EFT for Couples Affected By Trauma

By Kacy Mixon, M.S., LMFT & Kimberly Quinn

Couple sitting in dinner
[Flickr, Kushiyaki Couple by Tony Takitani, CC BY-ND 2.0] Retrieved on September 23, 2015
We’ve discussed the importance of couple strengthening  and factors affecting military couples during times of separation in previous blogs. We’ve also delved into protective factors influencing couples’ resiliency during the deployment cycle and resilience-based treatment options for couples affected by post-traumatic stress disorder. Now we will discuss another model of therapy tailored to couples struggling with post-deployment trauma.Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) or Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFTC) is an evidence-based therapy model that views emotions as a central component in the construction of self, functioning, self-organization, and the process of change [1]. This model was created by Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg in the late 1980’s [2] to help individuals enhance awareness, regulation, reflection, and transformation of emotion within the context of their partnerships. The theory behind this approach to treating couples is rooted in attachment theory–a developmental psychology concept theorizing  supported by empirical research that relates to the marital distress and attachment theory [2]. There are a number of studies showing client progress with this therapy model for those struggling with depression, abuse, trauma, and decisional conflicts [3]. Recently, this therapy approach has been adapted for use with military couples as it has shown effectiveness in helping those struggling with trauma [4]. This particular therapy approach has been used to enhance a service member’s sense of belonging when reintegrating after deployment or separation from their loved ones[5]. Stress related to deployment can heighten the need for secure connections with intimate partners [5]. This therapy approach identifies interactional patterns that create distance in couple relationships. This type of therapy also provides a safe environment that fosters connection.  Post-traumatic stress disorder is prevalent among military service members and can negatively affect couple and family functioning. For instance, attachment bonds in military couples are adversely affected by combat-trauma experiences [4].  EFT utilizes three treatment stages to remedy negative effects on the relationship.

Chart depicting the details of Emotionally Focused Therapy
Jordan, K. (2011). Counselors helping service veterans re-enter their couple relationship after combat and military services: A comprehensive overview. The Family Journal, 19(3), 263-273.

Research has found that post-traumatic stress can be reduced for those utilizing emotion-focused coping strategies [6]. Practitioners working with military families can use these techniques to equip couples in exploring emotions surrounding separation or the unique demands of military life.

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