Letting Emotion Out and In

Susan Johnson on the Value of Using Emotion in Couples Work

How do you react to emotionally heated moments in therapy? Many therapists, including those engaged in couples work, respond by disrupting and avoiding strong displays of emotion—tears, bickering, passive aggressiveness, explosive exchanges, and more. Such therapists operate from the perspective that a calm, regulated state is the most productive for therapy.

Other therapists, like Hold Me Tight author and Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) developer Susan Johnson, move with emotion rather than away from it. According to Susan, even strong emotions that are difficult to work with guide the therapy in the direction of what’s important. The key is knowing how to use them in a way that moves the therapy forward and leads to relationship repair.

In this clip, Susan shares the latest research that backs up the central principle of EFT—that emotion is a highly effective therapeutic tool, so long as the therapist knows how to use it.


Rich Simon

Richard Simon, PhD, founded Psychotherapy Networker and served as the editor for more than 40 years. He received every major magazine industry honor, including the National Magazine Award. Rich passed away November 2020, and we honor his memory and contributions to the field every day.

Susan Johnson

Dr. Sue Johnson left an indelible mark on the field of couples counseling as the primary developer of Emotionally Focused Couples and Family Therapy (EFT), which has demonstrated its effectiveness in more than 30 years of peer-reviewed clinical research. Author, clinical psychologist, researcher, professor, Sue touched hearts around the world and was an irreplaceable part of the Psychotherapy Networker community. Her books include Attachment Theory in Practice: EFT with Individuals, Couples and Families (2019) The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy: Creating Connection (3rd edition, 2019) and Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy with Trauma Survivors (2002). Read our tribute to Sue and learn more about her legacy on her website.