approach to marriage counseling. It was co-developed by Dr. Sue Johnson and Dr. Les Greenberg in the 1980s. This evidence-based approach is supported by over 25 years of clinical research and practice.

EFCT is based on the process of bonding or attachment in couples and the formation of negative patterns that can create distress. Dr. Johnson refers to these patterns as “dances”. These “dances” or ways of responding are predictable and based on a couple’s feelings of connectedness or attachment style. These attachments are a significant predictor of marital satisfaction. Couples who have secure bonds can quarrel but resolve problems in healthy ways. Couples in distressed relationships tend to have bonds that are weak or insecure.

Couples who have secure bonds can quarrel but resolve problems in healthy ways.

The goal of EFCT is to reduce distress and help couples increase their emotional intimacy, security and sense of connection by strengthening their bonds and learning new ways of communicating. It is particularly effective for couples whose relationships are in distress due to infidelity, trauma or one or both partners struggling with a co-occurring disorder.

So what can you expect if you choose a therapist who uses the EFCT approach? Therapy will be short-term (about 8-20 sessions) and highly structured. The role of the therapist in EFCT has been described as being the choreographer of the relationship dance. The therapist collaborates with the couple and provides coaching and feedback as the couple progresses. EFCT is comprised of 9 treatment steps divided into 3 stages.

In Stage 1 (steps 1-4), the therapist will meet with the couple to identify attachment styles and interaction patterns (dances). This process may involve the completion of one or more written assessments. An important aspect of this stage is helping the couple to “reframe” their relationship issues so that they can de-escalate their distress and begin to see themselves not as victims but as allies in the quest to improve their relationship.  

EFCT is comprised of 9 treatment steps divided into 3 stages.

In Stage 2, (steps 5-7), the therapist and the couple work on restructuring the couples’ bonds and  finding new, more positive ways of interacting. They learn how to communicate feelings and needs in healthy ways.

Finally, in Stage 3 (steps 8-9), the therapist helps the couple to consolidate what they’ve learned and focuses on ways to use these skills outside of therapy. They have a plan to maintain their healthy changes. One of the strengths of EFCT is that recovery tends to be stable and long-lasting. Most couples are able to sustain the positive changes they’ve made using their plan.

Learn more about EFCT at Dr. Sue Johnson’s website or the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy.

You can learn about other couples therapy methodologies here.

Written by
Dr. Dawn Ferrara, LMFT