Connecting through Emotionally Focused Therapy
CONNECTING THROUGH EMOTIONALLY FOCUSED THERAPY
Rod Campbell | MAMFT, LPC-S
We are excited to announce Dr. Sharon May from the Safe Haven Relationship Counseling Center, Inc. will be coming to Birmingham on September 20, 2019, to teach a workshop entitled, “Fostering Safe Haven Marriages: Emotionally Focused Therapy.”
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is an empirically validated and proven effective marital therapy modality. Rod Campbell, LPC, is a counselor with Pathways Professional Counseling and frequently uses EFT with his clients. Below he describes how EFT is helpful. We hope you will join us in September.
It is common in my work with couples and families to come across situations in which people describe being baffled by their own behavior. A husband might, in session, be able to speak very rationally about his belief that he should be gentle with his wife, even when upset, but then immediately recount multiple instances in the past week in which he found himself having difficulty controlling his temper.
These instances are further complicated by the fact that the vast majority of these clients are people of sincere faith who state unwavering belief in biblical principles and aspire to lives filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Finding themselves having difficulty living consistently with their own firmly held beliefs and ideals often compounds their pain as they experience shame over having sinned against God as well.
Clearly, these people are working hard to improve their marriages and care deeply about their spouses and family members. They are often deeply sorrowful for their behavior, and describe feeling ashamed, fearful, and hopeless. In many of these cases, I find Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) to be very useful in helping these clients find hope and healing.
HOW EFT HELPS
EFT is an approach that helps clients learn to understand their own emotional responses in a much clearer and deeper way. For instance, the husband mentioned earlier clearly knows that he is angry and has lost his temper when he is yelling at his wife or children. EFT can help him learn to recognize the preceding emotions, many of which are much more subtle, and which may be building up over time and contributing to the explosive anger which comes later.
He may be experiencing frustration, fear, anxiety, isolation, disappointment, irritation, fatigue, depression, or a myriad of other emotions, which largely go unnoticed, especially if he tends to avoid emotions or dismiss their importance. Using EFT, he is able to develop awareness of how his anger develops over time while also learning to employ better communication and problem-solving strategies to address the smaller issues before they build into an explosive mass.
On the other end of the spectrum, we might also find a husband or wife who has a hard time regulating their own emotions and tends to give full voice to every perceived slight or injustice. Neither of these approaches tends to contribute to stability, understanding, or felt safety.
EFT seeks to help couples and family members increase awareness of emotions, learn to regulate emotions more effectively, and then learn to transform their emotions from maladaptive emotions like anger into adaptive emotions like fear, frustration, or pain.
HOW EFT LOOKS IN OUR RELATIONSHIPS
For instance, a wife who finds herself angered by her husband’s repeated insults concerning her appearance might have a history of “fighting fire with fire” and responding with hurtful words of her own. Using the principles of EFT, she could transform this maladaptive anger response into an adaptive explanation of how his words cause great pain. By responding with gentle assertiveness, clearly labeling her emotions, and asking him to be more gentle and sensitive in his treatment of her, she is changing the past cycles of escalating anger, and seeking a deeper connection through sharing her authentic self.
The husband, likewise, can employ EFT strategies by becoming aware of his own role in these sorts of exchanges. He can develop greater sensitivity, recognize that his words cause pain, seek to build up his wife, and also learn to share his own internal world with her in a more vulnerable and authentic way.
When each person can identify their own vulnerable emotions like fear, frustration, and pain, can regulate those emotions, and can address them in a clear and productive way, they then help lower emotional reactivity. By dealing directly with these difficult emotions and avoiding defensive tactics, each one contributes to overall felt safety. This felt safety contributes to the couple’s ability to work together cooperatively toward problem solving and improves their sense of connectedness within the relationship.