Sue Johnson

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Sue Johnson
Born Chatham, Kent, England
Academic background
Alma mater University of British Columbia
Academic work
Institutions International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy
Main interests Bonding, Attachment, Adult Romantic Relationships
Notable ideas Emotionally Focused Therapy

Sue Johnson is known for her innovative work in the field of psychology on bonding, attachment and adult romantic relationships. Johnson's work emerged on the family therapy and psychology field at a time when most couple's therapy approaches focused on one or more of the following: cognitive and behavioral interventions, improving communication skills, teaching negotiation skills, or applying psychoanalytic theory to the relationship. Johnson's focus on emotions and emotional process was often met with disdain or dismissed as it ran contrary to dominant views of emotion as being problematic or unnecessary to address in couples therapy.

She along with Dr Leslie Greenberg developed Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) and the founder of the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT), a not for profit research and therapist training institute, where she also serves as Director. Johnson also heads the Ottawa Couple and Family Institute and is Professor Emeritus in Clinical Psychology at the University of Ottawa and Distinguished Research Professor at Alliant University in San Diego, California.

Johnson’s best known professional books include, The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy: Creating Connection (2004) and Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy with Trauma Survivors (2002). With regard to the latter, Marlene Best writes, "Throughout the book, Johnson evokes the image of the dragon as a metaphor for the insidious power that trauma has of breathing fire into the lives of survivors and their partners. The dragon's fire is the helplessness, isolation and betrayal that are at the core of most traumatic experiences. She calls on the healing power of secure attachment as the antidote to the effects of this destructive fire. . . . an essential addition to the toolkit of any couple therapist, seasoned or beginner, who will inevitably encounter the effects of trauma in his or her work with distressed couples. Johnson provides a practical roadmap for navigating the powerful emotional world that partners can get lost in, helps them to learn to slay the dragon together, and strengthen their emotional connection in the process."[1]

Hold Me Tight[edit]

Johnson reports in the book, Hold Me Tight (2008), that she coded sessions with couples and sought feedback from them about what sessions were most useful and why. This work led to the observation that distressed couples get caught in a negative interactional cycle fueled by unexpressed underlying emotions. Couples benefited from learning about this "negative cycle," but required deeper emotional work with each other to experience "bonding events." Out of this work, combined with her focus on emotions, led to the development of a 3 Stage Process of Change.

Stage One: De-Escalation of the Couple's Negative Cycle

Stage Two: Re-Structuring the Couple's Emotional Bond

Stage Three: Consolidation

To date, there are at least 27 outcome studies indicating that E.F.T. works. It has been recognized by the American Psychological Association as an empirically-validated approach for couples therapy [1].

Johnson's decades of research are chronicled in her book, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love , which was published in 2008. Created for the general public, the book serves as a self-help version of her groundbreaking research about relationships - how to enhance them, how to repair them and how to keep them. Hold Me Tight, designed to offer expertise for adult relationships, became the springboard for an innovative program geared to the reunion of military couples after deployment, called Strong Bonds, Strong Couples and the Hold Me Tight Enhancement Program.

Rebecca Jones, editor of The American Journal of Family Therapy, describes Hold Me Tight as "a clear and reachable roadmap to a satisfying and happy love connection. . . . Influenced by the writings of John Bowlby, Johnson emphasizes (1) the universal need for a significant attachment from the cradle to the grave and (2) the route to lasting love through emotional accessibility, responsiveness and engagement. It is the profound need for other and then pain of emotional disconnection that then results in automatic reactions of fight, flight or freeze that then shape the negative patterns of relationship distress."[2]

Love Sense[edit]

Love Sense: The Revolutionary Science of Romantic Relationships, Johnson’s latest book (2013), outlines the logic behind why and how we love, based on new scientific evidence and cutting-edge research. Explaining that romantic love is based on an attachment bond, Johnson shows how to develop our "love sense" and our ability to develop long-lasting relationships. Kirkus Reviews describes Love Sense as "A readable combination of research findings and case studies, filled with good cheer and practical advice."[3]

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)[edit]

Emotionally Focused Couple and Family Therapy (EFT), developed by Johnson, is an approach to helping couples both resolve relationship distress.

EFT is a short-term, structured psychotherapy approach to working with individuals, couples and families. It includes elements of experiential, person-centered , and systems perspectives , but is firmly established in attachment theory.

The strengths of Emotionally Focused Therapy:

  • EFT is based on clear, explicit conceptualizations of marital distress and adult love. These conceptualizations are supported by empirical research on the nature of marital distress and adult attachment.
  • EFT is collaborative and respectful of clients combining experiential Rogerian techniques with structural systemic interventions.
  • Change strategies and interventions are specified.
  • Key moves and moments in the change process have been mapped into nine steps and three change events.
  • EFT has been validated by over 30 years of empirical research. There is also research on the change processes and predictors of success.
  • EFT has been applied to many different kinds of problems and populations.

The goals of Emotionally Focused Therapy:

  • To expand and re-organize key emotional responses – the music of the attachment dance.
  • To create a shift in partners' interactional positions and initiate new cycles of interaction.
  • To foster the creation of a secure bond between partners.

