Couples Therapy – Summary of Outcomes

In a meta-analysis an effect size of 1.3 was found. This implies that approximately 90% of treated couples rated themselves better than controls. In this meta-analysis (Johnson et al 1999), 70-73% of couples recovered from distress at follow-up (trend: improvement continues after therapy). In a two year follow-up on very stressed couples in relationship distress, depression and parental distress results were stable. EFT appears to positively impact depression, intimacy, and trust.

In a comparative study (Johnson & Greenberg 1985) EFT performed significantly better than controls and a behavioral skill training intervention. EFT couples improved problem solving skills even though this was not the focus of therapy.

In a more recent study, EFT successfully helped couples resolve attachment injuries and create forgiveness.

EFT studies have been rigorous with implementation checks used. There have been very few drop-outs.

Family Therapy Research Results

Research in emotionally focused family therapy found the following results in a sample group of distressed adolescents. EFT significantly reduced:

  • Bulimic symptoms, including the frequency and severity of purging or vomiting. It also showed a reduction in the drive for thinness.
  • Depression, obsessive compulsive symptoms, and internal hostility. (Psychotherapy, 1998, 35, 238-247)

Predictors of Success in EFT for couples

Therapeutic Alliance – especially task aspects of engagement are key. The amount of distress at the beginning of treatment only predicted a very low percentage (4%) of the variance in distress at follow up. This is an unusual result in psychotherapy research.

EFT worked well for men over 35, described as “inexpressive” by their spouse. Best predictor was females’ faith that her partner still “cared” for her.

Change and Process Studies

Successful couples show more affiliative responses and deeper experiencing levels in key sessions. Pivotal events such as “softenings” occur in successful therapy. The therapist facilitates these events by interventions such as evocative questioning. Attachment injuries can be successfully resolved in a structured process.

Extra information

For a complete listing of EFT Research, go to