Dr. Sue Johnson Uses Emotionally Focused Therapy to Teach Couples How to Have Great Relationships

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Dr. Sue Johnson Uses Emotionally Focused Therapy to Teach Couples How to Have Great Relationships

Charlotte Edwards Charlotte Edwards
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The Short Version: Throughout her career, Dr. Sue Johnson has worked on developing Emotionally Focused Couples and Family Therapy (EFT) techniques to add to her field and use in her practice. She has written books, including “Hold Me Tight” and shared many YouTube videos based on her studies. She and her colleagues also modify the EFT methods for diverse cultures around the world. To extend her reach to even more couples, Dr. Johnson has created an online self-study course that couples can work through to achieve a more intimate and secure relationship.

The following couples may seem like they don’t have much in common:

  • An upper-class Jewish couple in New York
  • An elderly heart attack victim and his wife
  • A middle-aged Finnish couple
  • A young, recently married Iranian couple

These couples come from different parts of the world, vary in ages, and come from several religious and cultural backgrounds. But they’ve all strengthened their relationships through Dr. Sue Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Couples and Family Therapy (EFT) practice.

“We all need a loving partner to go through life with,” Dr. Johnson said of the role her work as a therapist plays in helping others.

She knows what it’s like to see a loved one live without such a person. As a child, her mother left her family, and Dr. Johnson remembers how her father grieved for years afterward.

Photo of Dr. Sue Johnson

Dr. Sue Johnson uses EFT and her research to help couples find long-lasting love.

“He never got over it,” she said. “They loved each other, but were always fighting and didn’t know how to make it work.” As a result of that experience early in life, Dr. Johnson vowed never to get married. She remembers telling her grandmother her reason why: “It doesn’t work, and it hurts.”

When she started her career as a therapist, couples were the last group of people she worked with, and she began seeing them while she was getting her doctorate. But upon observing the positive impact she had on their lives, she found herself loving it. “I was hooked,” she said.

That realization of her passion for helping couples, and her interest in research, led her to develop Emotionally Focused Couples and Family Therapy (EFT). The practice has been effective with both her clients and in peer-reviewed clinical research over the last three decades.

Dr. Johnson is the founding director of the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT.) Currently, 65 centers are operating around the world, offering workshops, training, and externships to mental health professionals who then bring their knowledge back to their practices — and couples around the world.

Innovative Research Helps Couples Build Intimacy

Long-term, monogamous relationships and marriage seem to have a bad reputation these days. With the divorce rate hovering around 50%, some people have given up on the thought of growing old with their partner or celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. But, for those who are willing to learn and implement new methods, Dr. Johnson’s EFT methods can help get them there. It is a science-based structured therapy program that helps couples take small steps to build attachment — although the results can last forever.

Research conducted by Dr. Johnson and her colleagues found that nearly 90% of couples reported seeing significant improvement in their relationship, and close to 75% go from being distressed about their issues to a state of recovery and healing after completing EFT. Not to mention the knowledge of the training stays with them long-term.

Couples often find themselves dealing with the aftermath of a difficult situation in their lives. But rather than succumbing to the stress of the situation and giving in to potential relationship problems that ensue, they can reflect on their experience with EFT and use it to mitigate issues that arise.

Although its name is long, EFT is quite simple. It helps couples understand that each partner is emotionally attached and dependant on the other. It’s similar to the way children need to form and develop strong bonds with their parents to feel loved and secure. No one questions the need for children to have this bond with their caregivers, but it’s easy to overlook the fact that adults thrive with a similar bond between each other. In ETF, that emotional bond is strengthened by focusing on critical moments in their relationship and shaping them with conversations that focus on specific topics.

Dr. Johnson’s book, “Hold Me Tight,” presents a streamlined version of her EFT methods and instructs couples to discuss seven key points that include working through past rifts and learning to use language that’s not hurtful to create a deeper, more intimate relationship.

Bringing Her “Hold Me Tight” Approach to a Worldwide Audience

Dr. Johnson believes that everyone can, and should, have a great relationship. She said her research has shown that there’s just no reason not to. “Hold Me Tight” has been translated into 25 languages so couples all over the world can benefit from Dr. Johnson’s techniques, even if they can’t participate in a live training program.

Photo of Dr. Sue Johnson's book Hold Me Tight

Dr. Sue Johnson’s book “Hold Me Tight” allows couples to work at their own pace.

She’s also developed live “Hold Me Tight” training sessions that are held around the world. She has modified the materials for the Jewish community, and the military has used them with Navy Seals. Dr. Johnson partnered with Kenneth Sanderfer to write “Created for Connection,” a modified version of “Hold Me Tight” with a religious tone and references to Scripture included.

Dr. Johnson and her peers in the ICEEFT work with individuals and organizations in Iran, Finland, and South Africa, among other areas of the world. By taking their message to these locations, some of which have a stigma against therapy, they’re breaking boundaries and helping otherwise unreachable populations.

In the case of Finland, the strategies are more about helping people open up, which is no easy task considering the country’s introverted cultural tendencies. The Finnish government has created a televised program on the materials as a resource for its citizens.

Dr. Sue Johnson Also Spreads Her Message Through a Blog and Social Media

Dr. Johnson is using the power of technology — in addition to her books and in-person work — to spread her message. Her website features an informative blog, through which she shares snippets from her book or news about recent research findings. On YouTube, Dr. Johnson shares videos of her TEDx Talk and interviews she’s done with various media outlets. She’s also active on Facebook and Twitter where she posts original thoughts and links to stories and articles that are relevant to her work.

“Now we really understand love and what it’s all about. We’ve cracked the secrets to romantic love; we can shape it, and not fall in and out of it.” — Dr. Sue Johnson

In addition to free content, she offers the “Hold Me Tight” online course that couples can purchase. It’s an entirely digital program that walks couples through modules and provides the same material that participants in live events receive. But, with the online version, couples can complete the content at their own pace — and review it as needed.

For centuries civilizations have believed that love couldn’t be understood, but Dr. Johnson and her peers are hoping their research and methods can help change that thinking.

“Now we really understand love and what it’s all about,” Dr. Johnson said. “We’ve cracked the secrets to romantic love; we can shape it, and not fall in and out of it.”