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35 Questions to ask Clients in Emotionally-Focused Therapy

Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) is a popular humanistic approach used in counseling sessions.  In EFT, emotional change is the core component of creating change. Emotion focused therapy focuses on building awareness, acceptance, and understanding of our client’s emotional experience. Gaining these skills can better allow our clients to better understand the world around them, and make sense of their emotions. Keep reading to learn 35 questions to ask clients in Emotionally-Focused Therapy.

Our emotions play a role in how we view ourselves, our relationships, and the world around us. As an example, if we are feeling angry, we are more likely to distance ourselves from the situation and communicate in a less than ideal manner. When this occurs, we lose the opportunity to resolve the concern that had led to our anger and may have additional consequences. With awareness and understanding of our anger, we are able to communicate our thoughts which can have a positive impact on the conflict at hand. EFT can help build a skill set that can be used throughout our lives.

Emotion Focused Therapy can be used with couples as well as in individual counseling sessions. With couples’ sessions, EFT can be used to help partners understand and express their emotions which can help strengthen and deepen their emotional connection.

EFT can be used with individuals who are living with depression, substance use disorders, trauma-related concerns, and those experiencing relationship distress. Additionally, EFT can benefit individuals who have physical health concerns including heart disease and some cancers

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Getting Ready for Your First Emotionally Focused Therapy Session with a New Client

How you prepare for your first session will be dependent on a few factors. The first of which would be the clinical setting that you work in. Your practice may have specific intake forms and other forms of documentation that need to be completed by asking appropriate emotion focused therapy questions. Familiarizing yourself with the paperwork you need to complete can help guide you through your first session. Depending on your setting, you may have a specific niche or presenting problem to focus on during your time with a new client.

Another factor that could impact your preparation is if you are working with an individual or with a couple. The format of your intake session would differ for each of these options, so it would be important to know which type of appointment you have. When working with couples, the recommendation is to have an initial session with the couple together, followed by individual sessions with each partner. From there, you can have another couple session where you focus on assessing their relationship dynamic.

If you have the opportunity, take time to review the information that was collected before the appointment. These forms can provide you with valuable information about your client’s current challenges and their goals for therapy.

Emotionally focused therapy intake questions often focus on exploring your client’s emotional experiences and challenges. Try to take your time during your intake to gain a better understanding of their world and how they exist in it.  Examples of emotionally focused therapy intake questions include:

  • What has brought you into counseling?
  • What do you hope to gain from your counseling experience?
  • What are some of your personal strengths?
  • What are the strengths of your relationship?
  • What do you like the most about your partner?

Common Questions to Ask in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples

Emotion Focused Therapy breaks down into three phases. This includes:

  1. De-escalation and assessment
  2. Change in interactional positions between partners
  3. Consolidation and integration of new skills

During each of these phases, emotionally focused therapy questions should be evocative and promote insight. Clinicians can use reflective statements and work to validate and normalize clients’ emotional experiences. Counselors should be mindful about taking their time in couples sessions and try to avoid situations where clients dive into multiple concerns and challenges.

EFT sessions can use worksheets, such as TherapyByPro’s EFT Cycle Questions Worksheet can be used to promote exploration, discussion, and understanding.

Examples of questions to ask in emotionally focused therapy include:

  • How would you describe the overall health of your relationship?
  • Can you think of a time when you didn’t have distress or conflict in your relationship?
  • What changes would you notice within your relationship that would show improvement?
  • What emotions are you comfortable expressing and processing with each other?
  • Are there any emotions that you find uncomfortable or challenging to talk about with your partner?
  • Can you describe how you cope with anger, sadness, and loneliness?
  • Can you describe a time when you were able to talk through a challenge or conflict that you were experiencing within your relationship?
  • Have you noticed any patterns when you experience challenges? As an example, this can include certain activities or hobbies, friends, family, work, finances, and other responsibilities.
  • Who tends to apologize first?
  • Can you share some examples of how you spend quality time together? Are you able to engage in these activities regularly, or would you be interested in increasing their frequency?
  • How do you show love to your partner? How do you like to receive love?
  • Can you share some of the boundaries you have within your relationship that you feel are important?
  • What characteristics of your relationship would you say support or encourage your trust in your partner?
  • Are you carrying any resentments that impact your relationship?
  • Can you share 3 things about your partner that you are grateful for?

