What is Emotion-Focused Therapy

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on May 14, 2023
3 min read

If you tend to suppress your emotions to the point that it harms your health, emotion-focused therapy may help. Learn more about what it is and how it can improve your health.

Emotion-focused therapy (EFT) approaches healing from the belief that emotions are strongly linked to identity. Emotions guide us in defining preferences and making decisions on a daily basis. EFT assumes that:

  • Lack of emotional awareness is harmful
  • Avoiding your emotions can lead to negative outcomes in your life
  • Over time, ignoring or avoiding your emotional response may alter your ability to process emotions later on

A therapist trained in emotion-focused therapy can help you to gain awareness of your emotions and understand them. These professionals can offer you coping strategies for facing and managing your emotions.

Techniques used during emotion-focused therapy. During an EFT session, you and your therapist have an equal share in the therapy outcome. Your collaboration is an active process that develops over time. Your therapist guides you in interpreting your emotions instead of telling you what they perceive from your experiences. Your therapist will:

  • Listen with compassion
  • Not pass judgment on your feelings
  • Use a reflective approach for asking questions

Emotion-focused therapy in action. There are two foundational skills that are important for EFT therapy outcomes: 

  • You can arrive at your emotions by increasing your awareness and acceptance of your feelings.
  • You can translate your emotions into helpful information as a way of preventing negative outcomes.

Each person moves at their own pace through emotion-focused therapy. In your sessions, your therapist will try to help you:

  • Gain awareness of your emotions
  • Be open to welcoming your emotions, no matter what they are
  • Allow your emotions to flow freely without restriction 
  • Regulate your emotions so they don’t overwhelm you 
  • Describe how you’re feeling in detail
  • Understand the “why” behind your emotions

Once you achieve these outcomes, your next steps in therapy include:

  • Identifying emotions as helpful or unhelpful
  • Use your emotions to guide your actions
  • Understanding where unhelpful emotions come from and changing them 
  • Develop healthy coping strategies 
  • Establish an internal monologue that helps you overcome negative thoughts 

Measuring success. Emotion-focused therapy is considered a success once you achieve the goals of:

  • Increasing awareness of your emotional experience as a whole
  • Improving your emotional regulation and coping strategies 

Emotion-focused therapy is beneficial in a variety of scenarios. 

Depression. If you have depression, you may tend to avoid situations in your day-to-day life. This often leads to a lower mood and may continue in a downward spiral. EFT helps you face these situations with a sense of empowerment. While it doesn’t cure depression, emotion-focused therapy gives you the tools to overcome symptoms that lead to worse feelings.

Anxiety. If you have severe anxiety, you may be overwhelmed by your lack of ability to regulate your emotions. Fear and worry overtake your life, and functioning becomes more difficult. Emotion-focused therapy empowers you to differentiate between helpful and unhelpful emotions for better self-regulation. 

Emotion-focused therapy also helps address: 

  • Childhood abuse or neglect
  • Eating disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Interpersonal issues with others
  • EFT has also been found potentially effective in working with couples in distress

It’s proven to be effective. Studies show that EFT is beneficial for individual and couples therapy. In multiple studies that compared therapeutic approaches, emotion-focused therapy gave results that were as effective if not more effective than other traditional methods of therapy. The most notable outcome of one study showed that EFT has 77% effectiveness for non-relapse. 

Other benefits include: 

  • Identifying the relationship between outcome and empathy
  • Establishing alliance for couples 
  • Better depth of experiencing in everyday life
  • Making sense of emotions 

Can’t treat all issues. If you have specific psychological issues, like panic or impulse control, EFT can only get you so far. Your experiences with panic and impulse control extend beyond your emotions to:

  • Thoughts
  • Feelings
  • Sensations

You have to be open to change. For emotion-focused therapy to work, you have to commit to the process. If you aren’t completely open and honest, you won’t achieve the desired outcomes. If you are able to show compassion to yourself and be honest with your therapist, then EFT may be right for you. 

Symptoms may remain. Emotion-focused therapy is designed to improve your overall functioning. If mental health symptoms remain after completing emotion-focused therapy, talk to your doctor.