Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)

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I never described the therapy technique my therapist uses, so I will now. He’s a psychodynamic trauma therapist who specializes in EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy), a humanistic, whole-person technique that grew out of the Gestalt therapies of the 1960s and 1970s and attachment theory. EFT  was developed by Sue Johnson in the 1980s and uses the attachment between therapist and client (or in the case of couples, their attachment to each other) as the basis for developing trust.  EFT requires the therapist to have a high level of empathy because what they do is model emotions for the client, sometimes before you can even describe it/be aware you are feeling it yourself. By the therapist empathically mirroring your emotions this way, you become aware of your own emotional state and can begin to describe it and name it and once you can do that, it’s possible to allow yourself to fully experience the emotion and eventually make connections between your emotional state and things that have happened in the past that triggered the reaction.

EFT can be a short term therapy (8 to 20 sessions) but not always. In my case, it could take a very long time since personality disorders cannot be fixed in only 8 to 10 sessions, if they can ever really be cured at all. But EFT goes far deeper into the psyche than behavioral therapies like CBT and DBT (which are certainly useful and have their merits) and looks for root causes of maladaptive defense mechanisms, so as to actually remove them rather than merely teaching the client how to avoid acting on them. EFT is also often used in couples and family therapy.

EFT is used for people suffering from many personality disorders, including BPD and NPD, but it’s probably most commonly used for people with PTSD and complex PTSD. I believe all personality disorders grow out of a PTSD or complex PTSD template established very early in life and are complications of that. My therapist and I have managed to build a very warm and powerful therapeutic bond and I’m currently experiencing a very strong transference, which is used as a basis to explore primal emotions.

EFT asks the client to pay attention to bodily sensations when an emotion comes to the surface. I’m getting very good at being mindful of this and even outside session I’m ultra-aware of my bodily reactions to my emotional state. In that way you become able to control and contain strong emotions and not overreact, underreact, or use defenses against feeling them. I now pay attention to my body and gestures and where emotions are trapped in my body; emotions are very somatic. Slowly, I can feel the stuck places beginning to give way way as I’m getting more in touch with my real emotions/true self.
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I feel a great deal of caring and empathy from my therapist, who is basically reparenting me using this technique. It’s from this basis of trust that healing becomes possible. I could see how this form of therapy could even work on someone with fullblown NPD (as long as they are self-aware and willing). I was surprised that this soon, apparently others are noticing changes too. People are reacting differently (more positively) to me, and I’m not sure if this is due to them actually treating me differently because I’m nicer to be around, or if it’s just a more positive self-image where I’m less hypervigilant, paranoid, avoidant and testy. Maybe it’s a little of both, but there’s definitely been a difference.

EFT is a beautiful form of therapy that recognizes the client not as a sick patient needing to be cured, or a machine that must learn new behaviors, but as a whole person, deeply damaged and hurt perhaps, but a human being with incredible potential and spiritual, physical, mental and emotional needs that are gently coaxed out through empathic understanding. It requires a therapist who has a well-developed capacity for empathy and also requires a strong emotional bond (attachment via transference) between the therapist and client. The entire process can be deeply moving at times. Attachment can be a really beautiful thing when it’s used as the basis to help another person grow emotionally and heal from trauma and abuse done to them in early childhood or later, enabling them to eventually be able to form healthy attachments to others. In that sense, the therapist serves as a surrogate parent. My therapist may be using other techniques besides EFT, but right now I think this is the one that’s being used most frequently in our sessions.

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4 thoughts on “Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)

  1. My counselor is using EFT too – it’s so much more helpful than anything I’ve experienced before. I wish every counselor knew about it!

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