What is EFT and The Gottman Method?

“EFT appears to move couples from distress to recovery in 10-12 sessions for 70-75% of cases, and creates improvements in 90% of couples coming in for therapy.”

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a treatment approach focusing on mending the bond between partners. Developed by Susan Johnson and Les Greenberg and based on John Bowlby’s seminal attachment research, EFT respects the innate human need to feel attached to and comforted by significant others.

Adult love relationships are found to have the same survival function as the mother-child bond. Ideally these attachments provide love, comfort, support, resiliance and protection throughout the lifespan.

When we sense the bond with our loved one is threatened we typically react to it in much the same way as we do to a threat to our survival, with a fight/freeze/flight response.  This response often escalates the problem and frequently develops into cycles of negativity in which each parter triggers the other. For example as one partner pursues the other responds by withdrawing, which provokes the first partner to pursue more vigorously.   It is extremely difficult to get out of these negative cycles without outside help. Over time both partners focus on the negativity of the cycle and this blots out their underlying attraction to their beloved and desire for connection.  This shows up in various symptoms, such as a “lack of desire” or “always arguing” or “retreating from each other into work, substance abuse, or other activity.”

Due to our relationship histories and/or the negative interaction cycles we get into with our partners, many of us have difficulties with trust and expressing emotion to those who mean the most to us.

When couples argue about such issues as jealousy, sex, or money, these arguments often stem from one partner not feeling connected, not trusting, or not feeling safe or secure with the other partner.  These arguments are symptoms of damaged connection as much as the cause of it.  When our partners are not emotionally available, or are not responding to our needs to feel close or supported, we feel distressed. We may become anxious, fearful, numb, or distant.

These behaviors can become habitual or rigid modes of reacting to our partners. Furthermore, these toxic behavior patterns seem to take on a life of their own as they cycle into repetitive interactions that cause much pain, injury, and despair. We focus on these patterns in therapy and work on changing these negative interaction cycles in a non-judgmental environment.

In a relatively short time – 12 to 24 sessions – couples begin to recognize and eventually express their needs for love, support, protection, and comfort that are often hidden or disguised by the harsh or angry words used in repetitive self-defeating patterns of conflict. Partners begin to “listen with the heart,” one of the cornerstones of EFT – which means listening not for the literal meaning of a partner’s words, but for the feelings that lie beneath. In return, the other partner is better able to respond from the heart in kind. This is the emotional focus of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.

We view the building of a “safe haven” in your relationship as our primary task, and we will focus on your primary needs — to feel close, secure, and responded to — which probably underlie most of your conflict with your partner. Once this safe haven and feelings of connection are re-established, you will be better able to manage conflict and the painful or difficult feelings that will inevitably arise from time to time in a close relationship. Furthermore, without so much defensiveness, each of you will be able to send clearer messages and will be better able to hear the other’s perspective. You will be more able to collaborate, problem-solve, and compromise. In short, you’ll be more of a team, which is the secret of a long-lived, successful relationship!

EFT is evidence-based and has been used with many different types of couples in private practice, university training centers, and hospital clinics. These distressed couples often include partners suffering from disorders such as depression, post- traumatic stress disorder, and chronic medical illness. To view further references, recent articles describing EFT therapy, and books on EFT, please refer to the EFT website by clicking here, or you can look up EFT on Wikipedia here.   I also provide readings on EFT on my resource page for couples.


The Gottman Method is an alternative approach to couples counseling which is also research based.  Developed by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, this approach adds many interventions which I incorporate into my work with couples.  John Gottman is most famous for his pioneering research on the factors that contribute to couples success. Here are some of his findings.


176 thoughts on “What is EFT and The Gottman Method?”

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