EMDR Therapy: Understanding How An EMDR Therapist Can Help You

EMDR Therapy: Understanding How An EMDR Therapist Can Help You

Are you having emotional reactions that seem disproportionate to the situation? Snapping at loved ones or feeling overwhelmed, disconnected and unfulfilled in your life and relationships? If so, you may be experiencing the effects of unresolved trauma and you may benefit from EMDR therapy. 

Many clients come to Couples Learn to understand how past traumatic experiences shape the way they are showing up in their relationships. One of the most efficient ways to heal from past experiences and cultivate fulfilling relationships is through EMDR therapy. You may have heard friends or colleagues mention EMDR therapy, but wonder how it really works, and if it could be right for you. So what does EMDR stand for? And why does the name sound so complicated? This article will explore what EMDR therapy is, how it works, and how to find a qualified EMDR therapist.

EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing therapy may conjure up images of laying on a couch being hypnotized, but it’s actually far from its seemingly “woo woo” sounding name. EMDR therapy is backed by years of research and it is recommended by the American Psychological Association as a successful trauma treatment. 

EMDR therapy was founded by Clinical Psychologist Francine Shapiro Ph.D. in 1987, after she realized that bilateral stimulation on the body can impact the way the brain processes information. EMDR works by engaging the brain’s natural healing process to re-process painful past experiences that were stored improperly at the time of the traumatic experience. Engaging in EMDR therapy with a trained EMDR therapist can help to reduce trauma, anxiety, depression, panic disorder symptoms, and relationship issues.

What Is EMDR Therapy?

If you have found yourself confused after Googling “EMDR definition” and attempting to decipher the results, this section can shed some light on what EMDR really is. 

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an evidenced-based trauma treatment that helps alleviate psychological distress caused by traumatic memories and negative beliefs. In fact, the research shows that EMDR therapy is the most efficient trauma treatment available. According to a publication through The EMDR International Association, EMDR was recently named the most cost-effective treatment for adults with PTSD. The average number of sessions needed to heal from trauma, and alleviate symptoms of anxiety, panic disorder, depression, and other mental health concerns is much shorter than a cycle of treatment using other evidence based methods.

The EMDR Therapy Process

EMDR therapy sessions can help you handle trauma

EMDR works by using bilateral stimulation to guide the brain to reprocess a distressing memory. Bilateral stimulation is the process of stimulating each side of your brain, one at a time. This left-brain right-brain alternating stimulation is achieved through sound, touch, or eye movements. For example, you might listen to a beep played through headphones that alternates playing in your left ear, then your right ear. Or, you may follow a light with your eyes that causes them to move from left to right. Or, you may hold buzzers in your hands that gently vibrate left and right or tap your own shoulders with your hands, alternating left to right. Your EMDR therapist will help you to find the bilateral stimulation option that is most comfortable.

It is hypothesized that the process of bilateral stimulation mimics the process of REM sleep when our eyes move left to right rapidly. REM sleep is the time when our brain processes and stores the events and emotions from our day. After reprocessing in EMDR therapy, the brain retains the memory without the powerful emotions associated with it. Just like “sleeping on it” often helps give you new perspective on an issue. Most clients report feeling lighter, and as though the negative event has less power over them after EMDR treatment. 

The beauty of EMDR therapy is it doesn’t require extensive discussion of the memories or lengthy homework in between sessions. It is helpful for moving through trauma in a more manageable way than having to tell all the details of your trauma and reopening emotional wounds over and over again through talk therapy. Research also shows that after engaging in a successful EMDR treatment for one issue, the brain actually has greater resiliency in managing future traumas and healing from them more effectively.

What is EMDR Therapy Used For?

Who can benefit from EMDR therapy? You may be thinking, I haven’t suffered any major traumatic events so I’m not sure EMDR is really for me. Most people associate trauma with major events such as physical assault, sexual abuse, natural disasters, a car accident, or other life threatening events. These experiences are indeed trauma and they are what we call big “T” trauma in the psychological world. EMDR Therapy is very effective in treating big “T” traumas.

However, many people have experienced non-life threatening trauma, called small “t” traumas which are often just as impactful and can be especially harmful to functioning in relationships. Small “t” traumas are things like emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment, racism, homophobia, and bullying. These small “t” traumas often happen repeatedly to the same individual throughout childhood and possibly even adulthood, causing many challenges in functioning and sometimes even leading to a disorder called Complex PTSD. There is a specific type of EMDR called Attachment Focused EMDR Therapy which is particularly helpful in treating the developmental trauma associated with small “t” traumas and Complex PTSD.

EMDR has been shown to be clinically useful for treating anxiety, panic disorder, and depression. It can also be used to help strengthen attachments, heal relationship wounds, and benefit couples therapy. 

EMDR for PTSD 

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is a psychological disorder that develops as a result of a big “T” trauma or a trauma where you believed your life was at risk. Symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, hypervigilance, flashbacks, trouble sleeping, difficulty controlling your emotions, and avoidance of things that remind you of the trauma. EMDR counseling works to reduce the emotional charge associated with the memory of the event and stop trauma triggers from sending you into re-experiencing the event. These flashbacks, which are common in PTSD survivors, can derail daily life and cause symptoms of avoidance and isolation which further deteriorate mental health. By getting to the root cause of the PTSD, and reducing the emotion associated with the traumatic event, an EMDR therapist can help you move past your trauma and live a more fulfilling life.

a couple discussing EMDR therapy for trauma

EMDR for Trauma

EMDR therapy is most often used to treat trauma. EMDR for trauma and PTSD were the first methods of EMDR to be researched and used successfully. By engaging with traumatic memories in a small tolerable amount, you do the work with part of your awareness in the present moment, connected to your surroundings and current safety, while exploring the past distressing event. This allows your brain to send messages between the amygdala (responsible for regulating emotions) and the hippocampus (related to memory). This dual awareness of the past and present helps you to release the intense emotional portion of the memory while maintaining the understanding that the event occurred. 

