An exploration of the role of attachment theory in emotionally focused therapy for couples

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O'Keeffe, Delphine
Issue Date
Higher Diploma in Arts in Counselling and Psychotherapy
Dublin Business School
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Advocates of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples present it as a clearly-defined, effective approach to resolving couple distress. Grounded in attachment theory, a nine-step process is used to facilitate corrective emotional experiences within the couple and foster secure attachment. By going beyond the surface of everyday problems and addressing the core disowned and unmet attachment needs that are causing relationship distress, EFT has been shown to achieve a lasting shift in the interactional patterns between partners and reframe the relationship as a secure base. EFT theorists demonstrate rigour in seeking to identify the weaknesses and shortcomings of the approach in order to bolster the evidence base for its efficacy and clinical applicability to diverse cases. However, the process focus on withdrawer-pursuer dynamics is arguably an over-simplification: the case is made for including interventions designed to address specific behaviours and needs of the three different insecure adult attachment styles, and elaborating more on gender-based tendencies. Contemporary developments in attachment theory and neurobiology also shed light on gaps in EFT that could be addressed to enhance clinical practice. These include the need to work with individual partners on their own self and affect regulation through practices such as mindfulness and relaxation techniques, and addressing the nervous-system and other biological deregulations resulting from attachment trauma through somatic-focused interventions. Author keywords: Attachment theory; insecure attachment; emotionally focused therapy; EFT; couples therapy; corrective emotional experience; relationship distress; attachment needs; developmental trauma; process-oriented therapy