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Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples: The Client Change Process and Therapist Interventions


  • Dino Zuccarini, PhD, C Psych, Centre for Interpersonal Relationships, University of Ottawa; Susan M. Johnson, EdD, C Psych, Ottawa Couple and Family Institute, University of Ottawa; Tracy L. Dalgleish, BA, University of Ottawa; Judy A. Makinen, PhD, C Psych, Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, Ottawa Couple and Family Institute.

Address correspondence to Susan M. Johnson, Ottawa Couple and Family Institute, School of Psychology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario; E-mail:


This article presents psychotherapy process research findings related to the forgiveness and reconciliation model, known as the Attachment Injury Resolution Model (AIRM), within the context of emotionally focused therapy for couples (EFT). Outcomes for EFT as an intervention for general relationship distress and AIRM have been successfully tested. Audiotapes of nine resolved and nine nonresolved EFT couple cases were used to study the client change process, the validity of AIRM, and EFT interventions used at each stage of the model. Study findings suggest resolved couple clients engaged deeply with their internal experience were more deliberate and controlled in their processing and more affiliative in their interpersonal responses in comparison with nonresolved couples. Resolved versus nonresolved client in-session performances were discriminated on the basis of four model components. These were associated with significant shifts from secondary reactive emotions to primary attachment–related emotional processing of the injurious incident and with interactions that focus on shaping emotional responsiveness. Key EFT interventions employed in successful attachment injury resolution are also identified.