EMDR for Anxiety

Similar to its power for treating trauma, EMDR for anxiety has also been shown to be highly effective. Most mental health issues are caused by negative experiences stored in our brains and labeled as dangerous, due to our evolutionary survival instincts. The brain is trying to protect itself from further trauma or potential death, so it carefully catalogues any distressing or perceived life threatening event and any details about what was happening at the time the event occured. The brain then responds to anything similar in the future as a potential threat and will send a signal to the body to get ready to fight, flight, or freeze to protect itself from the threat. 

These reminders often trigger an unwanted response. A trigger signals to the brain that a potentially dangerous situation (requiring an anxious response to protect ourselves) is about to occur. If you have experienced anxiety you may be able to remember the first time you felt anxious. This memory serves as a template for your anxious experiences and each time you experience another anxiety provoking event, your brain remembers it, flags it, and stores it in that channel of memories. EMDR therapy works to address the distressing memories which make you feel anxious and relieve your current symptoms. 

EMDR for Depression

EMDR for depression works in a similar way to EMDR for anxiety and trauma. Oftentimes, we create meaning and negative beliefs about ourselves from the experiences we have. For example, a lack of satisfaction or success in your job may cause you to have a belief about yourself that you are not competent. This is called a negative core belief. This belief about yourself likely causes you to feel unmotivated, ashamed, sad, and/or angry. You may also experience other symptoms, such as negative thought patterns, disengaging from activities you used to enjoy, and trouble sleeping. 

Oftentimes, you can link that negative core belief about yourself to a specific situation in which you were yelled at by a boss, or passed up for a promotion, or missed a deadline. Or, it may go even farther back to childhood experiences with a critical parent. Whatever the distressing memory, the resulting belief about yourself can be reframed through EMDR therapy. Although, you may not have undergone a life threatening event, the memory of a distressing situation can be reprocessed with dual awareness in the past and present with a trained EMDR therapist to help you move forward and develop a healthier view of yourself. 

EMDR Couples Therapy

Whether one partner has experienced a trauma which is impacting their level of distress, or both partners experienced a trauma conjointly, EMDR therapy can be helpful in healing the trauma and allowing the couple to move forward without being constantly re-triggered and falling into old unproductive patterns of communication and disconnection. EMDR couples therapy can involve one partner being a present supporter for their partner as they reprocess distressing memories or it can be used to build safe attachments with one another to strengthen the relationship.  

Healing from trauma? EMDR therapy can help

How Does EMDR Therapy Work? 

EMDR works by engaging in the brain’s natural healing process, in which information is moved back and forth between your right and left brain to be processed and stored. As mentioned above, this is done by using bilateral stimulation to re-process maladaptively stored memories due to painful past experiences. 

In EMDR therapy, you’ll be asked to think about a target memory and then begin and continue bilateral stimulation until the emotional disturbance of the memory is reduced. The bilateral stimulation activates the memory network associated with the traumatic memory and everything that needs to be processed will come forward. That’s the beauty of our brains and bodies – if we remove the blockages that are preventing our natural processes from taking place, our body can do what it needs to do to heal.

EMDR therapy does not hurt or require you to be connected to a machine. It can bring up painful past memories and cause you to feel the emotions or body sensations that are associated with the memories as you move through it but most people find this tolerable. Your EMDR therapist will work with you to create dual awareness so that you can maintain your awareness in the present moment where you are safe as you experience the sensations associated with the past memory. Your EMDR therapist will also teach you self-soothing tools to use during EMDR before you even start the processing.

How Will I Feel During EMDR Therapy?

EMDR Therapy does involve some emotional discomfort and fortitude to move through the distressing memories to allow the brain to process them in a new way and release the emotional power they have over you in the present moment. The only way to move forward is to move through it but you and your therapist will move at a pace that feels safe for you. The reprocessing portion of EMDR therapy is often described like being on a train and looking out the window at the changing scenery. You are aware of what you are seeing (past memories) but you allow it to pass you by as you move forward and leave behind the distressing feelings associated with the memories. 

When you finish reprocessing, you may feel a sense of lightness in your body, relaxation, or perhaps exhaustion. Many people describe feeling a sense of release, openness and peace. Everyone experiences EMDR differently, but some people may experience side effects of vivid dreams or fatigue directly following a session. Others report feeling emotionally vulnerable following a reprocessing session. Once you move through the process, you will experience effects of reduced sensitivity to triggers and be able to talk about the situation without becoming emotional, or having the negative symptoms you previously experienced. 

What to Expect in an EMDR Session

A typical EMDR session starts off with you getting to know your therapist, and the therapist helping you identify important events and memories linked to the disturbances you are experiencing. Once the history taking portion is completed, you will work with your EMDR therapist to identify memories to target first. Before tackling the distressing memories, you will develop various self-regulation skills to ensure that you are comfortable self-soothing and remaining within your window of tolerance for difficult emotions. The idea is that you develop the basic skills you need to ground yourself and get back to baseline, before addressing distressing memories so you feel more confident beginning the reprocessing.

