Regardless if a couple has been in a relationship for two years, or in a marriage for sixteen years, it is likely that they will get caught up in a negative interaction cycle of some sort. The cycle can take various forms, and it will repeat itself whenever both partners get triggered by one another. When couples get stuck in this negative cycle, couples therapy can be a beneficial tool and form of support. It can be especially helpful when both partners are feeling distressed, or when they start to feel that the relationship can no longer stay intact.
Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFCT) is a research-based therapeutic model that effectively helps couples get out of their negative interactive cycle. The model was developed by Susan Johnson, who incorporated attachment-based concepts, a focus on emotion, a focus on process, and a focus on a corrective emotional experience into EFCT (Johnson, 2004).
The goals of EFCT are:
1) to access, expand, and re-organize primary emotions of each partner and understand what is going on for them
2) to create a shift in partners’ reactive positions with each other – talking about it, tracking the cycle, and processing it
3) to foster a secure bond between both partners by encouraging new, deeper bonding moments in the therapeutic setting (Johnson, 2004).
Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy has nine steps that are compartmentalized into three stages.
The first stage of EFCT is assessment and cycle de-escalation, and there are four steps within this stage (Johnson, 2004).
The first step is for the therapist to develop an alliance with both partners and assess all of the complexities of their relationship. The second step is identifying the negative interactional cycle on all levels. The third step is tapping into unacknowledged attachment related emotions that maintain the behavioral reactive positions in the cycle (Johnson, 2004). The fourth step is based on reframing the problem in terms of the couple’s negative cycle, underlying emotions, and attachment needs (Johnson, 2004).
The second stage of EFCT is deepening engagement and creating emotional engagement (Johnson, 2004). The fifth step in the EFCT process is to promote identification with disclaimed needs and aspects of self, and incorporating these into relationship interactions. The sixth step is promoting acceptance of both partners’ experiences and being responsive to each other’s new behavior in the interaction (Johnson, 2004). The seventh step is furthering the deeper expression of attachment emotions and needs, which results in the creation of new interactional patterns (Johnson, 2004).
The third and final stage of EFCT is the consolidation of a secure base (Johnson, 2004). The eight step is facilitating the possibility of new solutions for old relationship patterns and disconnection. The ninth and final step of EFCT is reinforcing new positions and new interactions of closeness and safe attachment (Johnson, 2004).
EFCT is a detailed and skillful therapeutic model that requires therapists to receive additional education, training, and practice. When couples begin therapy with an EFCT therapist, they do not necessarily need to be made aware of all of the steps and processes of the model – they simply need to begin the difficult work and allow their therapists to guide them. If you are interested in trying EFCT to strengthen your relationship, Balance Stress Management and Therapy would be a great place to start!
For more information on Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, please visit www.iceeft.com.