Common Questions to Ask in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Individuals

Similar to EFT for couples, emotion focused individual therapy has similar phases. The initial focus of EFIT would be on forming an alliance, assessing the presenting concerns, and de-escalating.  The second phase works to help the client dive deeper into their negative emotions so that they are able to restructure their emotional reality. The final stage of EFIT is integrating the learned changes from previous sessions into the client’s daily life.

Similar to EFT for couples, emotionally focused individual therapy questions should focus on diving deeper into your client’s emotional experience. When you work with clients individually, you may find that you have more opportunities to provide validation for their experience and normalize their emotional reactions. Skills such as reframing and reflecting can be used often.

Worksheets, such as this Ideal Emotional State Worksheet can be used to reinforce the work you have done in the session and to promote a more thorough understanding of your client’s emotions.

Examples of questions to ask in emotionally focused therapy for individuals includes:

  • Are there any emotions that you find yourself uncomfortable sitting with or expressing? How do you respond when you feel these emotions?
  • What emotions are you the most comfortable feeling and expressing?
  • Can you describe any self-care practices you engage in and the effect they have on your mental health?
  • What changes would you like to see regarding your emotional experience?
  • Can you describe a time when you were able to recognize, accept, and work through an uncomfortable or challenging emotion?
  • Is there anyone in your life that you feel comfortable being completely vulnerable with?
  • What are some behaviors and characteristics that you look for when determining if someone is trustworthy?
  • Are you carrying any resentments from your past? If so, can you share how these resentments impact your emotional experience as well as other relationships in your life?
  • What goals are you working towards in your life?
  • Can you share what you value in your life? How do these values influence your behaviors?
  • What are some of your coping skills for different emotions such as sadness, anger, loneliness, and disappointment?
  • What is your comfort level with emotions that are typically viewed as positive emotions? Such as happiness and joy.
  • Can you share three things that you are grateful for in your life?
  • How do you show love to the important people in your life?
  • What are some of your hobbies or interests that you find enjoyable? Are you able to engage in these activities regularly, or is there room for improvement?

Final Thoughts On Asking the Right Questions in EFT Therapy

Thank you for reading this resource on 35 questions to ask clients in Emotionally-Focused Therapy. Emotion Focused Therapy can be a valuable approach when working with individuals and couples. Feeling emotions is a normative experience for us as human beings, which means we can all experience a range of emotions. While feeling emotions is a natural part of living, it can be uncomfortable and painful at times.

We begin learning how to recognize and express our emotions during our childhood from watching those around us. The challenge with this is that if we are unable to learn healthy ways to feel, respond to, and communicate our emotions at a young age, we are at an increased risk of struggling with our emotions as an adult.

Emotion Focused Therapy can be a powerful approach for clinicians to use with clients who can benefit from gaining awareness, acceptance, and understanding of their emotional experiences. There are a range of activities and exercises that can be used during EFT to help clients work towards their goals. Emotionally focused therapy questions can be used to reinforce the material discussed and elaborate on important skills for our clients.

If you are interested in learning more about emotion focused therapy for couples or individuals, we encourage you to seek out continuing education credits and other training opportunities. After the development of the necessary skill set, you can apply your knowledge to your clinical work.

TherapyByPro is an online mental health directory that connects mental health pros with clients in need. If you’re a mental health professional, you can Join our community and add your practice listing here. We have assessments, practice forms, and worksheet templates mental health professionals can use to streamline their practice. View all of our mental health worksheets here.

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Kayla Loibl, MA, LCMHC
Author: Kayla Loibl, MA, LCMHC

Kayla is a Mental Health Counselor who earned her degree from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. She has provided psychotherapy in a residential treatment program and an outpatient addiction treatment facility in New York as well as an inpatient addiction rehab in Ontario, Canada. She has experience working with individuals living with a variety of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and trauma.

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