As a couple and family therapist, I work from a model primarily informed by Emotion Focused Therapy. This integrates Attachment Theory as well as the teachings and values of Virginia Satir and Carl Rogers.
Emotionally Focused Therapy or Emotion Focused Therapy is a short-term structured approach to couple therapy that typically takes 8-20 sessions.
EFT is based on a clear understanding of the causes of marital distress (what makes relationships go wrong) and a clearly delineated map of adult love and adult needs for attachment security (what adults really need to be able to love and find satisfying long-term happiness). EFT is being used successfully with couples of different cultural backgrounds and sexual orientations.
Attachment strategies were first identified in studies of separations between mothers and infants done in the 1950’s. The first publication of attachment in adult love came in the late eighties. Emotionally Focused Therapy is built on an attachment view of adult love.
This means that adults, like children have a basic need for a secure connection to a significant other. The classic Winnie the Pooh story conveys this need to feel sure a significant other is there for us:
Piglet sidled up to Pooh, “Pooh?” asked Piglet.
“Yes”, answered Pooh, taking Piglet’s hand.
“Oh nothing”, said Piglet, ” I just wanted to be sure of you.”
Attachment theory suggests we all have this innate and motivating force, to be securely connected to significant others. While society often denigrates and negates our needs for other people, belittling “dependency” needs, attachment is actually a sign of health that fosters autonomy and self-confidence. The more we can depend on others, the more secure we feel and therefore, the more independent we can be.
The influence of attachment theory on my therapeutic work means that I work with the positive growth force in each individual as well as the force that drives us towards attachment to others. This “attachment force” seeks to create a safe haven for comfort and security, where both people are available and responsive to one another. This creates a secure base from which to confidently move out into the world.
As an Emotionally Focused Therapist, I help you and your partner identify the strategies and positions you have developed as you have sought answers to the basic questions, “Will you be there for me when I need you?” and “Can I depend on you when I need you? Based on this view of adult love, the key goal of Emotion Focused Therapy is to help you develop a more secure and loving bond.
Virginia Satir is a pioneer in the field of family therapy, recognized in 2007 by the Psychotherapy Networker as the fifth most influential therapist of the past quarter-century. She has influenced me in her views of the impact of the larger system on individuals and families and her belief in the positive intentions of every behaviour.
I also hold her value of creating an experience of change within the couple therapy session, since words and homework assignments alone are not enough to create positive change. As a therapist, she sought to be a companion helping people tune into their own wisdom. I seek to follow her challenge to be fully present with who I am as a person to the couples I work with. She modeled the warm, empathic therapeutic presence and style that I seek to offer my clients.
Carl Rogers identified as the single most influential psychotherapist in a survey done in 1982 and again in 2006, has influenced me profoundly with his emphasis on the qualities of the therapeutic relationship: empathy, respect and genuineness of the therapist. Most important is his teaching of empathic understanding, attunement and responsiveness and the essential role these play is successful therapy.
During our therapy, responding empathically to you and your partner means that I will respond as if I am walking inside the shoes of your relationship: sensing, tasting, feeling, and seeing as accurately as I can, what it is like for each of you. I then seek to put into words what you and your partner may be experiencing, but not quite know how to express to each another.
What is Unique About Me and Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy?
The following 4 factors are some of the distinctions between Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy and more traditional forms of couple therapy.
1. The Dilemma of Staying vs. Leaving
“Do you want to stay together or not?” Many therapists ask this question. If you are not happy in the relationship they will often help you to find a way to separate. If they are not specifically trained in an effective model of couple therapy, such as Emotionally Focused Therapy, they may help you grow as individuals so that you can separate in a healthy way. However, this approach may miss addressing the opportunity you and your partner have of saving your relationship by strengthening the bond between you.
Rather than simply encourage you to leave if you are not happy, my training in an attachment theory of adult love and Emotionally Focused Therapy equips me with tools to help you rediscover your lost love. As an Emotionally Focused Therapist, I will help you work towards saving your relationship, unless, of course, the two of you have already decided you want to separate.
I recognize that you do not want to stay in your relationship the way it is! Before discussing separation with you, I will invite you to explore how to save your relationship.
2. Improving your Communication Skills vs. Rediscovering your Love for One Another
Do you want to negotiate a fairer deal or to bond again with the love of your life?
Some couples’ therapists treat a couple relationship like a bargain to be negotiated, or like a business relationship to be handled fairly.
