“The only source of knowledge is experience.” – Albert Einstein
This quote of Einstein’s speaks to the heart of the effectiveness of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy: In order to effect lasting change, each person must have a different direct emotional experience of one another as part of the process of therapy. While a shift in their cognitive understanding of what fuels their relationship distress is helpful, it does not bring about change on the level that is needed in order for true recovery from relationship distress to occur.
It is for this reason that enactments are used as a regular part of the EFT model, beginning in the first session. Enactments are one way the EFT therapist “choreographs” the therapy process. After exploring one member of the couple’s experience and distilling it in such a way that will be more palatable for the other person to hear (for example, sharing their own emotional experience rather than focusing on their partner’s shortcomings), the therapist then asks the person to turn to his partner and share this distilled version directly. This begins the repetitive process that helps each person become more aware of their impact on the another and experience a different way of conveying and receiving emotional messages.
This distilling process is essential. The EFT therapist is looking for the attachment meaning in the couple’s struggle and the more vulnerable emotions that underly the presenting behaviors and communications, such as sadness, loneliness, or fears around one’s lovability or of losing the important other.
Starting with the first session, we want the couple to become accustomed to talking with one another directly, generally with the therapist’s help, for several reasons:
- The EFT therapist knows the level of vulnerability that needs to be accessed and shared in order for the change events of EFT to occur. However, if she/he waits until later in the process to ask the couple to turn and share with one another, it will seem foreign and awkward, creating more resistance, and therefore less effective.
- It is only through engaging directly with their partner, face to face, nervous system to nervous system, that the important emotions that are the essence of a love relationship get evoked–both in the speaker and the listener–and are most powerfully communicated.
- Often couples are sharing emotions that they’ve never shared before. If these emotions aren’t accessed and shared, it is not at all uncommon for their partner to believe they simply don’t have them, which can easily equate with feeling unloved. It is such sharing with which each member of the couple needs to become comfortable, as emotions are the messengers of love.
In Stage One of EFT, the types of enactments that occur will be, in all likelihood, less deep, but the guideline is still to help the couple to share in a new way.
It is in Stage Two that profound shifts occur when, after further deepening each person’s awareness of attachment fears and needs with the therapist, each has an experience of turning, sharing, and being received by their partner in a positive way on this most intimate level. When both people can do this, we know that they are capable of creating a secure bond and that our work is done.
Jill Fischer, LICSW, is a certified EFT trainer, supervisor, and therapist. She is the director of the New England Center for EFT, and she has a private practice devoted exclusively to couples in Lebanon NH.