What is Emotionally Focused Counselling & Psychotherapy?
Emotionally Focused Counselling and Therapy is an experiential, holistic and creative approach focusing on the feelings, thoughts and behaviours of the client. It was founded by Dr Les Greenberg and his colleagues in the 1980s, a professor of Psychology and Director of The Psychotherapy Research Clinic at York University in Toronto, Canada. My training at The Institute for Emotionally Focused Therapy in Sydney is grounded in Greenberg & Susan Johnson's theoretical approach whilst also incorporating ideas from psychodynamic, gestalt and attachment theory.
EFT can help to identify and remove some of the fixed patterns of relating you may have developed and minimise the emotional blocks and beliefs that are preventing you finding happiness and security within yourself and with others.
It is a systemic approach that involves clients becoming aware of the interactions between themselves and others and how certain behaviours can repeat over time leading to a frustrating sense of feeling stuck and fixed in assumed roles and positions that may not be serving you well.
For information about how EFT can help heal from trauma please read
Treating Complex Trauma with Emotion Focused Therapy (https://www.goodtherapy.org)
Whilst being mindful of the way a client relates to others EFT also focuses on the internal world of a person and the type of relationship they have with themselves and how this inner self has developed over time and been affected by previous adult and childhood experiences. Re-experiencing the past, when appropriate, and in the safety of a well established therapeutic relationship can help to heal past hurts and promote authentic relating with self and others.
Becoming aware of emotions and expressing them when safe to do so can help foster understanding and empathy for self and others. Learning to regulate feelings and hold reactivity allows for a deeper sharing and connection with self and loved ones.
Emotionally Focused Counselling & Therapy is an evidence based approach and has been found to be particularly effective for couples experiencing relationship distress. My sessions are well structured and practical giving couples and individuals the necessary skills and opportunities to move out of relationship pain and experience positive and healthy relating.
From the perspective of an emotionally focused counsellor emotions are a useful tool and a resource to help us develop relationships with other people and get our needs met. For example if we experience a feeling of fear this is a trigger for us to stay and fight or run away; likewise if a person feels sad and lonely their need for connection with others will be stimulated. Emotions and the accompanying thoughts and behaviour are like signposts and can tell us when our relationship needs are being met when we feel loved, connected and secure. When feelings such as pain, hurt and anger arise these are our clues to show us that our relationship or way of life is not working and our needs have yet to be fulfilled.
How do I work out what I'm Feeling?
Emotions are not always easy to identify as they they can overwhelm us with their intense and speedy takeover of our rational selves. Or they can dwell inside us for years slowly building up over time as we push them back down again. Alternatively they can arrive when we least expect them to and sometimes they come in pairs and clusters like feeling disappointment which may be a mixture of sadness and anger.
Emotions also arrive in different levels of intensity; just think how many words there are to describe the feeling of anger - rage, aggression, frustration, irritability, incensed, livid, resentment, miffed and indignant to name a few.
Some emotions are impossible to ignore like when we feel guilty or ashamed or when we become angry but that doesn't necessarily mean we tell others what we are experiencing as we may not want them to see our pain. We can find a number of different ways to protect ourselves from some of the more difficult feelings such as fear, hurt or sadness by withdrawing from our partner, keeping busy, distracting ourselves with alcohol or other addictive behaviours, being defensive, provoking arguments or even just ignoring and pushing away the feelings when they come up.
How can Emotions help me and my Relationship?
Emotionally Focused Counselling is a safe and carefully managed process where a whole range of emotions can be identified and bought into the client's awareness to help them get at what is really going on behind their more overt expressions of anger, frustration and guilt. If we can understand what is sitting beneath our reactive responses to our loved ones and explore some of these more hidden feelings then we can start to understand why ourselves and our partners are behaving in a particular way.
If beneath our partner's nagging and frustration we come to realise they are feeling afraid and alone or behind someone's anger sits a feeling of powerlessness we are therefore in a better position to understand and empathise with their experience and not view them in a hostile way.
Revealing our innermost feelings takes time, courage and patience and Emotion Focused Counselling helps to facilitate this expression of emotion in a gradual, safe way. Speaking about our feelings, beliefs and expectations to our partner in the safety of the Counselling session can allow us to relate to others in an authentic, open and honest manner helping us to break free of limiting, repetitive dialogues where problems and issues never get resolved.
