Emotion Focused Therapy for Individuals

Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT)There are many reasons to consider booking a counselling session. You may have experienced a (or a number of) traumatic event(s) and need help to process. You may be very self-critical and want to develop self-compassion. You feel you self-sabotage your path to reaching your goals but don’t know why. Or perhaps you have some unfinished business, something unresolved and need to talk it through. All these things might leave you feeling a range of conflicting or confusing emotions. If so, Emotion Focused Therapy might suit you.

Key benefits of Emotion Focused Therapy

When you are open to working with Emotion Focused Therapy, you can expect to become more adept at identifying the important information your emotions are signalling to you. As your emotional intelligence strengthens you will also develop greater empathy for others.

You will learn to use your emotions in an adaptive manner in order to achieve: –

  • a greater understanding of what lies behind your automatic responses to certain situations.
  • a reduction in interpersonal conflict and improved relationships.
  • the ability to positively influence the behaviours of others.
  • improved feelings of satisfaction with life.

The Theory behind the therapy

Emotion Focused Therapy is an evidence-based, experiential approach which focuses on emotions as the critical driver of human functioning and therapeutic transformation. There are seven discrete primary emotions: joy, fear, anger, surprise, disgust, sadness and shame. Emotion and cognition (how we think about things) are intimately entwined, meaning that one is very much influential over the other. Emotions are also connected to the immune system and physiology (our bodily reactions).

Emotions are viewed as adaptative and maladaptive. When used adaptively, they can help you change challenging emotional states or experiences. When used maladaptively, they can keep you feeling stuck and with a negative sense of self.

Emotion Focused Therapy has its roots in the humanist approach to therapy. This means that you, as the client, are seen as a dynamic whole being who wants to live an authentic life. You are the expert of your own experiences and have the capacity to self-heal. Therefore, you have your own individual way of being authentic. As an Emotion Focused therapist, my role is to follow and guide you as you make meaning out of your thoughts, feelings and experiences.

Recognising how you make decisions

Central to Emotion Focused Therapy is the belief that emotions are experienced as complex processes. These processes help you organise who you are and how you are in the world, and they are continually changing. We can experience several processes either separately or at the same time. Imagine, if you will, that they are a network of emotional events that are both singular and intertwined. The limbic system in our brain is responsible for our basic emotional processes and memory. It regulates our physiological response to emotional stimuli and is also involved in reinforcing behaviour.

Here’s a quick example to illustrate. Imagine you see a brown snake for the first time in your life, slithering onto the pathway a metre ahead of where you are walking. What is your immediate reaction? Do you fight, flight or freeze? Your reaction will be influenced by a number of processes happening in your limbic system based on the information in front of you (the snake) and what you have previously learned (snakes are dangerous).

The next time you are walking down that pathway you may find you become hypervigilant in case the snake reappears. There is no snake, but you experience the same emotional and physiological responses (fear, faster heartbeat, walking a little faster) as you past the spot where you saw it. Your earlier experience mixed with your knowledge of the dangers brown snakes lead you to a real fear of snakes.

As an Emotion Focused therapist, my role is to help you develop your ability to identify and access these processes by developing your inner listening. When you hear what your emotions are trying to tell you, you can learn how to make different decisions.

The role of your emotions

Humans are emotional creatures. Your emotions are crucial for your survival, communication and problem-solving. They signal when you need to take action, they aid you in all relationships. No matter how hard you try to hide them, mask them or suppress them, your emotional responses are the guides to your values, needs and wants.

Each of the seven primary emotions has an action tendency:

  • Joy feels good and you want to experience more of it.
  • Fear is your reaction to danger. You may want to withdraw, freeze or become more vigilant.
  • Anger makes you want to thrust yourself forward, be assertive and empowered.
  • Surprise generates your interest and engagement.
  • Disgust keeps you away from things that are repulsive to you.
  • Sadness sees you wanting to withdraw.
  • Shame makes you want to hide and shrink and defer to others.

In Emotion Focused Therapy for individuals, we distinguish between four types of emotional response.

A primary adaptive emotional response is a direct and appropriate reaction to an event. For example, if someone threatened you with physical bodily harm, fear would be an adaptive emotional response as it might prompt you to run away (as indicated in the brown snake example above).

Often resulting from traumatic experiences, a maladaptive emotional state is a direct and learned reaction to prior events. For example, if, as a child, you have learned that caregiving by a significant figure was followed by physical or sexual abuse, you may find yourself automatically reacting angrily to – and subsequently rejecting – your partner in preparation for a potential violation.

