Emotionally Focused Therapy Improves Relationships Damaged by Trauma
Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) is a form of therapy that is often used in the context of couples counseling. It focuses on identifying and modifying couples’ emotional interactions. It works towards building healthy attachments and bonds between partners. This focus of EFT on emotions and bonding is what makes this therapy such an effective treatment for individuals and couples who have been impacted by trauma. Trauma destroys healthy attachments; EFT helps couples learn how to rebuild them.
A study was completed on the effectiveness of EFT for couples in which one partner had experienced childhood sexual abuse. This study found that 50% of participants reported significant improvement in relationship satisfaction at the end of treatment.[i] Other forms of trauma have been studied as well. For example, researchers looked at the effectiveness of EFT in the couple relationships of veterans who experienced combat trauma. These couples also reported increases in relationship satisfaction following EFT.[ii]
What makes EFT for couples effective in the aftermath of trauma? One of the main reasons has to do with how trauma impacts the attachment a couple has with one another. For example, research shows that many survivors of childhood sexual abuse develop an avoidant style of attachment. Many survivors of sexual abuse were abused by a close family member or friend. They grow up believing that people are not to be trusted, which makes them fearful and anxious in the context of close relationships. Survivors of abuse tend to avoid intimacy and sharing, which is often difficult on their partner.
Emotionally Focused Therapy provides the ideal setting for couples to move away from anxious and avoidant means of relating. The research study on EFT for survivors of sexual abuse described the counseling process in this way: “Through EFT…therapists assist couples in creating corrective emotional experiences where expectations and fears concerning others can be revised.” Another way to put this is that EFT helps trauma survivors relearn how to be in relationship with someone who is trustworthy.
As a couple’s relationship begins to heal through EFT, this leads to another necessary area of healing. The trauma survivor often begins to find healing from their actual trauma symptoms in the context of that improved relationship. The next article will discuss in detail how this happens.
[i] Dalton, E. J., Greenman, P.S., Classen. C.C., Johnson, S. M. (2013). Nurturing connections in the aftermath of childhood trauma: A randomized controlled trial of emotionally focused couple therapy for female survivors of childhood abuse. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice. 2(3), 209-221.
[ii] Weissman, N., Batten, S. V., Rheem, K. D., Wiebe, S. A., Pasillas, R. M., Potts, W., Barone, M., Brown, C. H., & Dixon, L. B. (2017). The effectiveness of emotionally focused couples therapy with veterans with PTSD: A pilot study. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 0(0), 1-17.