10 EFT Therapy Activities & Exercises to do with your Clients in Therapy

Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT), drawing from systematic theory, the humanistic-experiential approach, and attachment theory, recognizes the significance of emotions in our lives (Seligman, L., & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). Within EFT, emotions are considered a fundamental aspect of our being, capable of both adaptive and maladaptive responses influenced by past experiences (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2010). Keep reading to learn 10 EFT Therapy activities and exercises you can do with your clients in therapy.

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Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT) embraces the therapeutic conditions outlined by Carl Rogers, emphasizing congruence, unconditional positive regard, and empathy in the counseling process. These conditions create a safe and nurturing environment for the growth of the therapeutic relationship (Seligman, L., & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). Additionally, EFT incorporates the directive aspects of Gestalt Therapy, providing guidance to clients during sessions (Seligman, L., & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

In EFT, counselors assist clients in accessing, identifying, and regulating their emotions to enhance their overall well-being. By exploring and transforming both adaptive and maladaptive emotions within the therapeutic space, clients gain a deeper understanding of themselves and can reshape their emotional experiences to align with their self-narratives (Seligman, L., & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). This process promotes self-awareness, resilience, and self-validation of thoughts, feelings, and experiences (Seligman, L., & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

EFT follows a structured approach consisting of three phases and nine tasks (Seligman, L., & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). The first phase, de-escalation, includes steps 1-4, focusing on reducing emotional intensity (Seligman, L., & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). The second phase involves a shift in interactional positions and encompasses steps 5-7 (Seligman, L., & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). The final phase, consolidation and integration, involves steps 8 and 9, focusing on solidifying therapeutic gains (Seligman, L., & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). For further exploration, continue reading to discover 10 exercises and activities for Emotion-Focused Therapy.

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Why EFT?

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a highly effective therapeutic approach for couples and individuals dealing with relationship issues and emotional distress. There are several compelling reasons why EFT therapy may be chosen as a preferred treatment option:

  1. Evidence-Based: EFT has a substantial body of research supporting its effectiveness in improving relationship satisfaction and emotional well-being for couples and individuals.
  2. Emotion-Focused: EFT is centered on emotions and emotional experiences. It helps individuals and couples identify and understand their emotions, fostering emotional awareness and regulation.
  3. Attachment-Based: EFT is rooted in attachment theory, which recognizes the fundamental human need for secure emotional bonds. It helps individuals and couples create and strengthen secure emotional connections.
  4. Relational Healing: EFT is particularly well-suited for addressing relationship issues, including communication problems, conflicts, infidelity, and disconnection. It promotes healing and the reestablishment of trust and intimacy.
  5. Communication Enhancement: EFT equips individuals and couples with effective communication skills, enabling them to express their needs, emotions, and concerns in a healthy and constructive manner.
  6. Customized Treatment: EFT can be tailored to meet the unique needs and dynamics of each couple or individual, ensuring that therapy is individualized and comprehensive.
  7. Positive Therapeutic Relationship: EFT emphasizes the therapeutic relationship as a secure base from which individuals and couples can explore and address their emotional experiences and relationship concerns.
  8. Emotionally Safe Environment: EFT provides a safe and supportive environment for individuals and couples to express their vulnerabilities and work through difficult emotions.
  9. Long-Term Relationship Benefits: Many couples who complete EFT report lasting improvements in their relationship satisfaction and overall emotional well-being.
  10. Enhanced Emotional Bond: EFT helps couples develop deeper emotional connections and bonds, which can serve as a foundation for a more resilient and fulfilling relationship.
  11. Conflict Resolution: EFT assists individuals and couples in resolving conflicts and addressing the underlying emotional issues that often contribute to relationship problems.
  12. Emotional Regulation: EFT teaches individuals and couples how to regulate their emotions, reducing emotional reactivity and promoting healthier emotional responses.
  13. Individual Growth: While EFT is primarily used for couples therapy, it can also promote personal growth and self-awareness, benefiting individuals even outside the context of a romantic relationship.
  14. Transdiagnostic Application: EFT principles can be applied beyond couples therapy, including individual therapy, family therapy, and even workplace relationships.

While EFT is highly effective for couples and relationship issues, it is important to consider individual preferences and needs when selecting a therapy approach. EFT may be particularly well-suited for those seeking to improve their emotional connections, resolve relationship conflicts, and foster a more satisfying and secure bond with their partner. Keep reading to learn EFT activities you can do with your clients.

Mental Health Concerns That Can Benefit from EFT

Emotion Focused Therapy is an empirically supported therapeutic approach that can be applied to various presenting concerns clients experience. Common concerns addressed with Emotion Focused Therapy include depression, substance abuse, relationship discord and concerns, and trauma-related concerns in various populations (Seligman, L., & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). EFT can also be used for individuals who have some physical illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer (Greenman, P.S.& Johnson, S.M., 2022).

Emotionally-Focused Therapy Activities to do with Clients

Emotion Focused Therapy can be a helpful therapeutic approach to use for many clients. EFT exercises can be used to explore changes that can help our clients reach their goals of improving their connection with others. This can include learning to regulate emotions in a healthy manner, improving communication patterns, and exploring current patterns within their relationships.

