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Phase 1 of Emotion Focused Therapy

Emotion Focused Therapy Phase 1

Phase 1: Assess and De-Escalate

Phase 1 is the hard part of emotion focused therapy. The therapist has to help you seek out vulnerable emotions, and very slowly build the awareness of them. Johnson gives the example of moving from “uncomfortable” to “upset” to “hurt” eventually. Feminists argue we are surrounded by social and cultural messages that tell men to not express emotions of dependency and fear for risk of being seen as needy and weak. These messages tell women to not express assertiveness and anger, or risk being seen as dominating and bitchy. Thus, you can explain to the couple that some emotions may be especially uncomfortable for them to uncover because society’s gender roles have encouraged them to avoid doing so all their lives. This takes some of the blame off of them, and provides another example of how they can be victims of something larger, but not slaves to it. Visit our strengths of emotion focused therapy page to find out more information about the advantages of its use.

When uncovering the “primary” or underlying emotions, notice the language the partners use. You’ll hear partner’s say things like “I feel like I’m drowning” or “I’m dying and you can’t hear me screaming for help.” It seems dramatic, but it captures an intense, painful, and powerful emotional experience. The “secondary” emotions of anger and resentment are far easier to show and talk about when you think about it this way.

While Johnson may seem to go on and on at times about the same stuff, the act of saying these things, hearing these things, and afterward finding nothing horrible happened is important. Good EFT therapists use techniques like:

  • Speaking slowly, calmly, and patiently, checking with the client to make sure they are remaining engaged
  • Reflective statements (it seems you are feeling terribly scared by that)
  • Validation (and it’s hard to even talk about this kind of fear, especially for you given your past experiences with women)
  • Evocative questions (what’s happening now for you as i say that?….. What’s it like to say that out loud, here and now?)
  • Heightening (using images like “it feels like a noose around your throat that could strangle you at any time” to evoke imagery that captures their emotional experiences, or asking one person to repeat something to their partner)

You might be thinking this contradicts Gottman’s idea of halting the Four Horsemen in their tracks. How can you validate their emotions and shut them off if they seem caustic? Johnson acknowledges trying to contain the caustics, but trying to shift the emotional expressions from the secondary aggressive ones to the underlying primary vulnerable ones, moving the couples toward a softening or corrective experience. For more information, visit our Phase 2 of EFT page.