Get access

Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples and Childhood Sexual Abuse Survivors


  • Heather MacIntosh, PhD, C. Psych, is a Clinical Psychologist in private practice at the Sana Centre and the Centre for Treatment of Sexual Abuse and Childhood Trauma and a part-time professor at the University of Ottawa; Susan Johnson has an EdD in Educational Psychology and is Full Professor in the Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program at the University of Ottawa and Clinical Director of the Ottawa Couple and Family Institute.

Address correspondence to Heather B. MacIntosh, Sana Centre, 180 Metcalfe St., Suite 600, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K2P 1P5; E-mail:


This study explored Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples with childhood sexual abuse survivors (CSA) and their partners. Half of the couples in this study reported clinically significant increases in mean relationship satisfaction and clinically significant decreases in trauma symptoms, and thematic analyses identified numerous areas where trauma survivors were challenged in fully engaging in the therapy process. In particular, trauma symptoms such as affect dysregulation and hypervigilance were identified to play a role in the challenges that survivors experienced in fully engaging in the EFT process. Results of these thematic analyses yielded clinical recommendations for working with CSA survivors and their partners in EFT for traumatized couples. Recommendations for future study were articulated.