Written by Jonathan Zalesne
When explaining what EFT is, I usually start by explaining what EFT is not.
There is a lot of great research out there about how couples who are in secure and healthy relationships behave with each other. They speak to each other without contempt. They have healthy sex lives. They turn towards each other instead of away. They manage conflict well. They create shared meaning. They trust each other and they are committed to each other.
Most traditional couple therapies are behavioral in nature and strive to help couples learn skills so that they can behave in a manner consistent with all that great research about how healthy couples interact with each other. And it often works… for a while. Couples entering couple therapy generally feel good because they are doing something together to strengthen their relationship. And many love the idea of trying all these great techniques. But I am unaware of any research that demonstrates that these behavioral techniques improve relationships in the long term. In fact, what tends to happen is that couples eventually fall back into their old negative patterns, which is what had caused them to turn away from each other in the first place.
EFT takes a different approach. EFT practitioners believe that couples’ negative patterns come from a place of insecurity in their relationship and that only when people feel fundamentally safer in their relationship will those patterns change over the long term. So the EFT practitioner does not try to teach clients to behave differently, instead, we help our clients get underneath their negative patterns and change them from the bottom up. We help each person explore the emotional and body responses that they have when certain triggers are present. We help them put words to the thought patterns they have in those distressing situations. And we help them identify their own behaviors and help them feel the connection between their inward emotional experience with their outward behaviors. These explorations are deep and slow, so they have great resonance with both partners. And the EFT research shows that when we help couples do this over and over in the therapy room — notice their triggers, feel their emotion, connect their emotions with their thoughts, tie it all to their action tendency, and then turn and tell their partner about it from that place of emotion – they stop blaming themselves and their partner for these “bad behaviors” and they start to learn ON THEIR OWN how to interrupt their negative patterns. This, in a nutshell, is Stage 1 of EFT. It is creating a deep understanding of the negative cycles that drive couples apart and then interrupting those cycles.
Stage 1 of EFT, which generally takes up about 70% of the therapy, sets us up to do the deep explorations of self and others that we do in Stage 2. Once couples are better able to slow themselves down and interrupt their negative patterns, we find that they have enough trust in their relationship and their partner to begin a much deeper exploration into their working models; their core beliefs about themselves, about their partner, and about their relationship. We help them find their longings and feel their own fear of vulnerability reaching to their partner to ask for their needs to be met. Then, with that fear alive in the room, we prompt them to reach towards their partner. And if we have done our work well in stage 1, their partner shows up for them and responds differently than they expected; and that is a jarring experience. Their brain had been conditioned to expect one thing, and when it gets something different, something better, something safer, it must rewire itself to account for these new experiences. These are the change events of EFT. And the research shows that when clients have these new experiences of each other, they start to feel less anxious and depressed, and they start turning towards each other more vulnerably on their own long after therapy is over. In short, they start to naturally behave the way we would have tried to teach them. But now these new behaviors stick because they are rooted in safety.
Do you want to learn more? Here are some helpful links:
For more information on EFT research, go here: https://iceeft.com/eft-research-3/
For more information on what it takes to become a certified EFT therapist, go here: https://iceeft.com/road-to-certification/
And if you just want to talk about EFT and learn a bit more about it, please don’t hesitate to contact me here: https://coloradocouples.com/contact/