New Study Examines Therapist Skills in Emotion-Focused Therapy for Depression

Emotion-focused therapy (EFT) is a unique approach that is used for relationships in distress and has also been shown to be very effective at decreasing and managing depressive symptoms. The way in which EFT is delivered is relatively consistent, but therapists’ personalities and individual skill sets influence the overall impact of treatment. Tools such as action skills, exploration, and insight shape the course of treatment and can lead to innovative moments (IMs) and breakthroughs for the client. Because therapists’ styles vary, Carla Cunha of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Instituto Superior da Maia/Centro de Investigacao do Nucleo de Estudose Intervencao Cognitivo—Comportamental (ISMAI/CINEICC) in Maia, Portugal, recently conducted a study that compared the therapists’ skills in three good outcome (GO) cases of EFT to three poor outcome (PO) cases. Cunha examined the specific nuances of each therapist and how they affected the therapeutic gains and IMs experienced by the clients at treatment initiation, the middle of treatment, and at the concluding sessions.

Cunha found that the action skills of the therapists were more prevalent in the GO cases than in the PO cases. Additionally, the results revealed that heavy use of insight and exploration led to more IMs in the GO sessions than in the PO sessions. Cunha also noticed that in the GO cases, the EFT skills developed early in treatment and grew through the middle of treatment. These enhanced skills were maintained throughout the conclusion of the sessions. “In contrast, in PO cases, the association increased from the initial to middle phase but then decreased from the middle to final phase,” said Cunha. She also noted that in the GO cases, the insight and exploration strategies led to reflective behaviors and transforming IMs, catalysts for change in depressed individuals. Cunha believes that these findings demonstrate the importance of focusing on early skill development to achieve a positive treatment outcome in EFT for depression.

Cunha, C., Gonçalves, M. M., Hill, C. E., Mendes, I., Ribeiro, A. P., Sousa, I., et al. (2012). Therapist interventions and client innovative moments in emotion-focused therapy for depression. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028259

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Edie


    July 16th, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    Do you think that it is possible that for patients who receive a poor outcome they are working with a therapist who is less proactive, who is willing to give this time to grow and be nurtured instead of focusing on the patient making early advances? This could be their method, trying to allow the therapy run its course and for the patient to proceed at the level that he or she feels most comfortable with. But in actuality it appears that the patient would have better outcomes if they are pushed a little harder and encouraged to make some positive changes very early on the treatment span.

  • Alton


    July 16th, 2012 at 4:07 PM

    I would not want to feel pressured in therapy. It may be hard enough for me to even get there, much less have to feel stressed about doing things faster than I am ready for.

  • ben


    July 17th, 2012 at 12:35 AM

    however a good therapy technique one chooses,the therapist can make it or break it…the role of the therapist to a treatment cannot be stressed enough…If you are not fine or comfortable with one therapist then do yourself a favor and look around…I made the mistake of not doing that a long time ago and didn’t fully benefit from treatment, don’t let that happen to you.

  • D Michaels

    D Michaels

    July 17th, 2012 at 3:16 AM

    I agree with the studied referred to here..Not just therapist but in any profession the more you involve yourself into it the better you will do..It’s no rocket science. But for a therapist it becomes so much more important because of what’s at stake..A person could fully recover or continue to languish in his problems..Thats how important a therapist’s skills are.

  • macon


    January 28th, 2013 at 7:08 PM

    The skill set of the therapist could be vital to the therapy success, you would think.

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on