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Emotionally focused therapy (EFT)

Reviewed by Robert Bogenberger, PhD

Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) helps clients identify and understand the emotions that lead to conflict in their relationships.

What is EFT?

Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) is a therapeutic approach designed to strengthen relationships by addressing issues in emotional responses. It was originally developed as a form of couples therapy, but has also been adapted for individuals (as emotionally focused individual therapy) and families.

EFT draws from several therapeutic approaches, including:1

  • Attachment theory: Attachment theory states that your early relationship with your primary caregiver influences how you develop relationships with others. EFT uses attachment theory to help you strengthen your relationships.
  • Systems theory: Systems theory encourages clients and therapists to view each couple as a two-person system. Both members of the couple influence each other, and problems are the result of how they interact (not just one person in the couple causing an issue).
  • Gestalt therapy: Gestalt therapy focuses on the present and prioritizes wholeness and awareness. EFT therapists may use gestalt therapy exercises like the “empty chair” technique in their sessions.

EFT goals

In general, EFT tries to help you:

  • Acknowledge and identify emotions in yourself and others
  • Observe your feelings and behaviors and adapt them to your situation
  • Understand your past trauma and incorporate it into your life story
  • Identify your attachment style and work toward “secure” (healthy) attachment behaviors
  • Question harmful or unhelpful thoughts instead of acting on them
  • Strengthen your bonds with your partner, family, friends, and loved ones

What does EFT treat?

Emotionally focused couples therapy can treat mental health concerns including:

The Gottman method vs. EFT

The Gottman method is another form of couples therapy. It teaches couples to communicate in healthy ways and avoid the “four horsemen of the relationship apocalypse”: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Emotionally focused couples therapy and the Gottman method are both great options for couples, but only EFT has been adapted for both individual and family therapy.


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you identify the unhelpful or negative thoughts that shape your feelings and behaviors. EFT shares some principles with CBT, but their goals are slightly different. CBT focuses on how your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors affect one another; EFT focuses on how your feelings affect your relationships with others and yourself.

While EFT is fairly versatile, it’s not as versatile as CBT. CBT principles have been adapted into a wide variety of approaches that treat many different conditions.

EFT stages

EFT involves three structured stages: de-escalation, restructuring, and consolidation.2

In the de-escalation stage, clients identify and express their main concerns, negative behavior patterns, and underlying emotions. They then work to correct the attachment issues contributing to conflict in their lives.

The restructuring stage encourages clients to delve into their emotional roots. They learn to express feelings, needs, and desires, and practice self-compassion and acceptance.

Finally, in the consolidation stage, clients apply new solutions to old problems. They integrate what they’ve learned into their self-concept and relationships, creating healthier interactions and emotional connections.

Common EFT practices

Emotionally focused therapists use different methods to help you process emotions and improve your relationship bonds. They include:

  • Using empathy and repetition to encourage you to reflect on your beliefs
  • Validating your emotional experiences
  • Giving you a chance to reenact important emotional experiences and come to healthier conclusions
  • Encouraging you to apply new insights to old problems or beliefs

If you’re interested in emotional therapy techniques, browse our directory to find a licensed therapist near you.

About the author

The editorial team at works with the world’s leading clinical experts to bring you accessible, insightful information about mental health topics and trends.