Clinician Interview : Emotionally-Focused Couple’s Therapy

March 2, 2023

Interviewer: Dr. Vassilia Binensztok

Interviewee: Joanna Borg, M.Ed., RHMCI

Dr. Vassilia: What are the most common issues couples struggle with?

Joanna Borg:  The main issue I see among couples that perpetuate a disconnect or negative cycle is miscommunication or even a simple lack of communication. When I say communication, I mean communicating about each person’s experience and perception. These experiences need to be acknowledged and validated, despite the other person not agreeing- this is an opportunity to understand the other person’s view and why something is different for them. A difference does not mean a relationship is doomed, as understanding why we are different can bring us closer to our partner.

Every behavior in a relationship has a purpose and intention which can even appear unbeknownst to us because that’s “how I’ve always been”. When we mix another person into our life for a partnership, we now have two people with important emotional needs- yourself and your partner. This can be difficult to navigate so that both partners feel safe, loved, supported, respected, seen, and heard.

The way we show up in relationships is all tied to previous emotional wounds and experiences in life and our interactions with others. We learn subconscious messages about love, ourselves, and others through our primary caregivers (or lack of primary caregivers).

 Dr. Vassilia: How can couples therapy help?

Joanna Borg: Couples therapy can help by increasing both person’s self-awareness as to why they show up as anxiously attached, avoidantly attached, fearful avoidantly attached, or secure. In my couples therapy, my goal is to have both partners move towards feeling secure in the relationship, so that when a triggering event or situation happens, the couple is then able to co-regulate versus present with their own protest/defense/protective mechanisms furthering that disconnect in the relationship for one’s own emotional protection, even if the person knows it’s irrational.

Dr. Vassilia: What is EFT couples therapy?

Joanna Borg: EFT stands for emotionally focused therapy. EFT uses the approach of de-escalating and recognizing the couple’s specific negative cycle that reinforces emotional distress, to then restructure the relationship interactions to form new emotional experiences creating a more secure connection to your partner. The attachment vulnerabilities will be continuously explored and shared between partners, to allow the creation of a new positive relationship cycle that is constructive and fosters secure attachment and feelings of connection, care, and love. Once the couple has begun moving towards an increased secure attachment, the emotional obstacles that have been overcome can be used to solve problems in their day-to-day lives, creating resiliency and a loving partnership.

Being human, our reality is fueled by the emotional experiences in life. Life also keeps going on, so oftentimes we don’t have the time or energy to check in with ourselves emotionally to ask: what is really going on with me, what is it I am feeling, where is this feeling stemming from? By acknowledging our feelings and experiences and being able to formulate and express the emotional experience with our partner, change can be enacted to create a closer, more secure attachment bond.

Dr. Vassilia: What can couples expect when working with you?

Joanna Borg: Couples can expect to get deep with me, while still understanding that each partner’s perception and experience are both valid. It’s not a judging competition of who is right and who is in the wrong. Perceptions are formed from somewhere in the person’s life that could be negatively impacting the relationship by misunderstanding their partner.  It’s once we start peeling back the emotional layers to truly understand the underlying presenting issue (oftentimes an unmet emotional need- known or unknown) that positive change in the relationship can occur. I’ve worked with couples on the brink of divorce start to find their way back to each other with a stronger bond and connection and are now closer than ever.

Dr. Vassilia: If you could give couples one piece of relationship advice, what would it be?

Joanna Borg: One piece of relationship advice is that it is you two versus the problem, instead of the common mindset of me vs. you. 

Joanna Borg, M.Ed., RMHCI Credentials:

  • Master of Education
  • Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern (RMHCI)
  • Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC)
  • International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy: Level 1 and 2 for Emotionally Focused Individual Therapy
  • International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy: Externship in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy
  • International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy: Certificate in Connecting Sexually and Emotionally through Emotionally Focused Therapy
  • NBCC Member
  • ACA Member
  • Phi Kappa Phi Member