Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

The Feminist/emotionally Focused Therapy Practice Model: An Integrated Approach for Couple Therapy

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

The Feminist/emotionally Focused Therapy Practice Model: An Integrated Approach for Couple Therapy

Article excerpt

Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) is a well-developed, empirically tested practice model for couple therapy that integrates systems, experiential, and attachment theories. Feminist family therapy theory has provided a critique of biased assumptions about gender at play in traditional family therapy practice and the historical absence of discussions of power in family therapy theory. This article presents an integrated feminist/EFT practice model for use in couple therapy, using a case from practice to illustrate key concepts. Broadly, the integrated model addresses gender roles and individual emotional experience using a systemic framework for understanding couple interaction. The model provides practitioners with a sophisticated, comprehensive, and relevant practice approach for working with the issues and challenges emerging for contemporary heterosexual couples.

The trend toward integrative approaches in couple and family therapy has virtually taken over the field (Lebow, 1997). A flexible approach that integrates a feminist understanding of gender, a systemic understanding of couple interaction, and attention to the emotions of each partner is timely. Therapists have been increasingly challenged to assist contemporary couples in their struggles with both traditional gender learning and feminist ideals about the behavior of women and men in intimate relationships. Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) introduces systemic and emotional perspectives as they relate to a couple's presenting problems (Greenberg & Johnson, 1988; Johnson, 1996). Feminist family therapy theory has exposed the ways in which individual couple problems are often disguised problems of gender and power constructed by society (Beecher, 1986; Goldner, 1985a, 1985b; Hare-Mustin, 1986, 1991). An integrated feminist/EFT model provides a comprehensive, flexible framework that takes into account individual emotional experience, the relationship system, and sociocultural gender learning. Further, the integrated model recognizes and utilizes the interconnectedness of these multiple levels in therapy with couples.

RATIONALE FOR INTEGRATION

EFT is a hospitable host for the infusion of feminist family therapy principles. It is a well-developed, clinically and empirically tested practice model with one of the best research bases in the family therapy literature (Greenberg, Ford, Alden, & Johnson, 1993; James, 1991; Johnson & Greenberg, 1985, 1988; Johnson & Talitman, 1997). Emotionally focused therapy is helpful for couples that are moderately distressed and exhibit the classic pattern of male withdrawn/female pursuing and in which no violence is currently taking place (Johnson & Talisman, 1997). It is already an integrated model, incorporating two broad and significantly different schools of therapy theory. The first, experiential therapy, is concerned with each individual's emotional and intrapsychic realities and the ways in which he or she gives meaning to that experience. Drawing on attachment theory, EFT conceptualizes partners' needs and strong emotional responses as normal, healthy, and adaptive and not as a result of personality deficiencies or other pathology (Greenberg & Johnson, 1988; Johnson, 1996).

The second major theoretical tradition on which EFT is based is a systems theory conceptualization of entrenched interactional patterns occurring between partners. The systemic perspective in EFT is somewhat modified insofar as systemic patterns are seen as both resulting in and being created and perpetuated by the powerful emotional experiences of each partner. Thus, negative interactional patterns create an emotional response in each partner, which in turn compels the partner to respond in a negative way, thereby recreating and reinforcing the negative pattern (Greenberg & Johnson, 1988; Johnson, 1996). Emotionally focused therapy's theoretical bases and resulting principles of practice have been developed into a nine-step practice model (Greenberg & Johnson, 1988; Johnson, 1996; Johnson & Greenberg, 1995). …

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