After learning these important self-regulation skills, you will start with your chosen memory. Your EMDR therapist will help you identify the emotions associated with the memory, a negative belief about yourself, and a positive belief that you would prefer to have about yourself. You then identify where you feel the emotion in your body, and hold that in your awareness as you engage in bilateral stimulation (BLS). All methods of BLS are effective and the method used is based on personal preference and therapist discretion.

Online EMDR therapy sessions can be as effective as in person EMDR sessions.

Why EMDR Therapy Works

EMDR therapy works because it connects the old distressing memories with new information. You are accessing the traumatic memory in small manageable doses and paring it with new information and new beliefs about yourself. The brain naturally has the ability to heal from trauma. The problem is that sometimes these situations are so intense that they hijack the brain’s ability to access this natural healing and rational approach to the information. 

EMDR therapy helps the brain tap into its natural ability to move forward from the pain associated with the memory and access the safety present in the current moment. The unprocessed information at the time of a distressing event incorrectly causes the brain to store the emotions and related physical sensations along with that memory. Many psychological disorders are caused by this lack of processing and improper storage. Therapists use EMDR to tap into the brain’s natural process of storing information and pair the traumatic memories with adaptive information such as positive coping, reframed thoughts and beliefs, and new resources for support so that they don’t feel scary anymore. Through EMDR therapy, the brain can properly process the memory and alleviate the symptoms created by the maladaptively stored memories.

Finding an EMDR Therapist

If after reading about the effectiveness of EMDR therapy, you’re wondering where you can find an EMDR therapist, we’ve got you covered. The therapists at Couples Learn can provide you with skilled EMDR therapy to overcome painful past experiences, help you live the life you want to live and show up as the person you want to be in your relationships. We have therapists trained in both Attachment Focused EMDR as well as traditional EMDR Therapy. The best part is, you can do EMDR from the comfort of your home with online therapy from Couples Learn. Book your free consultation to learn more about our EMDR services and pricing.

Want to learn more about EMDR therapy at Couples Learn? Watch the video below to learn more about the EMDR therapy process and what to expect in an EMDR session.

Attachment Theory for Adults: What is Your Attachment Style?

Attachment Theory for Adults: What is Your Attachment Style?

When it comes to the mysteries of love, we all want to believe we have free will over the partners we choose. However, there’s a lot more to attraction than meets the eye, much of which has to do with attachment theory. 

Clients often come to our practice after noticing troubling, recurrent patterns in their relationships. Maybe they’ve had multiple relationships fall apart for similar reasons, keep dating the same type of person repeatedly, have a hard time opening up and trusting in relationships, or have found themselves attracted to emotionally unavailable partners and they don’t understand why. 

To gain a deeper understanding of why these patterns may be occurring, and to demystify those infamous laws of attraction, it’s important to understand attachment theory for adults and to know your own attachment style. Attachment theory teaches us that our early environment with our caregivers shapes how we love and are loved throughout our lifespan. According to Stan Tatkin, author of Wired for Love, these early experiences form an instructional blueprint that is stored in body memory and becomes part of our basic relational wiring and our sense of safety and security.

Our early attachment experiences go on to shape our adult attachment style and how we interact in romantic relationships. Understanding yourself and your attachment style can have profound implications on your ability to create and sustain meaningful romantic relationships.

What is Attachment Theory?

The psychologist John Bowlby first created attachment theory in the 1950’s as a way of describing our intrinsic need for connection, a need research has proven is as crucial to our development as food and water. Attachment theory science and research taught us a lot about human development as it pertains to the relationships we form with others. As helpless infants, we’re wired to instinctively bond with our caregivers because our very survival depends upon it. Our brains are biologically engineered for closeness and connection with others. It is an innate need within us to share our lives with someone.

As infants, we develop attachment behaviors like cooing, smiling and crying to keep our caregivers close and bonded to us. When infants and children are in distress or in need, they seek out their parent, caregiver or primary attachment object for safety and reassurance. As children, we establish a connection with caregivers in whichever ways we can. How our parents or caregivers respond to our needs for connection, freedom and safety is what ultimately determines our attachment style. Our styles of attachment in our earliest relationships shape how we’ll be in our later relationships.

Wondering about attachment theory for adults? Understand your attachment style in relationships.

Attachment Theory Types

Attachment theory teaches us that the kind of parenting we receive as children predicts attachment behaviors later in life. These behaviors fall under 4 distinct attachment theory types, also called attachment styles. The 4 attachment styles are secure attachment, anxious attachment, avoidant attachment, and anxious-avoidant attachment.

These 4 attachment theory types vary based on how we had to adapt to our primary caregivers and their emotional availability (or lack thereof). These adaptations helped us survive as children so that our caregivers would take care of us. However, if your parents lacked the responsiveness and emotional attunement you needed as a child, you may have developed an attachment style that makes adult relationships challenging. Let’s look at how each attachment style is formed and their common characteristics.

Secure Attachment

A secure attachment is developed when most of your emotional needs as a child were met by at least one of your caretakers. At least one caretaker of securely attached individuals was warm, consistent, emotionally available and flexible. They provided you with freedom to explore and be independent but also created a safe home base for you to return when comfort or guidance was needed.

Caretakers of children with a secure attachment tend to be comfortable with both closeness and space and provide a balance of both in their relationship with the child. They encourage emotional expression from their child and are supportive of sharing vulnerable emotions but do not burden the child with negative emotions of their own. Emotional support only goes one way with the parent supporting the child. 

Adults with a secure attachment style find it easy to trust and are flexible and generous in relationships. They feel confident they can work through issues with their partner and don’t worry about the relationship ending because of minor disagreements. Individuals with a secure attachment are able to communicate their feelings and expect the same from their partners. They understand relationships take work and do not have unrealistic expectations of perfection from their partner. 

