Emotion-Focused Family Therapy: What It Is and Why We Love It

Emotion-Focused Family Therapy: What It Is and Why We Love It


Here at The Chesnut Group, we are big proponents of Emotion-Focused Family Therapy (EFFT) when it comes to the treatment of eating disorders. EFFT empowers caregivers through its non-pathologizing philosophy and skill-building focus, allowing for a more comprehensive and effective approach to eating disorder treatment. Below you can learn more about EFFT as well our EFFT group offering for caregivers.

The EFFT Model

Emotion-Focused Family Therapy was developed by Dr. Adel Lafrance and Dr. Joanne Dolhanty initially as a supplement to eating disorder treatment, but has gone on to show successful applications for other mental health issues as well. EFFT believes that eating disorders are rooted in one’s lack of ability and confidence in tolerating difficult emotions. Therefore, the model places emphasis on helping caregivers be emotionally responsive and create safety for their children to process distressing feelings as they navigate the recovery process. Caregivers are taught skills in how to follow through with behavioral interventions, be an “emotion coach” for their children, repair any ruptures that have occurred in the caregiver-child relationship, and work through their own fears as a caregiver supporting their child’s recovery.

Why We Love EFFT

  • It works well for all ages and stages of recovery. Even caregivers of adult children are well-suited for this model, as well as caregivers of children who are not motivated to change. In fact, this model is especially helpful for caregivers who are having a hard time enacting the behavioral interventions prescribed by the child’s care providers.
  • It is deeply validating. EFFT recognizes the healing power of having one’s emotional experience truly understood and held by another person, particularly family members. For example, the model provides coaching around validation by prompting caregivers to guess how their child is feeling, what emotion(s) are tied to their particular experience, and at least three reasons why they may be feeling that way. 
  • It is respectful of inherent wisdom. While the model is skills-based, it also does not try to overstep and dictate “right” or “wrong” behaviors to caregivers. Instead, it aims to help them use their inherent ability to compassionately connect with their child.
  • It acknowledges the role of intergenerational trauma. EFFT considers the experiences of the last 3 generations within a family in order to help caregivers make sense of their beliefs, fears, and responses to their children’s eating behaviors, and ultimately experience self-compassion rather than self-blame.

Are you a caregiver of a child or adult struggling with an eating disorder?

Our next EFFT Caregiver group, facilitated by Megan Bruce (ACSW), will be beginning Monday, September 13th at 5:30 PM. The group will meet for 1.5 hours per week for 8-10 weeks, and will offer group members an introduction to the EFFT model, an overview of the EFFT skill sets using a mostly didactic approach, as well as some opportunities for experiential practice and processing personal experiences. To learn more, call us at 650-206-4505 or email TheresaChesnutLCSW@gmail.com.

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