Couple Therapy: An Emotionally Focused Therapy Approach

By Sarah Dale, MSc., RP (Q)

I work with many couples seeking therapy to improve their relationship. My approach to couple therapy involves Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) which is an approach strongly supported by research and found to be highly effective for couples. Using EFT, I work with couples to identify the issues bringing them in to therapy as well as uncovering past hurts that may have been swept under the rug over time, or simply left unresolved. Couples often find themselves stuck in the same patterns or having the same conversations that don’t seem to go anywhere. EFT helps to explore these patterns and process the feelings that drive them.

As a first step, I meet with both partners together to hear your story as a couple: what drew you together, how did your relationship progress, what are the challenges you’ve faced in your relationship, and what strengths do you have as a couple. I also listen as you identify your current difficulties, what you’d like to be different about the relationship, and your goals for therapy. Then I meet with each partner on your own for one session to explore what you learned about relationships from early experiences growing up, as well as discuss your experience in the current relationship. When we meet together for the next couple session, I give you my feedback: what I’ve heard about your relationship and your experiences both as a couple and as individuals, how I think you’ve gotten to where you are now, and what I see as a way to move forward. Together, we create our plan for therapy to reach your relationship goals–often including the use of EFT in the therapeutic approach.

Couples seek therapy for a variety of reasons. Couples often report they have the same arguments over and over that don’t get resolved, and that their partner doesn’t understand their point of view. Conflict can arise from things such as day to day stressors, parenting, a decrease in sex drive, infidelity, family issues, and differences in values. Over time, partners may find they feel more disconnected, that their communication has broken down, and that the spark they once had is lost. It can seem impossible to find a way back to the better days. My goal is to help partners improve their communication skills, recognize their strengths, and rebuild their connection. EFT provides me with a guideline and set of tools to help you do that.

One of the core concepts in EFT is that of attachment, the idea that we need to know that our partner is there for us when we need them, that we matter to them, and that they value us. In couple therapy using EFT, we work together to explore any past hurts in the relationship where you didn’t get this message, as well as any ongoing issues that impact the quality of the relationship. The goal of EFT is to help partners feel they can share their wants and needs with each other and find new ways of solving old problems. Rather than having the same argument, EFT helps you to get out of the old pattern and into a new way of responding, one where you are both able to express what you really need and be heard by your partner.