• Life Tools vs. Quick Fixes

    Partners beginning Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT) sometimes ask for “tools” to help improve their relationship. The research-based tools of EFT are not “just do this” or “try to remember that.” Instead, the life tools that I work to give them include hope, transparency and agency.


    The longing for connection and desire to reduce pain is very understandable. However, suggesting a quick behavioral fix is rarely helpful. When that fix fails, the couple may feel even more hopeless and powerless. In my experience, it’s more effective to help clients see and feel evidence of hope for themselves, understand how the therapeutic journey will unfold and use their inborn strengths and attachment system to foster positive change.



    Humans are born with a need for attachment — for connection — to others. I help couples understand that we’re not fixing something that’s broken but rather unblocking an innate, instinctive capacity for attachment.


    An attachment system blocked by a negative cycle of efforts to connect or manage pain can lead to disconnection, lack of communication, anger and defensiveness. These, in turn, exacerbate emotional pain and damage. Recognizing this destructive cycle as it happens and understanding the thoughts, feelings and body sensations associated with it is a useful tool for therapeutic change. While some couples reach a point of detachment from which they never recover, hope provides the greatest chance for success.



    If I’m getting a dental procedure, I want to know why it’s necessary and what to expect. Understanding what we’re doing in therapy and why we’re doing it creates a feeling of safety.


    When a client asks a question or gives me feedback in treatment, my goal is to be responsive and honor the risk the client takes in doing so. For some, the feeling of being heard and understood in that type of situation can be a new experience. I try to reinforce how a nondefensive response to healthy relational assertiveness promotes greater trust, emotional availability and positive communication. If we hit a roadblock, I’ll be open about that and invite ideas from the couple. Being transparent about the “why and how” of the therapy process helps clients feel a greater sense of predictability, control, responsiveness and especially safety. And that, in turn, improves communication and strengthens emotional bonds.



    Being part of the solution is much more empowering than perceiving a solution as an  outside expert’s prescription. I see clients as collaborators in therapy. I don’t want them to just feel changed; I want them to feel that they are part of the change process — and develop life tools that they can take with them when treatment is completed.


    Just this morning, a client suggested we change the direction of the day’s session. My original plan for the meeting may have gone well, but the client’s suggestion was likely more fruitful. This agency helps them take a more active role in finding ways to nurture the relationship. Additionally, the agency they feel will make it more likely that they continue to actively nurture it in the future.


    If your therapist gives out Band-Aid solutions, changing direction from week to week, ask him or her to explain their approach and how these “quick fixes” fit into your overall treatment plan. If the therapist is unable to explain — or gets defensive — you may want to consider finding another therapist.


    John Gallagher is a certified therapist and supervisor in Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy. He can be reached through his website couplestherapyorlando.com or by phone at 407-579-2070.

    Therapy services available via Telehealth.