Emotion Focused Family Therapy (EFFT)
Emotion Focused Family Therapy (EFFT) is an evidence base psychotherapy approach. It emphasizes the role of parents/ caregivers in providing emotional and social support to their loved ones. It empowers caregivers in their significant role as healing agents in their loved one’s mental health and well-being, and it helps support caregivers to increase their role in their loved one’s recovery from mental health issues. The EFFT clinician believes that it is most therapeutically worthwhile to empower parents to help their children, regardless of age, given that they are “wired” together.
The caregiver workshop provides tools, support, and practice for parents and caregivers looking to help their loved one through emotional and behavioural problems, mental health challenges, and recovery from a range of clinical disorders. It helps increase caregiver’s involvement in:
Overcoming negative behaviour patterns and interrupting symptoms and supporting health-focused behaviors
Helping their child to process overt and underlying emotions that may be fuelling problematic thoughts and symptoms
Leading the repair of relational injuries if applicable
One of the key strengths of the EFFT approach is that clinicians can support caregivers to take on these roles regardless of their loved one’s age or involvement in formal treatment themselves, creating hope for those families whose child refuses service. While in a traditional therapeutic setting, a client with a mental health challenge uses the help of a therapist to improve their condition, EFFT actively involves the family in the recovery process.
EFFT trains the parent/ caregiver in the following four main domains:
To become the child’s behaviour coach. The parent or caregiver learns strategies to help their child interrupt maladaptive behaviours (anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, etc.), which are often emotionally motivated. By doing so, they would be helping the child to engage more adaptively with emotion, which in turn would increase adaptive behaviours. For example, a child with anger-management problems may have the assistance of their parent or caregiver in interrupting the exteriorization of their anger in such forms as hitting or screaming and finding more adaptive ways to contain and express the anger.
To become the child’s emotion coach. This involves helping the child to identify and process their emotions, such as to manage stress, emotions, and emotional pain. Emotions are adaptive and they convey useful and important information. The knowledge of the elements of the emotion and the ability to identify them in real time in immediate response to the expression of an emotion is among the first goals of emotion coaching. Understanding the basic adaptive aim of the emotion and its composite elements, the parent or caregiver then learns to apply this knowledge to the emotional outbursts of their child. This takes the form of learning to: attend to the emotion, label or suggest a label for the feeling state observed, validate the emotion, attempt to meet its need, and assist in further problem-solving, if need be, as when the child remains upset.
To heal relational and attachment trauma, and repair relationships. It sometimes occurs that in the family there is dysfunction caused, for example, by relational or attachment trauma, as a result of which the child may be reluctant if not actively resistant to accepting help or guidance from the parent or caregiver, especially as they may have been involved in the experience of the child’s trauma. In addition, not only may the child have suffered certain traumas which are obstacles to the therapy, but so too may the parent or caregiver. Insecure attachment styles may be present, which may further prevent adaptive engagement with emotion and thereby further impair the therapy. For these reasons, EFFT works to heal relational and attachment trauma, and ultimately repair the relationship between the parent or caregiver and child where there is a need.
To work through and resolve the fears and obstacles that surface in the caregiver during this challenging and novel journey. The parent or caregiver who seeks therapy for their child is often frightened, anxious, or unsure about elements in the therapeutic program, and how their child will react to them. As a result, the parent or caregiver may, motivated by what are fundamentally good intentions to do what’s best for their child, actually sabotage the therapy. This occurs frequently when, for example, a parent may seek to avoid emotionally charged discussions with their child for fear that they will intensify their child’s symptoms or further alienate them. EFFT can help parents to process and work through these “emotion blocks” in addition to providing skills training in order to help them to feel capable of handling the challenges ahead.
For more information on what EFFT is and how it works, the following sources, which were used to assist in the generation of this summary, may prove helpful:
The Institute for Emotion-Focused Therapy