Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy

Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy

Wilhelm Hurtz

Clinical Psychologist, Clinical Psychotherapist, & Occupational Therapist

Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy is based on the theory of emotional attachment & reversing destructive patterns in relationships through bonding experiences.

Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFCT) was developed by psychologists Susan Johnson and Leslie Greenberg in 1980s. Up to this point couple therapists concentrated primarily on changing behaviour or focused on various ways of changing communication. Unfortunately, achieved changes in the relationship did not last and couples would find after a short time that they fell back in similar ways of being with each other.

Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy is largely based on the theory of attachment, which was established by John Bolby and Mary Ainsworth in the 1960’s. The need for attachment is hard wired in our brain and it was found that emotional attachment to a primary person creates safety and security in children and adults. Sue Johnson (2011) quoted Ainsworth saying about human attachment: “…that we monitor and maintain emotional and physical closeness with our beloved; that we reach out for this person when we are unsure, upset, or feeling down; that we miss this person when we are apart; and that we count on this person to be there for us when we go out into the world and explore.” Attachment theory tells us that a sense of secure emotional connection in a relationship is the cornerstone in positive loving relationships and gives strengths to the individuals in the romantic relationship.

In EFCT attention is primarily paid on re-establishing or developing an interaction within the couple that focuses on interactional patterns within the relationship; accessing unacknowledged emotions that are underlying the interactions; identifying deep, primary needs; learn to accept the partner’s experiences and find new interactional responses; being able to turn the other for emotional support and promote a felt sense of being safe, held, comforted and loved. Furrow, Johnson and Bradley (2011) suggested that the destructive effects of long-standing and destructive patterns in the relationship can be reversed through bonding experiences which are created in the safe environment of the couple therapy session.

Through the process of EFCT the individual in the relationship will learn to become aware of his/her own feelings and start to express those. Emotional self-awareness will lead to an increased emotional awareness of the other partner’s emotions, which will result in greater empathy and understanding for each other’s experiences. With that the couple will experience the connecting powers of emotions and discover strategies to manage difficult emotions and establish rituals of connecting that will improve the emotional connection. The couple will learn soothing interactions and maintain emotional engagement during disagreements.

Research studies have found that EFCT is an effective treatment of couples in distress. Those investigations have shown that couples that undergo EFCT treatment 70 percent of couples recovered from their relationship distress and 90 percent experienced improvement in their relationship. Further, EFCT has been successful in creating change in couples where the couple deals with chronic illness, trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and parenting issues.

If you are interested in Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy please call Wilhelm  at Existential, Transpersonal & Gestalt Therapy Centre on 0414 851 165 or email on wahurtz@westnet.com.au.


Bradley, B.; & Furrow, J. (2013). Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy for Dummies. Mississauga: John Wiley & Sons.

Furrow, J.; Johnson, S. M; & Bradley, B. (Eds.) (2011). The Emotionally Focused Casebook. New Directions in Treating Couples. New York: Routledge.

Johnson, S. M. (2002). Emotionally focused couple therapy with trauma survivors: Strengthening attachment bonds. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Johnson, S. M. (2004). The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy. Creating Connection (2nd ed). New York, NY: Routledge.

Johnson, S. M. (2008). Hold me tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime love. New York, NY: Little Brown.

Johnson, S. M.; Bradley, B.; Furrow, J., Lee, A.; Palmer, G.; Tilley, T.; & Woolley, S. (2005). Becoming an Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist. The Workbook. New York, NY: Routledge.

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