Secure Attachment in Relationships

Securely attached adults are reliable, set clear boundaries, express their needs and wants and are able to respond to the needs and wants of their partners. They are comfortable with closeness and independence and tend not to take the need for space or reassurance from their partner too personally. Securely attached individuals tend to choose partners who are emotionally available and treat them with respect. They can also accommodate being with partners that do or do not have a secure attachment style.

Anxious Attachment

An anxious attachment style is developed when love from at least one of your caretakers was unpredictable and felt unstable as a result. You may have had a parent who was loving one minute and dismissive and disengaged the next, leaving you wondering what you did to trigger their negative reaction. Or you might have felt abandoned by a parent as a child due to divorce, separation, death, mental illness, or any number of other circumstances. Even having parents who worked a lot and weren’t able to be super attentive or consistent with their love can result in an anxious attachment. 

Since young children tend to think they are the cause of everything that happens in their world, you blame yourself for the switch in your parent’s affection and internalize that there must be something unlovable about you that you need to change to get their consistent love and affection. As a result, you learned how to be very attuned to the needs and emotions of others while not expressing any of your own. You made yourself and your desires small to try to win your parent’s love. You may have taken care of your parent(s), physically and/or emotionally rather than the other way around. 

Anxious Attachment in Relationships

Anxiously attached adults tend to be preoccupied with worries about the relationship when they are in one and may feel incomplete without a partner. Those with anxious attachment styles have a strong fear of abandonment and are hypervigilant about their own perceived shortcomings. They have the ability to sense even the slightest shift of mood in their partner and will often worry they did something wrong to upset them. They may even attribute the change in mood to a lack of interest in them or the relationship and act out as a result. 

When an adult with an anxious attachment style feels the relationship is in trouble or that their partner is pulling away, they may perform to win back their partner’s love or they may engage in protest behaviors. Performing might look like being extra nice and accommodating, going out of their way to make their partner feel special, or using sex to bring them closer. Protest behaviors might include shutting down emotionally, pouting, pushing their partner away, or even breaking up with their partner. These are not true desires but misguided attempts to get their partner to reassure them by fighting for their affection.

Anxiously attached individuals tend to avoid speaking their needs for fear of upsetting their partner and risking the end of the relationship. They are overly accommodating of their partner’s needs, often at the expense of their own. They tend to take on the interests of their partner and conform to what they think will please their partner. Adults with an anxious attachment style need frequent reassurance that their partner still loves them and wants to be in the relationship, sometimes when things are going well but especially when they are not.

Wondering about attachment theory for adults? Understand your attachment style in relationships.

Avoidant Attachment

Avoidant attachment, also called dismissive avoidant, is developed when at least one caregiver was overly detached OR overly enmeshed with the child. Parents of avoidantly attached individuals often focus on achievement, success and academic excellence more than fostering the emotional bond between them and the child.

Your caregiver(s) may have worked all the time or been cold, distant or emotionally unavailable. They may have been rejecting or dismissive when you expressed vulnerable emotions like fear, hurt or sadness (e.g. “stop that crying”) and rarely expressed vulnerable emotions themselves. Anger, stress and irritation may have been the only big emotions you saw them express. 

Your caregiver(s) may not have noticed or acknowledged when you were in emotional distress and needed comfort. Or they may have actively shut you down when you needed comfort from them, pushing you towards independence and self soothing or teaching you to stifle your emotions instead. You may have felt shame or judgement about needing emotional support or help from them and eventually stopped going to them for connection and comfort. 

Alternatively, your caregiver(s) may have been overly controlling and involved in your life. They did not respect or allow your boundaries or have many of their own boundaries. You were often expected to care for them emotionally, either directly by comforting them, or indirectly by altering your behavior to reduce their anxiety or anger. You felt guilty when you could not or did not want to care for them emotionally. You may have felt overwhelmed by your parents needs, demands and involvement and preferred alone time to spending time with them. You could not go to them for emotional connection and comfort without feeling burdened by their own needs and emotions.

In both of these environments, the child doesn’t feel seen or nurtured by their caregivers and their caregivers were misattuned to their needs. Avoidant attachment individuals had to learn how to self soothe and auto regulate from a young age rather than seeking comfort in connection with others. As a result, they learn that relationships are not safe or comforting and they pull away from their parents or romantic partners, especially in times of stress. 

Avoidant Attachment in Relationships

Those with avoidant attachment styles tend to have a lower tolerance for closeness and need more space and independence than the other attachment styles. Dismissive avoidant adults have developed defenses against having to depend on anyone and they find happiness and fulfillment outside of relationships. They may be workaholics who don’t have time for relationships or they may fill their free time with hobbies, friends, and casual dating rather than deeply intimate long-term relationships. 

Dismissive avoidant adults may find it hard to stay centered while in connection with others and need space when feeling overwhelmed to regulate their emotions. They dismiss their own and others’ vulnerable emotions, preferring to stuff them away or gloss over them rather than give them space and really feel them. They may numb their feelings with drugs, alcohol, work, or sex as a way to avoid feeling the true depth of them. 

Those with an avoidant attachment style may desire closeness and deep connection when they don’t have it but then get overwhelmed by too much of it when things get serious in a relationship. This may lead them to cut the relationship off or pull away abruptly, leaving their partner confused and hurt. When things start to get too close, they may do things to create physical or emotional space in a relationship like pulling away, shutting down emotionally, working or hanging out with friends more, starting fights, comparing their current partner to idealized ex partners, or even cheating.

