In November 2013, Sue Johnson shared the results of a groundbreaking collaboration between herself and University of Virginia Neuroscientist Dr. James Coan. They showed for the first time that Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) changes how the brain perceives and responds to threat.
The research findings have important implications for all of us. We all know that EFT can deepen love and create a more secure emotional bond, but we haven’t always understood how this happens. It seems that science is giving us a deeper understanding of how love (and adult attachment security) works at the level of brain function.
Here is a link to this amazing research:
For those of you that may not have the time to read it, Sue has summarized the findings like this:
The study dramatically illustrates how couples therapy that teaches people to bond securely, builds the pathway for loving contact that soothes the brain and calms our perception of danger. It is strong evidence of how our mammalian brain is wired to use another intelligence — loving contact — to manage the fears and pains of daily life. Teaching people how to build these connections can save countless marriages and families.
Providing results with implications that can benefit couples, children, families, and the fields of medicine and education, the research reveals that the brain infused with a sense of connection and love is more serene and less overwhelmed by peril, not just when we are two or three years old and our mother holds us, but also as adults.
Reflecting years of collaborative effort, this fascinating study speaks to:
• The power of loving contact to give us safety and comfort
• The power of EFT couple interventions to create and shape a powerful antidote to fear
• How our brains are wired to use connection with others to help us cope with threat and uncertainty
AN EXAMPLE of the typical participants in this study might be Jane and Carl, an unhappy couple who have sought out Emotionally Focused Therapy: Before their first EFT therapy session, Jane lies in an MRI machine for a brain scan. She is signaled that a shock will be coming. Alone in the machine, her brain lights up in alarm and when it comes, she says the shock is very unpleasant. When a stranger holds her hand, the results are the same. Unpleasant! When Carl holds Jane’s hand, her brain activity again indicates alarm and she says the shock is painful. Contact with her husband does not soothe or calm her.
After Jane and Carl’s last EFT therapy session and bonding conversations, Jane is again alone for the MRI and her brain lights up when she sees the “X” indicating a shock is coming, and the shock is very unpleasant.When a stranger holds her hand, her alarm response and pain are lessened. Then, when Carl holds Jane’s hand and she sees the “X,” there is a powerful difference —relatively little brain activity indicating anxiety or threat can be seen. The loving comfort she now perceives from her husband’s touch persuasively changes how her brain encodes this “threat” and she reports that the shock is only “uncomfortable.”
This is wonderful, amazing research that is helping support the idea that humans need safe connections to loved ones and when those relationships aren’t going well, we all feel “scared”. Getting help through Emotionally Focused Therapy can really help to heal the disconnection and create safe, strong bonds. To find out about a local EFT therapist, visit my website www.LotusPointWellness.com.