What is Emotion-Focused Therapy and 6 Steps to Use It


One could argue that any effective psychotherapy is emotion-focused in some sense. After all, mental health is determined by the quality of our thoughts, feelings, behaviour, environment, interpersonal relationships, personality, and biology.

Many people seeking help for their mental health begin with an unfavourable relationship with their emotions; one that is associated with judgment, shame, guilt, frustration, helplessness, and despair. Understandably so, as poor emotional management is not only exhausting, but it can interfere with our life's goals and values.

Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT) aims to improve mental health from the inside out - by improving how you relate to your emotions.

Topics Covered:

  • What is Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT)?
  • Techniques Used in EFT
  • Six steps to use emotion-focused coping starting right now

What is Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT)?

The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy defines Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) as “a humanistic, evidence-based approach to psychotherapy, drawing primarily from attachment theory to facilitate the creation of secure, vibrant connection with self and others… helps clients identify and transform the negative processing and interaction patterns that create distress". EFT is used in individual, couples, and family therapy.

In other words, it’s a therapeutic approach that empowers people to listen to their emotions as data and sources of connection, meaning-making, and understanding of their relational needs. The aim is not to extinguish emotions, but to better understand what they are telling you about yourself, so that you can decide what you do with the information.

It is grounded in a fundamental understanding that emotions are essential to optimal human functioning and relationships rather than a burden.

Techniques Used in EFT

  • Emotional awareness and acceptance
  • Mindfulness
  • Naming and labelling emotions
  • Evaluating information emotions provide
  • Develop personal narratives about your emotional patterns
  • Physiological self-soothing skills
  • Values clarification
  • Behavioural action planning

6 Steps to Use Emotion-Focused Coping Starting Right Now

  1. Shift the objective away from getting rid of your unwanted thoughts and emotions, and toward a goal of better understanding your emotions and having a more tolerable and accepting relationship with them. 
    Generally, this entails learning how to respond to emotions with more kindness, acceptance, curiosity, and non-judgment [because you believe they are part of the human experience and hold useful information about how to live a meaningful life].
  2. Notice how emotions arise in your body through physical sensations. Allow the emotion to exist.  
    What do you become aware of first? Your thoughts? Physical sensations in your body? Feeling unsettled?
  3. Try to label an emotion as it arises or when you reflect on your reactions to events.
    Some research shows that simply naming an emotional experience decreases activity in the amygdala and helps us regulate it (Nakamura et al., 1999; Narumoto et al., 2000; Gorno-Tempini et al., 2001; Hairi et al., 2000). Refer to the emotions wheel below.
  4. If this emotion could talk, what would it say? 
    This exercise helps bring a sense of curiosity and highlight our attachment needs.
  5. Practice self-soothing. 
    Self-soothing can be accomplished in a variety of creative ways, including mindfulness of the five senses, journaling, taking pause, and more. Showing ourselves that we can respond to our emotions with nurturing helps build our self-trust and agency to contain emotions, and draw upon them when timing is right for us.
  6. Choose your next steps. 
    Next steps depend on your value system and your priority in any given situation. It could mean communication with a partner, self-soothing, re-engaging in your life, developing a solution, or simply giving yourself pause and space to be.

Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, medication, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. This blog is not authorized to make recommendations about medication or serve as a substitute for professional advice. The use of information on this blog or materials linked from this blog is at the user's own risk. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on the ACTion Psychotherapy blog.


  1. Elliott, R., & Greenberg, L. S. (2016). Emotion-focused therapy.
  2. Emotion-focused therapy. (n.d.) Good Therapy. Retrieved from: https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/emotion-focused-therapy
  3. Hariri, A. R., Bookheimer, S. Y., and Mazziotta, J. C. (2000). Modulating emotional responses: effects of a neocortical network on the limbic system. Neuroreport11, 43–48. doi: 10.1097/00001756-200001170-00009
  1. Nakamura, K., Kawashima, R., Ito, K., Sugiura, M., Kato, T., Nakamura, A., et al. (1999). Activation of the right inferior frontal cortex during assessment of facial emotion.  Neurophysiol. 82, 1610–1614.
  2. Narumoto, J., Yamada, H., Iidaka, T., Sadato, N., Fukui, K., Itoh, H., et al. (2000). Brain regions involved in verbal or non-verbal aspects of facial emotion recognition. Neuroreport 11, 2571–2574. doi: 10.1097/00001756-200008030-00044
  3. What is EFT? (n.d.). International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy. Retreived from: https://iceeft.com/what-is-eft/