If you have an avoidant attachment style, you may find yourself moving really quickly and having strong feelings in the beginning of a relationship, only to feel suffocated and doubtful about your partner once deeper intimacy has been established. You might ignore your partner’s shortcomings in the beginning then hyperfocus on their flaws as things get more serious. This helps you sustain emotional distance in a relationship and eventually may lead to you ending it. Torrential passion is reduced to claustrophobia time and again as you move on to the next person.

Anxious-Avoidant Attachment

Anxious-avoidant attachment, also known as fearful avoidant attachment, describes someone who has both anxious and avoidant tendencies. The caregiver(s) of someone who has an anxious-avoidant attachment style probably behaved inconsistently. They may have been warm and attuned sometimes and abusive and rejecting at other times. Or they might have been intrusive sometimes and neglectful at other times.

For instance, you may have had an alcoholic or mentally ill parent or step-parent who was loving one minute and explosive and abusive the next, leaving you constantly on edge, wondering which side of them you would see that day. They may have used you for emotional support as a child but were not supportive of your emotional needs. The key is that you never knew what to expect and learned that connection is unsafe, confusing and unpredictable. 

Anxious-Avoidant Attachment in Relationships

If you have a fearful avoidant attachment style, you crave intimacy yet find it difficult to trust others. You experience anxiety after growing close with someone and are fearful of getting hurt, used, abandoned or overwhelmed so you tend to pull away and avoid your feelings. You may even find yourself in abusive relationships over and over again, either as the perpetrator or the victim of abuse.

Wondering about attachment theory for adults? Understand your attachment style in relationships.

Attachment Theory and Relationships

Attachment theory teaches us that we all develop relationship attachment styles based on the way we were loved as children as well as the way we saw our parents loving each other. These attachment theory types dictate who we do and do not feel chemistry with. Our brain automatically connects the feeling of love to the styles of attachment our parents modeled to us, regardless of how healthy or unhealthy that modeling may have been. This may lead to an endless cycle of dating one doppleganger after the other without the knowledge of how to break free.

If you find yourself with a partner who doesn’t meet your basic attachment needs, or who has a dramatically different attachment style than your own, it can lead to a chronic sense of tension or anxiety. You might be wired to feel chemistry with partners who you’re the least likely to be compatible with or with whom you re-enact the same wounds of childhood repeatedly. Our attachment style in relationships isn’t logical and often drives us towards people who feel familiar, even if that familiarity is unhealthy. 

For example, if your parents were unpredictable and inconsistent in their affection for you, it’s likely you will be attracted to partners who are inconsistent or emotionally unavailable because this will replicate the experience of your childhood. If someone who is emotionally available and consistent pursues you romantically, it might not feel like love because it doesn’t match the attachment you had with your caretakers. You might know that you “should” be with them but feel that the chemistry is missing and the relationship seems boring.

Research shows that people with an anxious attachment style tend to gravitate towards partners with an avoidant attachment style. If you’re anxious, you thrive in partnerships that are stable, supportive and long-lasting yet you find yourself drawn to those who are often unable to meet your needs. What is comfortable and familiar is not always what is healthy for us when it comes to adult attachment. Therapy with an attachment-based therapist can help you change this pattern and start choosing and loving partners that are healthy for you based on your attachment style in relationships.

Understanding My Attachment Theory Type

Which of the above 4 attachment theory types describes your attachment style in relationships? How about your partner’s style of attachment? If you’re uncertain, a simple attachment style quiz can help. Understanding attachment theory and your attachment style is a huge step towards creating the kind of healthy relationship you crave. 

The good news is, regardless of your attachment style, you and your partner can both move towards being more secure. We all have our go-to attachment styles which we can easily default to if not being conscious about it. However, research has shown that attachment style can be fluid and flexible. You can break your anxious or avoidant patterns by experiencing a stable, connected, and supportive relationship with a partner who is willing to grow and change with you.

Being with a partner who is able to meet your attachment needs enables you to become more securely attached. Even if you aren’t in a relationship, you can work towards becoming more securely attached on your own and recognizing partners that may or may not be a good fit for you based on your respective attachment style.

If you’re looking for ways to improve your relationships and move towards a more secure attachment, any of the therapists at Couples Learn can help. All of our couples therapists have advanced training in attachment and helping you uncover patterns in love that are leading to unhealthy relationships.

At Couples Learn, we offer online couples therapy and online individual therapy for relationship issues to help empower you to create the love you deserve. Book a free 30 minute consultation with one of our marriage counselors today!

Attachment theory for adults can improve your connection and relationship.
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT): Is It Right For You?

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT): Is It Right For You?

When searching for couples therapy, there are a lot of options out there, including Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT). It can be challenging to determine what type of therapy or therapist is right for you and your partner.

Many therapists working with individuals do not have specialized training to work with couples beyond the generalized courses offered in graduate school. And, to be honest, those courses really don’t teach us enough to be truly competent couples therapists. They provide more of a general overview of couples issues but lack the specifics needed to become truly artful and skilled.

Therapists who pursue more intentional advanced training to work with couples, gain experience working with common real-life relationship concerns and develop an advanced skill set that equips them to help couples get to the core of their issues and make lasting changes in their relationship. I (Shawntres Parks, LMFT) am trained in a particular type of therapy called Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT).

The couples I work with love EFT because it helps them experience greater feelings of security in their relationship by teaching them how to meet one another’s attachment needs. This is huge when it comes to creating and maintaining a healthy long-term relationship. If you don’t already know about the importance of attachment style, check out our blog on that too. Ok, now back to Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.

