Couples Therapy

With Valentine's Day approaching, I decided that this week might be a good week to focus on my work as a couples therapist. As you may have seen on other pages of my website, I work with both individuals and couples; and when I work with couples, I work within the context of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT). So, what is EFT, and why did I choose to practice within this model?

To back up a bit, I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I completed undergraduate and graduate degrees in Psychology, with my graduate degree focusing on marriage and family therapy. However, like many graduate programs of its kind, my program required completion of one course in couples therapy. One course. In a 2-3 year graduate program. Now, there’s a lot to cover in these programs, and my overall training and education is grounded in the observation, assessment, and treatment of people within the context of relationships despite only one course in couples therapy. I suppose I give this background to emphasize that ongoing training is often needed post-graduate school, and I encourage prospective clients to learn about the training background of a therapist. Following graduate school, I spent several years working primarily with individuals and families; I received additional training and clinical experience in working with and processing trauma. After I obtained my MFT licensure, I began to seek out and explore other training; EFT feels like it kind of fell into my lap. I happened to pick out Dr. Sue Johnson’s books Hold Me Tight and Love Sense, and everything just clicked. EFT fit with my understanding, approach, and experience with people in and out of a clinical setting. I moved forward with completing an EFT externship and series of core skills trainings, and continue my training within EFT to this day.

What is EFT?

EFT is a theory and approach to couples therapy that is supported by empirical research. It was developed in the 1980’s alongside research on adult attachment, and is based in the theory of attachment. EFT recognizes that humans have an innate need for attachment and connection to others, and that relationship distress often develops if one or both partners in a relationship perceive the safety, security, or closeness of the relationship to be threatened. EFT seeks to identify and understand current cycles and emotional responses that maintain distress; create shifts in the cycle and interaction between partners; and foster a secure bond within a relationship.

How is communication addressed?

Couples often seek out therapy reporting communication problems. EFT is an experiential and process-oriented approach to couples therapy. This means that we are working within the present moment to identify, understand, and eventually shift the way in which partners are interacting and relating. We are not focusing on past events, although we do use the past to understand the present experience. We also do not focus on the content of disagreements or distress, but rather how distress is experienced and communicated by each partner. Partners do often experience a new way of communicating with one another as they develop a greater understanding of the current cycles and begin to make a shift towards different patterns of interacting, but the focus of sessions is not on teaching communication skills or tools.

What can I expect?

If a couple decides to move forward with therapy with me, I follow a fairly standard format. The first several sessions are focused on assessment; this will create a strong foundation to move forward from in treatment. I complete one assessment session with the couple, and then one assessment session with each individual. Following these initial sessions, we will come back together and discuss moving forward with treatment. If, during the course of assessment, barriers or contraindications to EFT have been identified, I discuss possible treatment options and/or referrals.

EFT is considered a short-term model of couples therapy. That being said, the length of treatment can vary based on many factors and I cannot guarantee the completion of treatment in a specific number of sessions. EFT does utilize specific strategies and interventions, and can be mapped out into nine steps.

How do I get more information?

The websites for the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT) and the Los Angeles Center for Emotionally Focused Therapy (LACEFT) have great information for both therapists and non-therapists. I also often recommend Dr. Sue Johnson’s books Love Sense and Hold Me Tight.

To learn more or to book an appointment, contact me via telephone or email.

Brenna Burke, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Santa Clarita, CA. She provides individual psychotherapy and couples counseling. Information provided through this website is for informational purposes only. It does not create a therapist-client relationship and does not replace clinical assessment or professional consultation.