Emotions don't exist on their own; thoughts and behaviours interlink with our feelings as we try to make sense of what we are experiencing. Denial of our feelings has been linked to depression and anxiety as holding onto our emotions can literally become "a pain in the neck" or "a headache". Finding the right balance is healthy as we don't want to be flooded by feelings all the time but by the same token we need to be able to express our emotions enough so we can live a full and meaningful life and be at peace with ourselves and others.
Where did that Feeling come from?
When a friend or partner says or does something and we feel upset or angry our reaction or response may overwhelm and surprise us with its intensity as we may, on an unconscious level, be reminded of a past hurt. If we feel angry that our partner is neglecting our concerns or needs this may trigger a reminder of a previous relationship or a childhood experience of being ignored and abandoned by our caregivers. Or there may be some past thoughts or a critical script running in our heads that was ground into us at school or at home like "I'll never be good enough" which comes to mind when we are trying to resolve problems with our loved ones.
Past resentments and hurts can be worked through using our present emotions as a gateway to exploring what we are holding onto in terms of our histories and backgrounds. Sometimes we may take on board emotions from others that don't necessarily belong to us; children tend to internalise the feelings and emotions their parents are experiencing and often end up blaming themselves for Mum and Dad not getting along. Such guilt can stay with us and play out in our adult lives and in our own relationships where we blame ourselves for not doing enough to make our relationships work.
Emotion Focused Counselling explores the thoughts and feelings of clients in the 'here and now' of the therapy session whilst being mindful of the past influences with a view to future possibilities.
EFT is a Holistic Approach
You and your experiences as a single person or as part of a relationship are the central focus of the EFT approach. Your beliefs, values, expectations, goals, family of origin, cultural background, ethnicity and stories make up who you are. EFT does not see the need to change people as we believe everyone can develop awareness and express previously hidden thoughts and feelings as clients already have the strength and innate ability to heal themselves. EFT provides a map or a safe approach to doing so allowing you to try new ways of interacting with others that allow your whole, true or authentic self to emerge. Speaking what we really think and feel to others helps us become who we truly are meant to be.
As well as focusing on each of you as individuals the EFT approach has the additional benefit of looking at the relationship as a whole with its patterns and dances. A lot of couples fall into certain patterns of relating to one another where each partner takes on or adopts a particular role or stance in the relationship. For example one partner may pursue the other by requesting something, whereas the other partner may interpret this as a criticism or attack and become defensive, partner A then pursues again this time more harshly and by this time partner B has withdrawn into silence. There are many varied and alternate variations to this type of dance with some partners adopting a mutual attack attack mode.
EFT works to shift and undermine some of these entrenched patterns of relating giving couples new opportunities to interact to each other in different ways helping them resolve long standing arguments and resentments. Working from the perspective of an individual lens alongside keeping a focus on the whole relationship facilitates long term change where you become the experts in managing your own ways of relating to each other.
An Experiential way of Working
EFT is an experiential therapeutic approach which means that clients try out new ways of speaking to their partner or experiment with different ways of thinking and feeling about themselves. New approaches are practiced and explored in the counselling session to help facilitate different insights and awareness concerning the issues at hand. Clients often experience shifts in their perception of a problem and with couples the aim is to ensure new, positive emotional experiences take place in the counselling room between partners. Practicing these new behaviours and approaches at home can help to speed up the process of therapy and consolidate the changes already being made.
What is the Role of the Counsellor?
In EFT Counselling and most forms of person-centred, experiential approaches to therapy the relationship between the Counsellor and yourself is of paramount importance. Healing relationship and other hurts is no easy task so you need someone who is going to be sensitive, caring and supportive as well as an expert in their therapeutic approach.
In the sessions when working with couples I take on a variety of different roles including being at times a coach, a supporter, a gatekeeper (to keep it safe), an educator, a referee, a participant, an observer and most importantly a caring and sensitive listener. Clients are comfortable working with me and me with them as at all times I am prioritising their needs, wants and goals to ensure they heal their relationship pain and are able to move forward with their lives at the end of the process.