Emotion Focused Therapy Skills and Training

Core Training Groups & Seminars

Core Training Group: Emotion-Focused Therapy for Individuals

Emotion-focused therapy (EFT) originated from Laura Rice and Leslie Greenberg's efforts to develop a method to identify and research critical change sequences (tasks) in psychotherapy during the seventies. They presented this research model in Patterns of Change (1984). The other foundation of EFT developed from the effort to understand the role of emotion and different modes of emotional processing in successful change events. Greenberg and Safran presented the origins of this aspect of EFT in Emotions in Psychotherapy (1987). These two lines of investigation evolved into the hallmark of all approaches to EFT: tracking and attuning to the client's moment-by-moment experience while using optimal, emotion focused tasks to move the therapy forward.

The first treatment manual on EFT for individuals by Greenberg, Rice, & Elliot was published in 1993. Since that time, the model has been elaborated and validated as an effective treatment for a wide variety of problems (see EFT books). EFT now sees emotional problems as arising from issues with affect regulation, emotional awareness, and maladaptive emotion schemes. To work with these issues, the approach has three phases: building an affect regulating bond and increasing awareness of internal experience; developing internal support for more intense emotional experience and evoking core maladaptive emotion schemes; and transforming these schemes with new emotional responses and new narratives. Specific, research validated tasks are detailed for each phase of therapy.

Research in this school has progressed in several directions that have advanced an understanding of the emotional change process underlying the original task models. This leads to an approach that emphasizes tracking the high level emotional change process and using this map, along with specific markers, to guide the use of ongoing, lower level interventions (tasks). Our approach emphasizes the importance of building skills in tracking both levels.

Our training starts with a detailed review of EFT principles on the therapeutic relationship, emotion, emotional processing, change processes, and the use of marker guided therapy tasks. We believe that the wider adoption of EFT for individuals has been hampered by a lack of clarity regarding the sequence of tasks used in individual therapy and their relationship to higher level change models. To address this problem, a clear model of the optimal sequence of tasks, how they relate to each other, and how they fit within the overall therapy process is presented. We then facilitate building competence in the specific intervention skills associated with each task by using experiential skill building exercises and role plays.

Finally, our training integrates concepts from affective neuroscience on affect regulation and contemporary relational psychodynamic theory on mentalizing. We teach interventions based on these concepts to help clients increase their capacity to accept, reflect on, and transform intense, vulnerable, core emotional states.

Core Training Group: Emotion-Focused Therapy for Couples

Emotion-focused therapy for couples (EFT-C) has been evolving for three decades. The first treatment manual on EFT-C by Greenberg and Johnson was published in 1988. The model was clarified and developed over the next two decades by Johnson, who emphasized that attachment issues are at the core of couple conflicts. Greenberg and Goldman, updating the model in 2008, focus on the affect regulation issues underlying attachment conflicts. This is consistent with Allan Schore's position that increased understanding of the right brain systems that underlie attachment has led to a shift from classic attachment theory to affect regulation theory.

Our training includes the concepts used in Johnson's approach (The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy) and adds critical concepts from Greenberg and Goldman's updated model (Emotion-Focused Couples Therapy: The dynamics of emotion, love and power). While these two schools of EFT-C are based on the same core principles and overlap considerably in practice, there are significant differences.

Johnson emphasizes that conflict in couples is maintained by unmet attachment needs for comfort and connection. Greenberg and Goldman agree that attachment needs for connection are important, but state that equally important needs for validation of identity maintain very different conflicts involving control, power struggles, and definition of reality (who's right). Identity needs involve respect and validation of opinions and experience, appreciation of competence, and support of preferences and choices (agency). Greenberg also maintains that an emphasis on emotional accessibility and responsiveness (other-soothing) to meet needs for comfort and connection can minimize individual conflicts and issues with self-soothing. In addition, the lack of interaction between the two schools makes it difficult to integrate individual EFT tasks into ongoing couple work.

We start with a detailed review of EFT principles on the therapeutic relationship, emotion, the change process, and systematic/interactional dynamics. We then present an approach that emphasizes tracking the basic tasks of EFT-C across the steps of the therapy process. This approach highlights the common EFT model underlying individual and couple work and facilitates the use of individual EFT tasks at critical junctures in couple therapy as advocated by Greenberg and Goldman. Experiential skill building exercises and role plays are used throughout the training to facilitate building competence in the specific intervention skills associated with each task and step.

Finally, our training integrates concepts from affective neuroscience on affect regulation and contemporary relational psychodynamic theory on mentalizing. We teach interventions based on these concepts to decrease reactivity and increase self-reflection and empathy in couples. Mentalizing, the capacity to feel while also reflecting on both one's own and one's partner's experience, is central to stable affect regulation, appropriate self-soothing, and secure attachment.

Training Seminar: Integrating Analytic and Experiential Technique

Charles offers a small group seminar, Analytic Technique for Experiential Therapists. It reviews concepts and interventions based on contemporary relational psychodynamic theories to expand the repertoire of therapists trained in experiential or process approaches. Readings on psychodynamic concepts and techniques, guided discussions, role plays, and case consultation are utilized to provide therapists with opportunities for both theoretical and experiential learning. Readings for the seminar are drawn from a list of books on relational psychodynamic psychotherapy.

Training Seminar: Working with Character Issues

Jamie offers a small group seminar, When Brief Therapy Doesn't Work: Working with Character Issues. It utilizes contemporary relational psychodynamic theories to understand character issues that often lead to impasses in therapy. Readings on character development and specific character styles, guided discussions, role plays, and case consultation are utilized to provide therapists with opportunities for both theoretical and experiential learning. Request a copy of Jamie's summary of different character styles.