Learning negotiation skills or completing homework assignments to talk more positively to one another or to go out on dates again is not enough to save your relationship or re-discover your love again. These activities will not reorganize the negative patterns that have developed between you. Using Emotionally Focused Couple therapy, I can help you to defeat your negative patterns and reorganize your emotions and actions towards each other. I can help you develop a stronger, loving bond with one another.
Hurting hearts do not heal with a “fair bargain.” There needs to be deeper understanding between you can your partner in order to rediscover love and patterns of caring so you can meet each others needs.
Emotionally Focused Therapy recognizes a couple relationship as a bond of human hearts that gets broken or damaged through misunderstandings and hurtful events.
Partners get stuck in negative patterns of criticism and defense as they try their best to make up for misunderstandings and hurts. “We go around and around in this crazy dance,” many couples say. Misunderstandings build up and criticism and self-defense turns into chilly distance and contempt. “How can you go down a different path?”
Together, through Emotionally Focused Therapy we can find a path to rediscover your love and to keep it alive.
This connection or bond with your partner is what I, as an Emotionally Focused Therapist can help you repair. Research shows that human beings are wired for connection. Our survival depends on bonds and harmony with significant others in your life. We can survive debilitating illnesses, solitary confinement, and torture when we have a secure connection with other human beings. “Matters of the heart” are what keep us alive. You need to know, “Will you be there for me when I need you?”
Couple relationships are matters of the heart. When you repair the bond with your partner through Emotion Focused Therapy, you will find the greatest place of security and comfort. Your relationship will feel “refueled.” This is far richer and more sustaining than a fairly negotiated bargain!
3. Fighting aimlessly in therapy vs. Rediscovering your best friend
Some therapists allow couples to repeat their negative fights or cold silences in the therapy room, without knowing how to engage them in finding a healthier way to talk.
Clients tell me that they have not felt “safe” in therapy with a therapist who allows their old fighting to continue. I will work with you differently: I take charge of the session so that you do not just repeat your same old fights and hurt each other more. We explore how you fight and together identify the negative cycle or “dance” that you automatically follow.
How you fight or how you interact when you are not getting along is the real enemy that threatens your friendship and intimate bond. Through Emotionally Focused Therapy, I help you join together against the threat of your hurtful cycles.
As an Emotion Focused Couple Therapist, I help you slow down the conversation so that you can actually hear what your partner is saying. I help each of you slow down enough so that you can find the safe and soft places in your heart for each other. I help to create safety and soon you begin to talk with each other in a different way.
You will then start becoming more respectful and friendly with each other outside of our couple therapy sessions. Eventually, by getting along more comfortably and feeling cared for, you spontaneously create solutions to your old conflicts.
In Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, I will provide the safety you need to rediscover your best friend and save your relationship. Safety in therapy is:
- a calm place to discuss and explore your relationship WITHOUT repeating your same old fights and hurting each other more in the therapy room
- having a competent couples therapist and coach, to help you explore beneath the surface of your routine arguments to the softer longings and needs that will draw you close together again.
4. Men and women are from different planets vs. we are all from the same planet
Some therapists try to help couples accept that men and women are like two different beings from different planets with little hope of ever talking the same language. This view holds you back from a happy relationship by suggesting that you cannot change. For example, you have likely heard things like, ”Men can’t express feelings. They need to go into their cave whenever they get upset. They cannot talk about what is wrong without blowing up or going off alone to cool down.” Or, “Women are from another planet and don’t like sex unless they are wooed with flowers and long romantic chats.”
Thinking of your partner as an alien from another world is not only inaccurate, it can be damaging. It can keep you living like strangers and block your attempts to save your relationship! It can also stop you from fully understanding and appreciating yourself and your partner.
These rigid differences are not true. Men and women can learn to communicate and to effectively meet each other’s needs. In fact, researchers such as Rosalind Barnett and Caryl Rivers in their book Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships (2004) have shown that men and women are more alike than they are different. Both women and men generally want their intimate partners to show them affection, warmth, and understanding according to researchers such as Canary & Emmers-Sommer (1997) and Reis (2000).
Partners in heterosexual or homosexual relationships are all from the same planet, with similar human needs: to be accepted, loved, valued and cared for. Men and women world-wide know the universal language of the heart: emotions. The emotions of the heart pull us towards seeking out and caring for our loved ones. With respectful understanding and skillful therapeutic support, both genders can communicate in this language.
Emotionally Focused Therapy has been proven to effectively help couples strengthen their emotional bond. Why not give it a try and see if it can make you happier together as well?