Emotion-Focused Family Therapy

The Model

Rooted in a deep and unwavering belief in the healing power of families, the essence of EFFT is to afford caregivers a significant role in their loved one’s mental health and well-being.  The therapist’s role would then be to empower and support caregivers in mastering the skills, tasks, and, yes, the feelings involved in four main domains:

1. Becoming their loved one’s behavior coach, that is, assisting their loved one – regardless of age – in the interruption of symptoms and maladaptive behaviors (anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, etc.) as well as in the transition from stressful life events (a divorce, diagnosis of a learning disability; placement into foster care, etc.); 

2. Becoming their loved one’s emotion coach, that is supporting their loved one to approach, process and manage stress, emotions and emotional pain, making symptoms unnecessary to cope;


3. Facilitating therapeutic apologies and healing possible wounds from the child and family’s past in order to help loved ones to let go of the weight of old injuries, and 


4. Working through and resolving the fears and obstacles that surface in the caregiver during this challenging and novel journey.

This last step is necessary when these fears and obstacles interfere with the parent or caregiver’s ability to be effective in their efforts. For example, some parents are afraid that engaging their child in the tasks of recovery and coping will lead the child to feel depressed or suicidal, leaving the parents paralyzed with fear & thus stuck in an impossible bind. There are many other emotion blocks that can surface throughout the family’s journey. For example, parents may sometimes feel resentful that their child continues to struggle and this resentment can influence their helping behaviors. Other parents may feel helpless and without skills and thus find themselves relying on controlling or punitive techniques to motivate behavior change. For details on each of these steps, click here.

Common Fears

Parents can feel immobilized in their efforts if for example they fear that engaging in the tasks of recovery will lead to their child feeling too much distress or cause too much disruption for other family members. These unspoken fears can lead families to become stuck in unhelpful caregiving patterns (walking on eggshells, feeling resentful, etc).  The “usual suspects” include the fears that their child will: 1) run away; 2) become depressed or suicidal and 3) move in with the other custodial parent (in the case of split-families).  Other emotions such as anger, resentment, hopelessness and helplessness can also interfere with caregiver efforts to promote recovery. Support and specific skills training are sometimes necessary to release parents and caregivers from the shackles that keep them from feeling hopeful and secure in their helping roles. 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.

Who is this Approach Suited for?

Parents and caregivers can learn these skills and take on these roles regardless of their child’s level of motivation or involvement in formal treatment. EFFT is a lifespan approach that can be delivered with individuals only, parents and caregivers only, and with families. Click here to read an article covering EFFT for families of children with mental health difficulties. For more information on the EFFT model and related topics, visit the official site here.