What is Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy?

Emotionally focused therapy for couples, or EFT, is a short-term approach to couples therapy typically lasting from 15-20 sessions. You might think that sounds like a lot of sessions but, in the world of therapy, it’s actually pretty brief. Emotionally Focused Therapy was created in the 1980s by researcher/practitioners Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg. EFT pulls from several therapeutic approaches that address how and why people connect with each other. Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples provides steps and language to help couples communicate and experience each other in healthier and more satisfying ways.

EFT is an attachment-based therapy. Attachment theory was developed upon the understanding that human attachment, beginning in childhood, continues throughout the lifespan and has a huge impact on our romantic relationships. While attraction, shared beliefs, values, and experiences are all important when we look for a partner, creating a secure attachment is what’s truly important if we want to maintain a healthy relationship.

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy online

A securely attached relationship provides a safe harbor to retreat to when life and circumstances are difficult and a safe base to launch from to help us grow and take risks. Couples experiencing the distress of constant conflict, lose that feeling of security that is necessary for each of them to thrive as individuals and a couple. Not feeling securely attached is intensely painful and scary for both partners. Sometimes, it may even lead to one or both partners seeking attachment outside of the relationship, resulting in various types of affairs that only further deteriorate feelings of security in the relationship. Secure attachment can also be impacted by other types of competing attachments such as over-focus on children, friends, extended-family, work, and electronics among other things.

Emotionally Focused Therapy seeks to repair injured attachment by first helping couples recognize what they are doing that threatens the secure attachment. How couples handle conflict is one of the major problem areas addressed in EFT by mapping the “cycle” of behaviors and emotional responses that trap the couple in unhealthy conflict. Once they’ve mapped their conflict cycle,  couples are able to unite and fight against it as a team. This mapping process helps the couple become more collaborative, increase positive interactions, and shift away from damaging high-conflict interactions.

Facing your conflict cycle together, rather than facing off against one another, reduces the impact of the conflict and helps it become much more manageable. A therapist trained in EFT will help each partner approach conflict without negativity, criticism, advice, or neglect and respond to each other in a secure and loving way. This different approach to conflict helps repair and strengthen attachment leading to greater relationship satisfaction and safety.

EFT is broken down into 3 stages:

  • Stage 1 – Assess and De-escalate: In this stage, couples will experience an epiphany when their therapist helps them identify the deep-seated attachment needs that are behind their ongoing conflict.
  • Stage 2 – Restructuring the Couple’s Bond: In this stage, couples will learn and practice skills to have more positive communication so that they can share unmet attachment needs with one another rather than getting caught in their conflict cycle and fighting.
  • Stage 3 – Consolidation: In this stage, couples will use their newly learned skills and apply them to any old issues that may still be lingering. They will also look at ways to further integrate their EFT skills and apply them to addressing future fears and concerns.

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy: Who can benefit from EFT?

Couples who are experiencing detachment from their partner due to loveless relationship, infidelity, lack of trust, difficulty communicating, and high conflict all can benefit from working with EFT counselors. EFT counselors work with couples who are actively considering divorce, experiencing infidelity, and/or struggling with excessive or unproductive conflicts. Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy can help to re-engage avoidant, withdrawn, and burnt-out partners by assisting the couple in re-creating enough safety to be emotionally vulnerable with each other.

Emotionally Focused Therapy is a thoroughly researched and effective form of couples therapy and has been shown to be successful with many couples regardless of race, age, religion, or sexual orientation. Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is based in attachment, which is a HUMAN survival need, making it applicable to all of us. According to John Bowlby, the creator of attachment theory, “The need to connect with another human being is the most basic need of the mammalian brain.”

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy online

How Can EFT Help?

Emotionally Focused Therapy can help couples by giving them the skills and ability to be more accessible, responsive, and engaged with one another. The goal of EFT is to help couples repair attachment. One of the ways we accomplish this is by teaching you how to manage conflict in a healthier way.

Sue Johnson, creator of EFT, details 3 types of conflict cycles that couples experience: Freeze & Flee, Protest Polka, and Find the Bad Guy.

Freeze and Flee happens when both partners are disengaged and avoidant. No meaningful communication or connection is happening and both partners are left feeling helpless and hopeless. When I’ve worked with couples in this cycle they’ll tell me “I’m not sure that I’m in love anymore,” and “I don’t know if there is any hope for this.” It’s intensely painful for couples in this cycle to live with the emotional distance from one another.

Protest Polka is the cycle that I encounter most frequently in my work with couples. In this cycle, the longing to connect with your partner, and the fear of losing them, causes you to act in critical ways or to shut down, effectively shutting yourself in and your partner out. The way that each partner is trying to get emotional needs met, is the very thing creating and maintaining the disconnection between them. The cycle is so powerful that it easily sweeps the couple away and leaves them feeling more and more helpless and farther away from the love and intimacy that they crave.

Find the Bad Guy is a mutual attack cycle where each partner is always expecting the worst from the other. By expecting an attack, each partner is in a constantly defensive position and ready to launch a counterattack at a moment’s notice. This emotionally exhausting cycle keeps each partner in opposite corners, like boxers in a ring. They’re looking for a fight even when there isn’t one coming. It’s a perfect recipe for conflict and disconnection.

Along with helping you identify and heal your conflict cycle, EFT therapy also teaches you to be more secure partners for one another, resulting in greater emotional balance, the ability to safely express emotional needs, greater flexibility and adaptiveness to each other’s needs, and the ability to give and receive comfort.

