top of page

EFT Questions Answered by Dr. Sue Johnson

Topic: Accessing meaning of tears


Question 1 :

I would like to help accessing the meaning of tears. When the client's eyes get watery, it is often difficult to reach for the meaning of the tears. Is anger being accessed? Is it gratitude? Sadness? etc. How can we help the client make meaning of the tears? Thanks for any help with this.


Sue’s response :

Crying is a body response to grief, loss, or being overwhelmed – so we can just tune in and ASK our client what is happening as they cry. Or, as I named this to a very reserved older male client, as water on his face (he would not accept tears or crying ). Or we use context to tell us the likely meaning and reflect it and see if it fits for the client.

So my client says she is always alone – and weeps – and I say – That is so hard – brings up sadness – YES – so sad not to have someone to hold you.  Be there.


Topic: When female partner doesn’t feel her partner cares for her


Question 2 :

I have a question for Sue also. I know she has said in her research that if in the individual assessment session the female partner said that at a very basic level she did NOT feel her partner cares for her, the EFCT process didn’t work. So my question is this: what do we do if that is the answer we get? Do we try to do the journey with couples or talk with them and refer to other options (individual therapy, etc.)? I ask because for the past decade of doing EFT, I have faithfully asked that question of each partner and I have always gotten a “yes”… until now. This case has a lot of fear present and I don’t see caring between them. And given that answer, I wonder how hard to try. Does the research say that if that is the answer, the cycle has gone on too long and there is no going back and no percent of cases that are able to move forward to grow a positive bond? Or could a spark still light so that it’s worth trying. I’d love to hear what Sue and the research say about this. Thanks so much!


Sue’s response :

I would stop and explore. Say to them, help me understand – you are so unhappy and feel so separate that the only thing that makes sense to you is that he “just doesn’t care about me – about us”. Is that it? … And explore what happens to her when you say that. What leads her into that conclusion? See how he feels when he hears it.


Topic: Highly escalated couple with trauma


Question 3 :

Working with a couple for several months now who are highly escalated. It’s a heterosexual, mixed race couple (wife - first generation Middle Eastern woman, husband — grew up in the Caucasus region in Russia). Both have trauma histories. Wife, the pursuer, has GREAT difficulties with affect regulation (pretty much meets diagnosis for BPD) and becomes severely dysregulated when triggered. It’s been hard to create safety even in the session because of the frequent escalation. I have to interrupt and slow them down almost every sentence. She often states: “I long for the connection!… I hate him, I will never forgive him and will not give him a chance!” She really struggles to see her role in the cycle (she gets angry, verbally abusive, and aggressive). This pendulum is quite severe. I am at my wits ends with them. I’ve tried referring her for individua treatment many times but it has not been sticking. When do I pull the plug and stop trying? 


Sue’s response :

Difficult one. You can reflect process. “We keep getting derailed by…” (find a non judgmental word – your UPSET? – reflect her feelings and how they get in the way of new things happening ) “So when I see this upset coming, I am just going to reach out and put my hand on your arm – okay? – and you will slow down and stop – yes?” Then you have to Do it about 6 times before it takes - tell her “Stop’ if she ignores – I would move my chair in too – between them if necessary.


Topic: Difference between Emotionally Focused Family Therapy and Emotion Focus Family Therapy


Question 4 :

I know that EFT per Sue and EFT per Les and EFT (tapping) can be very confusing. I find that mastering EFT (ICEEFT) is a lifetime journey, so rich and nuanced. I do a lot of work with mothers and adult daughters. I’ve been asked by a mother/therapist about the other EFT lens - Les adding onto Sue’s work re: anger? Can anyone comment on the essential difference in EFFT between the two models?


Sue’s response :

Seems to me that Les does not use attachment and I don’t ask folks to change chairs or focus so much on the “Critic”. Les is essentially an individual therapist whereas our EFT developed in a relational – dyadic context. You can see the models compared in the appendix in Attachment Theory in Practice 2019.

Sue Johnson picture_edited.jpg
bottom of page