Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

Living Edition
| Editors: Jay Lebow, Anthony Chambers, Douglas C. Breunlin

Primary Emotions in Emotionally Focused Therapy

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-15877-8_181-1


As its name suggests, emotionally focused therapy (EFT) utilizes emotion as a key mechanism of change in couple therapy. Unlike many couple and family therapy models that consider emotion to be a disorganizing force and a signal for the therapist to refocus clients in a more “rational” manner, EFT conceptualizes emotion as a “leading element” of change (Johnson 1998). Emotion makes one pay attention, influences physiology and cognition, and propels one into action. Instead of avoiding emotion, the EFT therapist learns to capitalize on it, evoking and highlighting emotional experiences in the room in order to change a couple’s pattern of interacting and promote connection.

More specifically, EFT distinguishes between two levels of emotion: primary and secondary. Primary emotions are more vulnerable, often unconscious, and usually related to fears about one’s own worth or the responsiveness of others. Secondary emotions are expressed in response to primary emotions, such as...

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Colorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Kelley Quirk
    • 1
  • Adam Fisher
    • 2
  1. 1.Colorado State University, Marriage and Family Therapy Program, Human Development and Family StudiesFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.The Family Institute at Northwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA