Emotion focused therapy (EFT) is a school of therapeutic thought that links human behavior and functioning to the adaptive power of emotions.

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It’s not uncommon for people to try to control or avoid their deepest, most unsettling emotions. You may have heard the phrase, “feelings aren’t facts.” That may be true, but even so, acceptance of your emotions, and the ability to change them when needed, are necessary for emotional well-being and healthy relationships.

In this article, we’ll go into detail about emotion focused therapy. We’ll explain when it’s used, how it works, and who it may be best for.

Emotion focused therapy (EFT), co-founded by Leslie S. Greenberg, PhD, in the 1980s, is a form of humanistic therapy (also called humanistic psychology).

Humanistic therapy is a whole-person approach that takes every aspect of the individual into account, instead of just their dysfunction. EFT was founded on the concept that emotional change is pivotal to generating enduring, life-altering change.

One of EFT’s underlying principles is that emotions are fundamental to the development of the individual. Emotions are used by people to make sense of their environment. Emotions enable you to establish goals and identify your needs and values. Your emotions help dictate your actions and enable you to figure out how to achieve well-being.

EFT stresses the adaptive potential of emotions to exact change. It focuses on helping people understand their emotions, so they can recognize how those emotions affect their behaviors and experiences in the world.

Since its inception, EFT has become a highly recognized, evidence-based therapy. It’s used in therapeutic settings to treat individuals, couples, and families.

Conditions and issues that can be addressed through EFT include:

During an EFT therapy session, your therapist will use empathy and understanding to create a safe setting where you’ll feel comfortable and secure. They’ll guide you toward identifying, feeling, and experiencing your emotions, rather than stuffing them down or trying to control them.

EFT therapists are trained to identify problems with emotional processing and to intervene, or guide, their patients accordingly.

Your therapist will help you make sense of your emotions through the principles of emotional intervention:

  • Awareness: identifying and naming your feelings
  • Expression: overcoming avoidance of your emotions so you can express them
  • Regulation: learning distress tolerance skills so you can better manage intense emotions, such as pain
  • Reflection: learning how to make sense of your emotional experience and the situations that caused them
  • Transformation: learning how to transform maladaptive emotions, such as fear and shame, into adaptive, positive feelings
  • Corrective experience of emotion: supporting you to have new, lived experiences that can change old emotions

EFT can help people change the emotions that motivate their behavior and thoughts. They’re guided toward facing and managing negative emotions and transforming them into positive ones.

As a result, people who go through this therapy successfully are better able to accept themselves. They’re taught how to make sense of situations in their past that created emotional trauma and to transform those emotions adeptly.

EFT helps people figure out when their emotions are helpful in guiding them through certain situations, and when they need to alter maladaptive, unhelpful emotions.

EFT supports healthy relationships by helping people understand the dynamics between themselves and their families or partners. This enables better communication, behaviors, and thoughts.

In many ways, therapy is work. In order for EFT to be successful, you must be able to accept your current emotional state and feelings.

A basic concept of EFT is that emotions are adaptive. However, you need to feel your feelings before you can change them. People who are unable or unwilling to experience and go through emotional pain may not reap the full benefits of EFT.

EFT may not be the best approach for people who have chronic mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

The literature about EFT doesn’t include references to people looking to overcome phobias.

EFT therapists go through rigorous training to do this work effectively. You may be able to find a therapist by country through the International Society for Emotion Focused Therapy. In the United States, you may be able to find an EFT therapist by contacting the Emotion Focused Therapy Institute.

While not specific to EFT, the organizations listed below provide lists of therapists you can contact, to ask if they practice EFT. Keep in mind that some therapists practice emotionally focused therapy, rather than emotion focused therapy. These schools of therapeutic thought are both valuable, but differ in therapeutic theory and practice.

Emotion focused therapy (EFT) is a type of therapeutic practice that focuses on the role of emotions in psychotherapeutic change. It’s used to treat depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions in individuals. It’s also used in couples and family therapy.