Couples seeking help are no different to those who do not seek help, neither are their problems unusual. In fact, most couples will experience a period of difficulty as they grow together, and this is a natural part of a couple’s relationship. Sometimes, this is because of a buildup of frustration and disappointment over time, sometimes because there is some other issue or meaning underlying the conflict. Other couples seek help as a result of a crisis in the relationship, such as an affair or apparent loss of affection and caring, or a traumatic event, such as an illness or loss in the family.
Families can struggle too and they seek help for a number of reasons. These reasons can include poor communication, frequent arguing, unfulfilled emotional needs, financial concerns and conflicts about how to parent children. Problems often occur at key transition points, i.e. when children are emerging into adolescence, when one member has suffered a significant injury or sickness, or any change in routine or situation that sends the family into a state of destabilization. In these instances, we may recommend family therapy. This type of therapy focuses on the relationships between all members of the family and as such, all members would need to commit to attending therapy. At some points however, the focus may shift to the parental couple for a period of time. If parents are wondering whether their children should be involved in the sessions, they should discuss this with the practitioner.
Our practitioners use an approach to couples and family therapy called ‘Emotionally Focused Therapy’ or EFT. EFT is an empirically tested model that has shown excellent outcomes with many different kinds of couples and families. A substantial body of research outlining the effectiveness of EFT now exists. Research studies for instance find that 70-75% of couples move from distress to recovery and approximately 90% show significant improvements. It has also shown positive results with couples who are dealing with particularly difficult problems, for example, where partners are trauma survivors, are caring for a chronically ill child, have experienced infidelity in the relationship, or are struggling with depression as a result of relationship distress.
EFT views the central problem in a distressed relationship as the loss of secure emotional connection and the pattern of negative interactions that both reflects and perpetuates this loss. When we experience our partner or a parent as unavailable, or we feel in any way unsafe within our family, this starts an “alarm” in our system that urges us to pull our loved ones close again. The signals we send that tells our loved one that we need them in order to settle us down and turn our alarm off, often become distorted and shaded with criticism, anger or apparent indifference. Our loved one will then act towards us in similarly angry/indifferent ways. This feeds a negative spiral of interaction. This spiral erodes trust and continually worsens each person’s sense of vulnerability and isolation.
EFT helps individuals take control of this negative pattern. It helps guide them in sending emotional signals about their needs for love and security, in a way that encourages their partner or family member to respond with love and compassion. In this way a new emotional experience of secure connection is developed, giving each person a sense that the other person can be Accessible, Responsive and Engaged (A.R.E.). It is this that transforms our intimate and family relationships. Partners and family members who are able to openly reach for and connect with each other can create effective dependency that makes for a safe haven from which to grow.
Goals of Couples Therapy:
The goal of this type of therapy is to help couples repair, enhance and continually grow their love relationship.
- Better understand their own and their partner’s emotional responses and needs.
- Be able to describe and control negative interactions that create and maintain pain and distance.
- Be able to shape the positive moments of reaching and responding that creates a secure bond and gives a map to follow to ward against future crises in their relationship.
EFT is a model that prizes the couple and their innate need to be loved and supported and to do the same for their partner. An EFT therapist does not teach ‘skills’ as these are already naturally available in everyone when we feel safe and supported in a loving relationship. In this way, EFT helps couples reconstruct their relationship into a robust trusting and loving safe haven.
Goals of Family Therapy:
The goal of this type of therapy is to help dissolve the blocks to a parent or caregiver’s wired-in capacity to provide protection and nurturance. It also frees up the child to more safely reach to their parent or caregiver more easily when they require support or nurturance.
- Better understand what makes secure family connections and the key moves that define the level of closeness or distance between members.
- Better understand one’s own and other family member’s emotional responses and needs.
- Be able to recognise and then reduce negative interactions that create a sense of isolation and lack of support.
- Be able to shape more positive moments of reaching and responding to create a more secure bond. This allows for the family to change adaptively as children grow into adulthood and beyond.