Secure partners are more supportive and understanding of one another and are able to safely navigate the inevitable challenges of life and relationships together as a team. Working with an EFT counselor provides couples with a relationship blueprint for security that will benefit them throughout the lifespan.

What to Expect in an Emotionally Focused Therapy Session?

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy sessions can range from 50 minutes to several hours depending on the needs of the couple. Couples typically participate in EFT therapy once weekly, though there may be cases where couples attend sessions more or less frequently.

Because Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy focuses on recognizing and feeling emotions, you may experience yourself feeling emotions you previously felt disconnected from. Many of us shut down or minimize our own (and our partners’) emotions without even realizing it. This is especially true if we grew up in a family where vulnerable expression of emotions was not modeled or encouraged.

As you start to reconnect to your emotional self, you might notice some feelings of discomfort and vulnerability. This is completely normal and all part of the process of becoming a healthier and more whole human who is in touch with their emotions. EFT counselors can handle the intensity and complexity of the emotions that couples bring into therapy and will teach you how to handle it too.

EFT counselors are trained to use their emotions to tune into yours. They will use empathy and compassion, alongside their specialized training, to help you and your partner engage and connect in more loving, supportive, and vulnerable ways. This act of gradually ‘turning-toward’ each other creates feelings of attachment between you and your partner that may have felt impossible at the start of therapy.

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy

Does Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy Work?

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is a well-researched form of couples therapy used internationally to help couples achieve more connected, attuned, and satisfying relationships. Research studies have found that 70-75% of couples undergoing EFT successfully move from distress to recovery, and approximately 90% show significant improvements.

Many couples who experience EFT report that it transformed their relationship beyond what they thought was possible. One such couple I worked with shared that it saved their marriage. They were married for 8 years and it had recently come to light that one partner was unfaithful. While infidelity was the impetus to seeking couples therapy, it was clear that their conflict cycle was the primary issue. Together, using EFT, we were able to identify that each partner’s childhood and adolescent traumas had influenced the use of unhealthy attachment behaviors.

One partner would become emotionally abusive and critical when in distress, while the other would often leave the home for hours, or days when distressed. Over time, these behaviors within their conflict cycle had a polarizing effect, leading one partner to seek out a competing attachment (the affair partner).

Through the use of EFT, the partners were able to establish an agreement that the affair would end, and the marriage would become the primary and only attachment again. Once establishing that safety, we were able to work on turning toward one another in distress and identifying their need for each other, rather than getting caught in the unhealthy conflict cycle. This couple went from having a sex-less and disconnected marriage to establishing renewed and healthy connections emotionally and physically.

Finding an EFT Therapist

Reading this, you may be thinking about your own relationship and realizing Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is right for you. Perhaps you and your partner struggle with communication because discussions often turn into fights. You may feel like no matter what you do to try connecting with your partner, you can’t seem to say or do the right thing. You struggle to be seen, heard, and appreciated for who you really are. The relationship may feel more like pain than pleasure.

I want to assure you that even in the most hopeless of places, transformation is still possible. Emotionally Focused Therapy goes beyond the visible conflict, frustration, and disappointment to uncover the real problem source: the conflict cycle and the impact on your attachment. Together, we can unite and fight against the cycle that is eroding your relationship in such painful ways.

I am passionate about helping couples find their way out of the hopeless wasteland of disconnection and into a space where they are able to love, support, and be vulnerable with one another again. If this sounds like something you need, I encourage you to book a free consultation. As an online couples therapist, I provide EFT online as well as in my Upland, CA office.

Online couples therapy is an incredibly effective and convenient way to fit therapy into your busy schedule and be able to connect with each other from the comfort of your own home. Another great way to start working on your relationship from home using EFT is by reading the book Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson. If you find that or anything I’ve written above resonates with you, I would love to support you in using Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy to restore your relationship.

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy for online marriage counseling
At Home Activities For Couples During Coronavirus Self-Quarantine

At Home Activities For Couples During Coronavirus Self-Quarantine

If you are feeling anxious and unsure about what to do while you are at home because of the coronavirus self-quarantine, you are not alone! At home activities for couples and families are at the top of everyone’s minds as we hunker down and do our part to help flatten the curve.

This is the first time in history that something like this has happened, and many of us were simply not prepared for our lives to be turned upside down like this. While, just a week ago you might have been worried about what to wear to a friend’s birthday party, now you are wondering when we might be able to see that friend in person again! Or go to another party for that matter!

To make matters worse, this is also a really strange time to be in a new relationship. Lots of couples who were not used to seeing each other daily are now having to choose between not seeing each other at all or sharing the same space 24/7 if they quarantine together. This can lead to anxiety, irritability, and even fights if you don’t know how to handle being together during the coronavirus self-quarantine. Ironically, even though you’re being told to practice social distancing, many of you are finding yourselves in closer quarters than ever before! The increased time together along with all of the fear and anxiety that this new disease is causing can wreak havoc on your relationship without the proper tools.

Since our main focus at Couples Learn is helping couples work through all kinds of challenges, we figured it was right up our alley to give you some tips on how to handle being quarantined with your significant other and give you some ideas for at home activities for couples.

First, let’s address the basics. What is social distancing anyway?

What Is Social Distancing?

Social distancing is the act of creating more space between people so that we can slow, or ideally stop, the coronavirus outbreak. Since we don’t yet have a cure for coronavirus, our best line of defense is to try to stop people from getting it in the first place. If we all carry on business as usual, we will all get the virus at the same time. This would completely overwhelm our hospitals and cause a lot of deaths. If we slow the spread, fewer people will get coronavirus at the same time and the hospitals will have a better chance of being able to help everyone who needs it.

