Emotion-focused therapy - what is it?

What is emotion-focused therapy (EFT)? This article provides a brief introduction to emotion-focused therapy for couples and individuals. In this way, you will both understand more of the thoughts and decide whether the form of treatment may be relevant to you or someone you know.


When you are considering seeing a psychologist, you probably have an emotional problem - you are struggling with your emotions.

We all do, even if we do not always understand that this is exactly what we do. Or the extent to which the underlying emotional struggle is actually affecting our lives.

Sometimes it's obvious. You may find that you have too many emotions that you would rather not have. Like anger, anxiety, overwhelming sadness, shame and guilt.

There are emotions that suddenly appear, and it is unclear to you why. You may react more strongly than you should and it will be difficult to deal with. 

For others, having access to it can be tricky enough feelings. It makes it difficult to make choices, get deeply involved in something, have good self-esteem or get as close to a partner as you would like.

Perhaps your current or former partner has complained that you are perceived as closed and inaccessible.

Problematic avoidance of emotions

Whether we want to escape from emotions or want to feel more, we all have an easy time resorting to solutions, both conscious and unconscious, which later become an additional problem.

We can be driven to take an almost imperceptible distance from ourselves and others. We can hide our vulnerability behind anger - or vice versa. Many flee to work. Some plunge into ever new, short-lived relationships or sexual adventures. We can use drugs, shopping, eating and other behaviors.

But beneath it all, there is a core of pain that we do not dare to take in. This pain you have been alone with.

In emotion-focused therapy, you will approach these feelings with a therapist. In couples therapy, you also have your partner on the trip. 

When you endure what lies beneath, you are no longer dependent on avoidance as a solution. Maybe we have managed to keep something painful in the core under the radar of consciousness, but at a greater price than we have been aware of.

Emotion-focused therapy is one of several forms of therapy we offer with us - read more about therapy with a private psychologist in Psychologist work here.

Change in emotion-focused therapy

In emotion-focused therapy, you get help to experience and become friends with the emotions you usually avoid. This way they become less overwhelming, they can be sorted in and you can use them as a compass in life rather than being afraid of them.

We can change emotions by allowing them and going deeper into them. The main emphasis in the conversations with an emotion-focused therapist is therefore on feeling and understanding the feelings again.

To achieve this, an emotion-focused therapist will invite you to small experiments in the class. For example, you may be asked to notice things happening in your body that you have not previously been aware of, have a conversation with important people in your life in your imagination or play out a dialogue between two parts of you that are in conflict . 

This is a little different than therapies where you use conversations to plan changes in behavior or practice writing down negative thoughts and replacing them with more helpful thoughts.

In Oslo, there are several heavy professional environments within emotion-focused therapy, where Psykologvirke is one of these. We offer therapy from our beautiful and venerable premises in the center of Oslo or via video to clients all over the country.

Emotions in the relationship: Emotion-focused couple therapy

We get closer to our own vulnerabilities when we allow someone else to become important to us. This is really good. When we can share our vulnerability with a partner who accepts us, it creates both closeness and security in the relationship.

Couples come to emotion-focused couple therapy because they have entered into a painful dynamic where this is no longer possible. There is no room for vulnerable sharing. Old pain points are activated and the way the parties handle the pain increases the distance between them. 

Here you can read more in detail about couples therapy at Psykologvirke.

Most often, one party overcomes difficult emotions by gaining some distance, thinking of something else, and gaining control by finding a practical problem that can be solved.

For the other party, this strategy does not help. When distance is the solution for the person you love, you become more alone.

This causes the emotions to become greater and more overwhelming for those who have the opposite strategy. He or she then tries to calm the nervous system by trying to get the contact back: By talking through things, being understood, and not infrequently through constantly new attempts to make the partner different.

It creates more rebellion in the partner, who then withdraws even further away. In this way, the couple is caught in an evil dance that keeps the pain alive, increases the distance and can make the relationship eventually feel unbearable. 

The way out is to get to know the dance and find a way to feel and share what it's really about.

Emotional contact requires sharing vulnerability. Acceptance of their own and their partner's vulnerabilities is the way to break vicious circles and build bonds. 

Becoming friends with emotionr - a task in emotion-focused therapy

Children are born as little beings full of completely unregulated emotions. They need an adult by their side to be able to regulate themselves, understand what they are feeling and what they need.

Together with an accessible and responsive caregiver, the child learns about his inner compass. Understanding what you feel also means understanding what you need.

We can not get everything we want. We can and will be frustrated growing up and later in life when our needs are not met.

But when we are confident that we are still wanted with all our emotions and impulses, we develop good self-esteem and emotional security that enables us to cope with life's challenges more easily. 

Being able to read and be present for the child's emotions is a formidable task. No wonder this rarely goes smoothly. Especially when the parents themselves struggle with their inner self, children can lose the companion they need. 

Being alone with difficult feelingsr

"When I got too scared, my mother got such an empty look - I realized that it became too difficult for her," says a client.

Another tells of a father who mocked tears: “You cry like a girl. Pull yourself together. I'm embarrassed by you.

The room is filled with such stories when clients go into emotion-focused therapy. Parents who became angry, sometimes violent in the face of vulnerability.

Parents who themselves were overwhelmed by their children's feelings, so that showing their own feelings and needs created chaos and abandonment. Or just an experience that vulnerability was unpleasant or incomprehensible to the adults.

All these experiences lead to one suddenly being alone with one's emotions. It is too difficult to deal with, so the solution is often to try not to feel these feelings. And when a child does not have an adult who can help to understand, the child must do it himself.

The conclusion a child will often draw is: «It's wrong of me to feel this. The fact that I am alone with these feelings must mean that there is something wrong with having them. Being alone when I need comfort means that my need for care is wrong. There's something wrong with me». 

When the normal goes wrong

Suddenly, ordinary human emotions have become the source of anxiety, overwhelm and low self-esteem. These are our vulnerabilities, our trigger points that we try to keep hidden from ourselves, from the world and not least from a partner we love. 

In emotion-focused therapy, we help the client to be able to experience these strange, frightening feelings again - this time not alone, but with a present therapist - and with the partner if the client goes into couples therapy.

Now the client can meet the parts of himself that previously had to be avoided with acceptance, warmth and curiosity. Then the client can be less afraid of their feelings, upgrade their view of themselves and get back their inner compass. 

Emotion-focused therapy and emotion-focused couples therapy at Psykologvirke in Oslo

Psychologists at Psykologvirke are educated and teach this method in Norway in connection with Norwegian Center for Emotion-Focused Therapy (SEFT), and also teaches internationally, all under the umbrella of it international association for emotion-focused therapy.

We offer therapy from venerable premises in central Oslo or via video therapy to people all over the country. Here you can read more in general about therapy with us at Psykologvirke.

We present ourselves as whole people and the best of professional knowledge. And wish you all the best.

You can also read our articles about arguing in the relationship, and about couples therapy for infidelity here.

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