In Emotion-Focused Therapy, a variety of therapeutic techniques are used to achieve specific goals based on where the individual or couple is. These techniques are also known as “therapeutic tasks,” which were discovered through a task analysis of psychotherapy session transcripts.
This analysis attempted to describe the process of a client’s cognitive and emotional change to provide therapists with a more reliable condition for therapy (Rice & Greenberg, 1984). These techniques or tasks are classified into five groups: empathy-based, relational, experiencing, reprocessing, and action (Elliott, 2012).
Empathy-based techniques use empathic exploration for problem-relevant experiences and empathic affirmation to move painful emotions to a place of self-affirmation. For example, identifying the feeling of vulnerability (a painful emotion related to self) moves to self-affirmation where the client feels understood, hopeful, and strong.
Relational techniques are those concerned with establishing the therapeutic alliance such as creating a productive working environment, exploring goals, and investing in therapy for greater self-understanding.
These techniques are typically used in the beginning stages of therapy but also extend to stages where the clients may experience difficulty or withdrawal. In these cases, the alliance needs to be repaired, and an opportunity for greater self-understanding and a deeper bond can be found.
Experiencing techniques include clearing space, focusing on experiences, and teaching the client to feel and express the emotion. Things like systematic evocative unfolding and chair work are used to help the clients learn to successfully express appropriate emotions.
Reprocessing tasks are both situational and perceptual. They include dealing with difficult or traumatic experiences through trauma retelling. Additionally, tasks may include creating and working through problematic reaction points, which are known as “meaning protests” (when a life event violates a cherished belief, such as having a baby out of wedlock, which would violate many religious belief systems).
Action tasks are just that: “action” oriented. They involve chair work such as two-chair dialogue and enactment to address self-evaluative split (self-criticism, “tornness”) and self-interruption split (blocked feelings and resignation).
Empty chair work helps with unfinished business like resentment and unforgiveness. And finally, compassionate self-soothing helps with stuck, deregulated anguish.