This Evidence-Based Therapy can Help with Decision Making

To improve what goes on around you, first start by looking inward.

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What do Dr. Susan Johnson, Dr. Leslie S. Greenberg and the amygdala have in common? The amygdala is a part of the brain involved in processing emotions. And Dr. Johnson and Dr. Greenberg have developed a groundbreaking form of therapy that revolves around processing, articulating and reframing emotions, Forbes explains. 

What is EFT?
The therapy is called Emotion Focused Therapy when it’s used to help an individual and emotionally focused therapy when it’s used to guide couples or patch up relationships. It’s also referred to as EFT for short. The theory at the core of EFT is that emotions play a major role in people’s lives. Feelings help people form identities. They influence decision making. And, they are necessary for finding meaning and fulfillment. 

Therefore, in order to achieve change, regulate behavior, make decisions, and form an identity, people need to be cognizant of their emotions.

Nikki Lively, a social worker at the Family Institute at Northwestern University in Chicago tells Forbes, “When people don’t have access to their emotions, it’s more difficult to make decisions. When someone is trying to decide, for example, ‘Should I take this job?’ or ‘Should I marry this person?’ It’s a huge disability to not be able to access your emotions to make those decisions.”

That’s where EFT comes into play. In the first stage of EFT, clients learn to identify their own feelings. People with suppressed emotions may also have to build up the courage to give themselves permission to feel. Afterwards, the feelings can be shared, dissected, and reframed. This gives the client the opportunity to learn better ways to respond to challenges and to handle and express negative feelings. 

Lively explains, “Instead of being triggered by hot-button issues of the past, we can be more giving, creative and compromising in our responses rather than fall into the same negative patterns.”

Dr. Michael Bricker, a psychologist specializing in EFT, says that, “It’s helpful for people who feel cut off from their emotions, which many people are. Some families are chaotic and dangerous, so we learn to not have feelings and to always have a gruff exterior. In EFT, we help people get access to all their emotions and use them for the adaptive information they have.”

Emotion Focused Therapy techniques
Emotionally Focused Therapy (also called EFT) is primarily used to patch up rocky relationships, most often in a marriage, but sometimes with a parent-child pair,according to  Psychology Today.

Although the methods used differ from person to person, there are some strategies that therapists may use to elicit better emotional understanding and control. Validation is a major one.  Validation, also called “evocative responding,” involves the therapist reflecting back to clients. For example, Lively tells Forbes, if a client shares a difficult challenge they face, the therapist may say something like, “No wonder you felt that way,” or “I noticed your eyes filled with tears just now. It’s OK to feel moved; tell me more about what you’re feeling.”

Whatever the therapist reflects back is what the client will focus on,” Lively continues. “It’s highly validating.” Dr Bricker adds, “We’re trying to direct their attention from, say, an event that happened to what they’re going through on the inside. It’s getting people out of an intellectual discussion about it and trying to see what the fear [for example] is behind it.”

Another technique that can be used is chair work, reports Forbes This strategy involves having someone face an empty chair and pretend that there is a real person who they have a conflict with sitting in the chair. Alternatively, the empty chair can be “occupied” by a negative emotion that holds them back. The client faces the empty chair and dialogues with it. By doing so, they improve their ability to recognize and express emotions and manage them in relationships.

Emotionally Focused Therapy
Although built on the same foundation as Emotion Focused Therapy, Emotionally Focused Therapy differs slightly, Lively tells Forbes.  “[Dr.] Greenberg felt that identity issues, like people feeling a clear sense of who they are and whether they’re being understood, is more important, whereas Susan Johnson felt the security of our attachments is more important,” Lively says , adding the Dr. Johnson was more heavily involved in Emotionally Focused Therapy.

Just as Emotion Focused Therapy revolves around how feelings impact decision making and behavior, Emotionally Focused Therapy is concerned with how feelings impact relationships, according to Psychology Today. Its goal is to help couples who have deep negative feelings, like fear, sadness, and betrayal, associated with the relationship, learn to de-escalate and share their feelings with their partner. 

The therapists can accomplish this by encouraging partners in a relationship to share their emotions. The therapist can also reframe harmful behaviors in a relationship as emotional responses to lost connection. 

After the bonds of love and the emotional ties have been restored, couples will then be able to problem solve any challenges that come up in the relationship, with understanding and vulnerability. Dr. Johnson, who developed Emotionally Focused Therapy, tells Psychology Today that “Emotional responsiveness — tuning into and supporting the other—is the key defining element of love.”

Benefits of EFT
EFT is a useful therapy for restoring the love in a tense relationship rife with negative emotions. It’s also particularly useful in an individual sense for fighting off depression and trauma. However, conditions like severe anxiety and OCD may respond better to Cognitive Behavioral Family, rather than EFT.

Lively tells Forbes, “EFT helps people learn to truly access their gut, but someone with severe anxiety will think they’re accessing their guilt, but they aren’t, really — it’s fear that’s guiding their decisions.”

Last but not least, learning to monitor feelings and deal with negative emotions can help people improve their EQ (Emotional Intelligence) and emotional literacy. Additionally, it can improve not just mental, but also physical health, since emotional dysregulation can cause physical symptoms.

Overall, EFT is an excellent way for people to improve their decision making, happiness, and quality of life. Therapists can help clients recognize and regulate emotions and have a healthier relationship with their peers, spouse, children, and their own amygdala. After all, all people are hardwired to feel and to make decisions based on feelings. Therefore, it certainly makes sense to invest time and effort into learning about and expressing those feelings.

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