Oftentimes, people are operating at a working distance from their emotion. Oftentimes, as a function of their earlier circumstances, people remove themselves from their vulnerabilities in a way to survive. When we are in a distressed relationship or uncomfortable in our own skin, none of us can make sense of our inner worlds.
Researches consistently identify deepening emotional experience is a key factor in shaping significant change in psychotherapy, no matter what model of therapy is being used. Simply discussing issues on a cognitive level or teaching coping strategies is not enough to transform the emotional dramas that lie at the heart of a client’s distress. Change happens when we go into our emotional channel. Change happens when we meet new experiences that moves us. Literally, move us into new ways of seeing, new ways of acting, new ways of being with ourselves. To really think about this, it is important to think about what does emotion actually do and what are the basic functions of emotion. Emotion orientates us to reality. It helps us make meaning of that reality, it motivates us and it communicates to others.
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a structure-tested way with scientific basis and theory underlying the entire EFT model of intervening with individuals, couples, and families. It is a new map to internal experiencing and to the way we are in relationships that offers a new, more focused, integrated way forward in psychotherapy. Attachment science underpins the EFT model works on an emotional level to evoke and shape potent new experiences. When people can tolerate sitting in their emotions, they can get their emotional balance and reflect on their emotional experiences, their behavior repertoires expand. It moves them into new behaviors and new ways of engaging their world.
EFT is a humanistic experiential model. EFT therapists work with things that matter in people’s lives and they are pointing to what matters in people’s experiences which are colored with emotion. Giving attention to their emotional experiences, therapists help clients find what they are looking for in the relationships that matter most in their lives. It is not simply a talk therapy. What makes it so different from so many other models of therapy out there is that therapists actually make space to go into the suffering to encounter, hold and distill their emotional experiences, then order them into coherence. This helps clients to get a felt sense of themselves organically and intrinsically from the bottom up. It is not a top down that they will feel better if they change their thoughts. It is they will feel better when they can help themselves understand their pain, how that pain moves through them, how that pain comes out with the most important others in their life, and then how to distill that pain and share the signal of that pain differently. By transforming key emotional experiences in expansive ways, new corrective experiences expand clients’ sense of self and connection with others. But that’s all rather abstract. Let’s capture it by reading a couple of examples from EFT for individuals and couples.
For example, a individual client is struggling with anxiety and depression. All she talks about is that she is a dreadful person and that she has lost all of her relationships, and she thinks she deserves it. What happens to her in one of the key moments, corrective moments of the therapy is that she is able to go into her pain and feel her pain, accept her pain and then have an imaginary conversation with somebody important in her life. First, her father, then her older sister, and then her ex-husband. In these imaginary dramas that she goes through, she is dealing with her emotions differently and she is able to say to these people “My pain matters, and I don’t want you to push me away and judge me anymore. Your judgement hurts. I am not going to judge me. My pain matters and this is what I want.” This is a moment of an enormous shift for this client. It really impacts the level of her depression and the level of her anxiety in this example.
If we look at these moments of change in couple therapy, a couple will start off with one person, perhaps the wife is attacking and the man is completely withdrawn. As they go through therapy, they look at their negative cycle and they get more control over it. The key change event that we call a softening stage of EFT for couples in this example would be the man becomes much more engaged and invites his partner to come close. Rather than yelling or getting upset or attacking or criticizing, the wife is now able to go deep into her vulnerability and say “I don’t know how to let you in. It’s scary to let you in, but what I need from you is I need reassurance. I need to know that I’m your special one.” She is able to ask for what she needs in a coherent balanced way that pulls her partner towards her and this heals the rift in their relationship, so this is another moment of change that predict success in this therapy.