Emotion-focused therapy training draws international group

When York psychology Professor Leslie Greenberg (PhD ’96) was first developing his emotion-focused therapy (EFT) approach, he was bucking a trend that put the emphasis on controlling and suppressing emotions, rather than working with them. That was in 1986. Today, EFT is catching on as a therapeutic approach of choice and therapists are coming to York from all over the world to learn from Greenberg.

Last week, 16 therapists from as far as Israel, Hong Kong, Denmark, Portugal and Australia, as well as the United States, were at York for four days of in-depth skill training at the Emotion-Focused Therapy Level Two 2010 Summer Institute led by Greenberg. The week before, Level One was offered. Both sessions, which were full and had a waiting list, were held at the new Emotion-Focused Therapy Clinic at the York University Psychology Clinic (YUPC).

Right: Leslie Greenberg instructs therapists from around the world on emotion-focused therapy

“It’s the only place in the world they can do this in-depth training that I developed with my collaborators, and it’s becoming a world-recognized approach,” says Greenberg, who recently received the title of Distinguished Research Professor (see YFile, May 20) and the 2010 Carl Rogers Award from the American Psychological Association’s Society for Humanistic Psychology (Division 32).

Although ideas about EFT began percolating when Greenberg was completing his doctorate in psychology at York, the approach really started to come together in 1993 following the book Facilitating Emotional Change: The Moment-by-Moment Process (The Guilford Press), co-authored by Greenberg. He has since authored and co-authored several books on the subject, including Emotion-Focused Therapy: Coaching Clients to Work Through Their Feelings (American Psychological Association, 2002). It was in 1995 that Greenberg began doing evidence-based research to support the approach.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) was the dominant treatment at the time and had already generated evidence that it worked, but as Greenberg says, “it’s not an in-depth approach to how humans function. It’s good at helping people cope, but not really good at dealing with the core problems people have. So it seemed important to develop a much more in-depth approach to human emotions.” And in the 1980s, there was a greater understanding of the role emotions played. “More and more scientific evidence began to show how important emotions were in life.” That included some of the unpleasant emotions.

Left: From front left, therapists Timothy Downing Brown from the United States and Ben Shuhar from Israel, and from back left, Nels Klint Karsvang and Belinda Lange from Denmark, in the Emotion Focused Therapy Level Two 2010 Summer Institute at York

There is strong evidence now that EFT, with its focus on developing emotional intelligence and the importance of secure relationships, helps couples having marital difficulties, as well as individuals suffering from depression, anxiety and eating disorders, says Greenberg, who was awarded the 2004 Distinguished Career Award by the Society for Psychotherapy Research, an international, multidisciplinary, scientific organization.

EFT is designed to help people accept, express, regulate, understand and transform emotion, not deny or suppress it. Emotion alerts people to what is important in any given situation and acts as a guide to what is needed or wanted, says Greenberg. Working with these emotions helps people to figure out what they should do.

Right: From left, Eve Alon from Israel, Leslie Greenberg, Chui Fan Yip from Hong Kong, Melissa Harte from Australia, Candice Knight from the US and João Salgado from Portugal were just a few of the therapists who came to York to learn emotion-focused therapy

“EFT focuses on helping people become aware of emotions, express their emotions in the right way at the right time, learn to tolerate and regulate them, and to reflect on them to make sense of them and transform them,” says Greenberg. It is not enough to learn about emotions; people need to experience them in a safe environment, such as in a therapy session, and learn how to manage and use them in a flexible manner. It’s not about eliminating emotions, but working with them.

Therapeutic approaches such as CBT and psychoanalysis have their place and have helped a lot of people, but they don’t address the whole picture, he says.

Now that EFT is an internationally recognized approach, Greenberg will be spending much of his upcoming sabbatical training therapists around the world who couldn’t make it to York this summer, starting in his home country of South Africa.

The Emotion-Focused Training for Couples 2010 Institute is the next session Greenberg will offer for therapists at the Emotion-Focused Therapy Clinic from Nov. 22 to 25.

For more information or to register for future training institutes, visit the YUPC Continuing Education Web site.

By Sandra McLean, YFile writer (August 9, 2010)

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