Examples of Emotionally-Focused Therapy exercises that can be used in therapeutic sessions include:

  1. TherapyPatron.com offers a DBT skills worksheet that includes the acronyms ABC and PLEASE. These worksheets can be used to help clients who are looking to improve their ability to cope with emotional distress. Providing your client with a worksheet allows them to use the sheet as a reference outside of the session, which can help facilitate the use of the skills discussed.
  2. Emotion Focused Counseling includes several interventions that counselors can utilize. The interventions used during the session resemble characteristics outlined by Carol Rodgers including asking evocative questions, reflective listening, reframing patterns, tracking and replaying key moments, and validating your client’s experience (Seligman, L., & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).
  3. Clients who struggle with their ability to cope with their emotions may benefit from learning about meditation practices. Meditation can be a healthy and effective strategy for managing mental health distress. Spend time discussing the different forms of meditation, and allow for time to practice some meditations in session. Be mindful of clients you introduce to meditation, as some clients with trauma-related concerns may find that meditation causes them distress. Allow for time to process their experience, and encourage them to use meditation one to two times before their next session.
  4. A key component of EFT is helping our clients learn to cope with distress and discomfort. A helpful EFT activity would be to spend time focusing on healthy coping skills and exploring which ones can be applied to the specific triggers and challenges that your client experiences. There are a variety of different coping skills, so it can be helpful to explore the various categories including distractions, mental strategies, physical activities, interpersonal skills, and spiritual skills. Encourage your client to practice using new coping skills outside of the session, and follow up about their ability to do so in your next session.
  5. EFT exercises can act as an educational tool to help clients understand how their experiences are connected to their emotions. TherapyPatron.com offers an Identifying Emotional Triggers Worksheet that can help clients identify triggers that they can experience in various areas of their life, such as people, places, and things. You can then work with your client to develop a plan of how they can cope with their top 5 emotional triggers. After completing this worksheet, you can encourage your client to keep it for reference outside of sessions. Allow for time to check in during later sessions to explore the effectiveness of their ability to cope with the trigger, and discuss any improvements that can be made.
  6. Similar to the Ideal Emotional State Worksheet, TherapyPatron.com has developed an Emotional Reaction Worksheet that explores how negative and distressing emotions impact their behaviors. Your client will be asked to walk through a recent experience with a distressing emotion and how this impacted their behavior. They will be asked to identify a healthy reaction that they could have had in that situation that could have improved the outcome. Support your client while they are working through this EFT activity by helping them if they encounter some difficulties. Check-in during later sessions to explore any changes that they have experienced regarding their reactions to distressing emotions.
  7. Many clients who are actively engaging in therapy benefit from learning about self-compassion and self-care. Actively engaging in therapy can be challenging for many, and clients may not have the experience that they were hoping for, maybe their progress is taking a bit longer than they had initially hoped. Exploring ways of showing compassion and kindness can be beneficial and impactful for clients who are putting a lot of pressure on themselves. Spend time exploring your client’s current self-care routine, and explore how they can bring in more kindness and compassion to their daily life.
  8. TherapyPatron.com has developed a worksheet specifically for counselors who are working with couples. Their  EFT Negative Cycle Worksheet can be used to help couples explore a negative cycle within their behaviors that have a negative impact on their relationship satisfaction. Partners will gain a better understanding of each other’s experiences and reactions, which can help them view their cycle from a different perspective. By understanding more about their relational patterns, they can work together to break the cycle by making changes to their behaviors that can act as triggers for emotional distress. Allow for time to follow up in later sessions to explore changes that they have observed since working through this worksheet and processing the impact of these changes.
  9. A piece of improving our overall emotional health is gaining an understanding of how our emotions can impact those around us. TherapyPatron.com has developed an Ideal Emotion State Worksheet begins by asking your client to describe how their emotions affect those around them. They are then asked to think of a situation where their emotions got the best of them, and the impact that this had on those around them. You will then help them explore how they could have handled the situation differently if they were given an opportunity to do so. You can then assist your client while they explore what steps they need to take to get closer to their identified ideal emotional state. Allow for time to explore any changes that they have observed in their reactions since completing this worksheet.
  10. As clients progress through the three phases of EFT, you may find that introducing journaling can be an effective EFT activity. Ask your client to keep a journal of their experience applying what was learned in the session to their daily life. They can choose to take note of what worked well, what wasn’t helpful, and anything that they learned from their experience. Encourage your client to bring their journal to sessions with them so that you can review and validate their experiences. This will also help you gauge their progress as you progress through treatment.

Final Thoughts On Choosing Activities for EFT

Thank you for reading through our resource on 10 EFT Therapy activities and exercises to do with your clients in therapy. Emotions and connection are components of human interaction that can be observed in every culture. EFT focuses on helping our clients improve their ability to connect with others in a safe, encouraging, and non-judgmental way.

Emotionally Focused Therapy activities can be used with individuals, families, and couples to enhance their counseling experience. EFT has a wide range of applicable uses which means that many of our clients can benefit from the stages associated with Emotion Focused Therapy.

If you are interested in learning more about Emotion Focused Therapy, we encourage you to seek out continuing education credits and other specialized training experiences that can help you develop the skills and understanding needed to effectively practice Emotion Focused Therapy with your clients.

TherapyPatron.com helps mental health professionals better serve their clients. Our (editable, fillable, printable PDF) therapy worksheets can help you streamline your practice, effectively deliver different types of therapy, and support your clients be the best version of themselves.

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View all of our Emotionally-Focused Therapy Worksheets

Resources:

  •  Greenman, P. S., & Johnson, S. M. (2022). Emotionally focused therapy: Attachment, connection, and health. Current opinion in psychology, 43, 146–150. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2021.06.015 
  •  Seligman, L., & Reichenberg, L.W. (2010). Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy: Systems, Strategies, and Skills (3rd ed., pp. 413-417).  Pearson Education, Inc.
Kayla VanGuilder, MA, LCMHC
Author: Kayla VanGuilder, MA, LCMHC

Kayla is a Mental Health Counselor who earned her degree from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. She has provided psychotherapy in a residential treatment program and an outpatient addiction treatment facility in New York as well as an inpatient addiction rehab in Ontario, Canada. She has experience working with individuals living with a variety of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and trauma.

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