Attachment and Healthy Relationships, EFT: A Series on Counseling Methods

Ted Wohlford

Counseling is a clinical component of emotional, mental and social healing, and it makes use of a variety of methods for promoting that healing. In this series, Fountain Hill Center therapists explore the history and development of some of these methods. In this first installment, Ted explores attachment and how EFT helps couples better understand their interdependent bonds to form stronger relationships and more resilient intimacy.

For more information on this and other counseling methods, or to get started with counseling call 616.456.1178.

EFT and Attachment

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a counseling approach pioneered by Sue Johnson that focuses on attachment, or the bonds between people, especially couples. It is a successful, evidenced based approach that has proven effective in helping couples  to strengthen their relationship and increase their intimacy.

EFT does this by approaching what Counselors call attachment. Attachment refers to human connections, and the framework for the patterns we use to connect to each other begins in in fancy.

The approach marks a departure from the psychoanalytic tradition that was especially prevalent during the previous century.  For a long time, mental and emotional healing was focused solely on the individual. Healing was about understanding one person’s story, its kinks, its strengths and the ways this played out in an individual experience. Early approaches to healing from this perspective focused a great deal on tracing the nuances of an individual’s experience back to childhood. Jon Bowlby created a big shift in this approach by rethinking what that childhood experience actually means.

Attachment Thinking Changed the Mental Health Landscape 

Attachments Are Part of Our Human Survival and Connect Us to Our Shared EnvironmentBowlby was a psychiatrist who treated young children in hospitals. This was during the time that men paced the waiting room smoking while women gave birth, and it was thought that contact with parents would hinder a child’s healing and resilience. Bowlby took issue with this. He recognized that children experience extraordinary distress when left alone in the strangeness of a hospital dormitory. Bowlby challenged the practice, and with it the whole notion that mental health and healing was solely the prerogative of an individual. In founding Attachment Theory, Bowlby did the counseling equivalent to suggesting that the earth is round and not flat. He pushed the medical community to recognize that individual health has to do with relationships and social bounds.

What we find with attachment is that it evolved for mammals as a primary survival mechanism. Being emotionally attached to each other helped us work together as a group to stay safe. Emotional bonds between us helped develop food supplies and heighten our awareness of dangers. As human beings progressed, healthy attachment promoted wellness and fostered socialization, creating community.

Sue Johnson took the theory into new domains by using it to investigate the way couples struggle with trusting one another and the negative behaviors that result in misunderstandings and disconnection. Like many habits and coping skills, the emotional connections we foster with one another can become skewed. Sometimes the connections can be out of balance, either too dependent or too distant.

In her book Hold Me Tight, Johnson points out that with the rapid pace of life our connections with others are dwindling, and more and more they are taking the form of digital or social media interactions. This has a host of consequences. Although, in general, our reliance on the emotional bonds in our community are lessening, the need for that emotional connection is not. It is part of our nature. Just as we still need the same type and amount of nutrition we needed as hunters and gatherers, we’re still hardwired to need the same kind type and amount of emotional connections.

The problem is we just don’t have the social infrastructure to support those needs. Sure, it’s gratifying to get a “like” or a “retweet.”  Those digital actions, though, don’t provide the same kind of information and connection that a smile, a collaboration, a handshake and a hug provides. Real life interactions and affirmations connect us to each other. They orient us to the space we share, and they invigorate our participation in the tasks we undertake. Our brains, bodies, and emotional maps are still designed to receive these kinds of interactions. When there is no community to create them, then we look for them at home. Johnson points out that the amount of connection and emotional support that her grandmother received from her entire community is frequently being desired from only our partner. You can see how this will create problems.

EFT Helps Develop Emotional Competence

IHealthy Attachment Has to Do with How a Couple Connects to Their Culture as Well as Each Othern an EFT approach, we work to understand the source of intimate attachments, and partners work through strategies that help regulate and communicate our genuine, healthy needs for each other. In EFT we sort through our needs and work together to validate them.  This is how partners build trust for each other.  When a couple practices actively seeking out and experiencing the boundaries that make us human, they increase their authentic connections and learn to transform attachments that tax and weigh down their relationship. In the end, it’s about helping both partners become emotionally competent.

Becoming more emotionally competent can lead an individual to being able to sooth themselves and request support from their partner. This interdependence is a hallmark of human connection and is often one of the greatest desires of the human heart — to have a secure bond with a loving partner who fully embraces them.

John Gottman, another renowned couples’ researcher, says the average couple waits seven years to seek support. If you are looking to increase the intimacy in your relationship and reduce conflict and misunderstanding, why not start now and begin a new chapter in your relationship’s story.


Learn more about Ted’s approach to couples therapy in this article on healthy communication.


Ted received his Master of Arts in Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling from Western Michigan University and is a Limited Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Limited Licensed Professional Counselor. Get scheduled with Ted today by calling 616.456.1178 or visiting his therapist page