Secondary reactive emotional responses mask your primary emotions when you are unable – or do not feel safe enough – to communicate your true needs. For example, you may express anger when you are actually fearful of a particular consequence. For example, your spouse criticises something of value to you. Your respond in anger because you are afraid their comments are a rejection of you.

When you’ve learned that using a particular emotion is a way to control others, that is using it in an instrumental way. For example, when reprimanded by a colleague for a misdemeanour you may use displays of sadness (e.g. tears, body language) to elicit feelings of guilt from them in order to evade further action.

All types of emotions are key pieces of information. As an Emotion Focused therapist, I know that your emotions play three key roles. First, your emotions are essential to your decision-making. Secondly, your emotions tell you what is important to you, what you need to do and who you are as a person. Thirdly, your emotions are feelings, each feeling is attached to a need, and each need has a direction for action. It is my role to help you identify and appropriately express the emotions that most effectively communicate your needs.

Manage to regulate your emotional responses

Adaptive emotion regulation is all about how we become skilled at noticing and using our emotions to appropriately cope with distress and ask for our needs and hopes to be met. In your Emotion Focused Therapy sessions, you will learn how to safely and effectively access, tolerate and contain or distance difficult emotions.

You will also learn how to manage those times when you are experiencing dysfunctional emotion regulation. Imagine a time when you were paralysed into inaction because you felt overwhelmed by the task at hand. Did your mind go blank? Were you able to express how you were feeling? Another example might be when you are unable to perform your best at a task you have done many times before because you lack focus and direction.

‘Flooding’ is a maladaptive emotional response to feeling overwhelmed by a distressing emotional state. Flooding can often feel dangerous and traumatic, so it is not unusual for the person to try an avoid or numb these feelings. This is a common feature of post traumatic stress. Avoidance of these feelings can lead to a number of unhealthy coping mechanisms as the person is unable to effectively process the trauma and find positive ways to move forward.

Is this the right therapy for you?

When you undertake Emotion Focused Therapy, you learn how to: –

  • Recognise how your emotions are essential to your decision making
  • Understand when thinking yourself ‘out’ of a problem and ‘into’ a solution isn’t working.
  • Manage your individual emotional processes in beneficial ways
  • Express your emotions with positive actions

I can help you understand how your current emotional responses to difficult situations are connected to past experiences. I will work with you to identify and address the causes of your current difficulties. Together we will transform these responses into positive change for your future.

I am passionate about helping you achieve your goals. I am genuine and compassionate. I have a curious and empathic manner. I can offer you a healing counselling relationship, within which you can explore your thoughts and feelings, safe from judgement.

We will work together on what troubles you, at your pace. Helping you gain self-understanding and personal growth will be both an honour and a privilege for me.

Sessions are 50 minutes each.


If you experience any of the following, this may not be the right therapy for you –

  • You are actively abusing substances
  • You have problems with impulse control.
  • You have a very fragile sense of self.
  • You actively dissociate.
  • You are in the early stages of serious trauma.

If you are not sure whether any of these apply to you, please discuss this during our introductory consultation.


“A bit less than 4 years ago, following a series of unfortunate events in my life, I had reached a really low point. Emotionally, mentally and physically drained, I knew that I needed to find the strength to continue living, and out of sheer desperation, I finally reached out to Louisa. It was the best decision I ever made.

Louisa has helped me experience growth and overcome many energy blocks. In a loving and compassionate manner, she has helped me to identify both the destructive behavior patterns that led to my subsequent bouts of down spirals as well as the traumatic events leading up to them.Louisa has positively influenced my life and I am learning to identify and arrest addictive behaviours”


For more information about counselling and psychotherapy in general, take a look at the frequently asked questions about counselling and psychotherapy.

To make an appointment, contact me today.


Useful numbers:

If you or any members of your family are in an unsafe situation, please contact one of the organisations below:

1800RESPECT Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line

1800 737 732


Kids Help Line 24 hour counselling service for young people aged 5-25 years

1800 551 800


LifeLine 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention

13 11 14


Mensline 24 hour information and referral service for men with family and relationship concerns

1300 78 99 78


No to Violence For men who are wanting to stop their violent or abusive behaviour towards their family members

1300 766 491


Police or ambulance Call 000 at any time if you are worried about you or your children’s safety