Some examples of social distancing measures include:

  • Cancelling events that are likely to draw big crowds
  • Working from home
  • Closing schools or instituting online classes
  • Closing restaurants or offering drive-thru or delivery service only
  • Staying at least 6 feet away from other people in public
  • Cancelling or postponing conferences or large meetings
  • Visiting with people through skype, zoom, or other online platforms instead of meeting in person
  • Cancelling or postponing travel
  • Cancelling large sporting events, concerts, and gatherings

Basically, social distancing involves doing everything that you can to stay healthy, while protecting other people at the same time. This is especially important with this coronavirus outbreak because you can be sick without even knowing it. Since it’s possible for you to have the virus with no symptoms, if you continue to see lots of people, you could be passing the virus on to them without ever realizing it. This means that you could pass the virus on to someone who is more vulnerable, like an elderly person, or someone with a compromised immune system. This is why social distancing is so important for you to be practicing right now, and exactly why we could all use ideas for at home activities for couples.

Fun At Home Activities For Couples

Alright, so you are doing your part, practicing your social distancing strategies and staying home with or without others right now. If you found this article, you might be wondering what are some at home activities for couples that you and your partner can do together to make the most of this time during the coronavirus self-quarantine?

Try A New Hobby Together

Try to think of this time as bonus time that you wouldn’t normally have together. What are some fun things that you would like to do since you have this time? Of course, sex is one great way to pass the time, but you could also try a new hobby together! I’ve recently discovered gardening and painting mandalas are two hobbies I really enjoy. You can do these alone or together. Sometimes, it’s really relaxing to be in the same room with someone else while you are both working on projects. Maybe you and your partner could both work on art projects, or maybe you could work on making jewelry while your partner does a crossword puzzle. It doesn’t matter if you work on the same project or different ones, as long as you are both taking a break from the news and enjoying your down time.

Fun At Home Activities for Couples

Learn A New Skill With Your Partner

You could also take this time to learn a new skill like a card game or a different language with your partner. Part of what will help you feel better about your time in this coronavirus self-quarantine is keeping your mind active and thinking about things other than the virus. Learning something new is a great way to take that pent up energy that you have and channel it towards something good.

Get Cooking

What is one thing many people turn to when bored? Food! I’ve already seen articles calling “The Quarantine 15” the new “Freshman 15” in terms of weight gain. However, this could be a great time to learn new recipes and get creative in the kitchen. Whether you are just learning to cook, cooking interesting meals, or figuring out the most creative ways to use whatever is in your cabinets, cooking and eating together is one of the best at home activities for couples. Plus, not eating at restaurants as much is great for your health and your budget.

Bonding At Home Activities For Couples

Because of the way our brains work, just thinking about doing things can have the same effect as actually doing them. That’s why during this coronavirus self-quarantine, it can be really helpful for you and your partner to do a lot of planning.

What do I mean by planning?

You can create a budget, plan future dates, future vacations, even research recipes and plan things that you want to cook in the future. Get out a calendar and actually write down fun things that you and your partner will do in the next several months. Even if you can’t visit all of the places that you want to go right now, just thinking about doing these things will give your brain a boost of feel-good chemicals.

When you get tired of thinking about the future, bring yourselves back to the present by asking each other these 82 fun questions to deepen your connection. I also love the free app from The Gottman Institute called Gottman Card Decks. This free deck of virtual flashcards will help you and your partner connect by providing fun conversation starters and helping you learn everything you ever wanted to know about each other but didn’t think to ask.

By the way, this is also a great time to catch up on reading, either alone or with your partner, Try reading a book on relationships together. All my favorites can be found here on my Amazon Affiliate page (if you buy from this page, I will make a small commission but it will not increase the cost for you).

Reading is one of the best at home activities for couples

Isolation And Mental Health

As much as I want to help you have fun with at home activities for couples during this coronavirus self-quarantine, I also realize that it’s just as important for you to keep your own mental health a priority during this time. Being that isolation and depression are closely related, I feel like it’s important to offer you some strategies to improve your mental health while you are at home.

Some of the things that you can do to make this coronavirus self-quarantine more manageable include figuring out how you are actually feeling and then starting a healthy practice to manage or express those feelings.

In order to figure out how you are feeling, try assessing your happiness, on a scale of 1-10 in the following areas:

  • Sexual
  • Spiritual
  • Health
  • Financial
  • Emotional
  • Psychological
  • Relationships

If you find that you are less happy than a 6 in any of the above areas, make a list of concrete things that you can do to raise your number. Even raising it to a 6.5 is progress!

Start A Daily Practice

One thing that helps when things feel out of control is to have some kind of routine. Making sure that your basic needs are met is a great place to start. Get out of bed, shower, get dressed, try to eat healthy and get some movement into your day. Just doing these basic things will make a world of difference!

There are many online apps, for working out and meditation that you can access for free. I love Insight Timer for free guided meditations. Be sure to check out my favorite teacher, Sarah Blondin. She has the most soothing voice!

This is also a powerful time to start a journal or create a relationship vision. Having places to write down what is happening and to reflect on how you are handling things can be very therapeutic. There are even online journaling apps like Day One, that allow you to keep photos and text together in a way that looks really cool!

Don’t Go It Alone

Lastly, remember, you are not in this alone! If you find that the way that you are feeling, either individually, or as a couple is too much for you to handle, consider starting online therapy. Our therapists are here and happy to help you through this difficult time. I believe that there are opportunities in all of life’s challenges and this one is no different! Together, we can get through this.

at home activities for couples to pass time in self quarantine