The therapist works to help establish healthy attachments between partners and family members, to teach each other how to meet the other's attachment needs and to help one another uncover the ways in which previously unmet attachment needs can cause problems in the current relationship. In an individual setting, emotionally focused therapy often focuses on helping an individual establish behaviors that enable him or her to get his or her attachment needs met.

Johnson’s most recent study, published late 2013, Soothing the Threatened Brain , is a brain scan study showing that social relationships are tightly linked to health and well-being. Results suggest that EFT altered the brain's representation of threat cues in the presence of a romantic partner. These findings provide a critical window into the regulatory mechanisms of close relationships in general and EFT in particular.

Externships and training in EFT[edit]

An EFT Externship is a four-day standardized basic training for mental health professionals. The Externship in EFT is also the first step in becoming certified with ICEEFT as an EFT Therapist.

Professional training DVDs[edit]

Johnson has created many training videotapes on the Emotionally Focused model of couples’ therapy. These DVDs are used in many hospitals, university programs in psychology, social work, and marital and family therapy training programs. They cover specific aspects of intervention and intervention with different kinds of couples.


Johnson has received numerous honors for her work including been awarded with the Training Award from the American Association of Marital & Family Therapy, the Research in Family Therapy Award from the American Family Therapy Academy, and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy’s Outstanding Contribution to the Field of Couple and Family Therapy Award. Johnson continues to lecture and speak on bonding, attachment, and relationships. She is an Invited Fellow of the American Psychological Association. She was awarded the Order of Canada in 2016.

Media appearances[edit]

Johnson has been on, among other television programs, Steven and Chris (CBC), Unfaithful (OWN), Canada AM (CBC), Huffington Post Live.

She has been profiled in the New York Times, The Times, The Wall Street Journal, Mind Body Green, Dr. Drew, Psychology Today, Tribune, Huffington Post, Glamour, Self, Salon, Dr. Oz: The Good Life, Quartz, Wired, MacLean’s, Woman’s Day, Redbook, and The Globe and Mail.

Personal life[edit]

Johnson was born in Chatham, Kent, England. She grew up in an English pub where she became fascinated by the drama of close relationships and people’s emotions. Johnson graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1984 with a doctorate in Counseling Psychology. She currently resides in Ottawa, Canada with her husband John. She adores Gilbert and Sullivan, Monty Python, Argentine tango and kayaking on Canada’s northern lakes.


Books authored
  • Johnson, S.M. ( 2013) Love Sense: The Revolutionary Science of Romantic Relationships. New York: Little Brown
  • Johnson, S.M. ( 2008) Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. New York: Little Brown
  • Johnson, S.M. (2007). Practica de la Terapia Matrimonial Concentrada Emocionalmente: Creando Conexiones New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group – Spanish Edition.
  • Johnson, S.M., Bradley, B., Furrow, J., Lee, A., Palmer, G., Tilley, D. & Woolley, S.(2005) Becoming an Emotionally Focused Therapist: The Workbook. New York: Brunner /Routledge.
  • Johnson, S.M. (2002) Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy with Trauma Survivors: Strengthening Attachment Bonds. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Johnson, S.M. (1996) (2004 -2nd edition). Creating Connection: The Practice of Emotionally Focused Marital Therapy. New York: Brunner/Mazel (now Brunner /Routledge).
  • Saxe, B. J., Johnson, S.M. et al. (1994) From victim to survivor: A group treatment model for women survivors of incest. Government of Canada: Health Department. Distributed across Canada in French and English, pp. 1–188.
  • Greenberg, L. & Johnson, S.M. (1988) Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples. New York: Guilford Press.
Articles authored

Books edited[edit]

  • Furrow, J., Johnson, S. & Bradley, B. (2011) The Emotionally Focused Casebook. New York:Brunner/Routledge.
  • Johnson, S.M. & Whiffen, V. (Spring 2003) Attachment Processes in Couples and Families. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Johnson, S.M. & Greenberg, L. S. (Eds.) (1994) The Heart of the Matter: Emotion in Marital Therapy. New York: Brunner/Mazel. Behavior Science Book Club Special Selection.


  • Johnson, S.M. (2011). Working Successfully with Same Sex Couples: The Emotionally Focused Therapy Path to Secure Connection.
  • Johnson, S.M. (2011). Emotionally Focused Therapy in Action (2-DVD series).
  • Johnson, S. M. (2004). An Externship in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (3-DVD series)
  • Johnson, S.M. (1993). Training DVD #1: Healing broken bonds
  • Johnson, S.M. (2002).Training DVD #2: Couples and Trauma
  • Johnson, S.M. (2003) Training DVD #3: A Consultation in EFT – Shaping Change Events
  • Johnson, S.M. (2003) Training DVD #4: Interventions in EFT
  • Johnson, S.M. (2009) Training DVD # 5: Re-engaging Withdrawers


  1. ^ Best, Marlene (2010). "A Review of "Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy with Trauma Survivors: Strengthening Attachment Bonds"". The American Journal of Family Therapy. 39 (1): 82–85. doi:10.1080/01926187.2010.530918. 
  2. ^ "Book Review: Hold Me Tight". The American Journal of Family Therapy. Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. 38: 73–74. 2010. doi:10.1080/01926180802539477. ISSN 0192-6187. 
  3. ^ Johnson, Sue (15 November 2013), Love Sense, Kirkus Reviews 

External links[edit]