Understanding Markers & Tasks In Emotionally Focused Therapy Sessions


Emotion-focused therapy uses several sets of concepts in its theory of function and
dysfunction, including emotion schemes, emotion response types, emotion regulation, and each of plays a vital role.

A defining feature of EFT is that it is marker guided. Research has demonstrated
that there are specific patterns of in-session client statements and actions that mark
specific emotional issues that require attention in sessions.

These markers indicate that the client is likely to be in an immediate state of readiness to work on the particular emotional issue, referred to as a task.


Picking the marker up, the therapist offers the client an opportunity to work on the task, using a variety of different ways of working.

The importance of EFT therapy cuts across helping individuals deal with their unpleasant emotions instead of suppressing or avoiding them, improving romantic relationships and family communication.

EFT therapists are trained to identify markers of different types of difficult emotional processing issues and to intervene in specific ways that best suit these issues.

Based on previous research, models of the process of client change in different
tasks act as rough maps to guide therapists.

Some of the most common of these ETF markers & tasks include the following:

etf therapy

Problematic Reactions

Problematic reactions are expressed through puzzlement about emotional or behavioral responses to particular situations.

For example, one client said: ‘On the way to therapy I saw a little puppy dog with long droopy ears and I suddenly felt so sad and I don’t know why.’

Problematic reactions are opportunities for a process of systematic evocative unfolding.

This way of working involves proposing that the client vividly re-experience the situation and their emotional reaction to it, in order to explore the connections between situation, perceptions, and emotional reactions, thus helping the client to arrive at the implicit meaning of the situation that makes sense of the reaction.

Unclear Felt Sense

An unclear felt sense occurs when the person is confused about a feeling or unable to get
a clear sense of their experience (‘I have this feeling but I just can’t put my finger on it’).

This marker calls for focusing, in which the therapist guides clients to approach the embodied aspects of their experience with attention and curiosity, in order to experience them and to put words to their implicit, often subtle feelings.

Resolution involves the creation of new meaning, the release of bodily tension, and perhaps a sense of a way forward.

Conflict Splits

Conflict splits involve one aspect of the self-being critical, coercive, or interruptive
towards another aspect. (In person-centered terms, they represent the self-imposition of
conditions of worth on the person.)

For example, a woman quickly becomes hopeless and defeated but also angry at the prospect of being seen as a failure by her sisters: ‘I feel inferior to them: It’s like I’ve failed and I’m not as good as them.’

There are many different kinds of conflict split. Self-critical conflict splits like the example above offer opportunities for two-chair work, in which the therapist proposes to the client
that they enact a dialogue between two parts of the self by putting these into live contact with each other in separate chairs.

Thoughts, feelings, and needs within each part of the self are explored and communicated in real dialogue to achieve integration of the two sides through a softening of the critical part and a deepening in the other part.

Resolution involves an integration of the two sides. Self-interruptive conflict splits
are also common and arise when one part of the self interrupts or constricts emotional
experience and expression: ‘I can feel the tears coming up but I just tighten and suck
them back in, no way am I going to cry.’

In this case, the therapist helps the client to enact and make explicit how the interrupting part of the self does this, for example by the physical act (choking or shutting down the voice), metaphorically (caging), or verbally (‘shut up, don’t feel, be quiet, you can’t survive this’), so that they can experience themselves as an agent in the process of shutting down and then can react to and challenge the interruptive part of the self, and express the previously blocked experience.

Unfinished Business

An unfinished business marker involves the statement of lingering unresolved feelings
towards a significant other, such as the following said in a resentful manner: ‘My father,
he was just never there for me.

I have never forgiven him, deep down inside I think maybe I’m grieving but then I just tell myself, “what’s the point, there’s no use dwelling on the past”.’

Unfinished business towards a significant other call for an empty-chair intervention.

The therapist proposes that the client imagine the other present in the other chair in order to activate their internal view of them and then to experience, express, and explore their painful emotional reactions to the other.

Resolution involves holding the other accountable or understanding or forgiving the other.

Stuck, dysregulated anguish Stuck, dysregulated anguish is a marker that occurs in the face of strong emotional pain or a powerful unmet existential need (e.g. for love or validation): ‘No one will ever understand me. I’m all alone.’ Anguish calls for compassionate self-soothing.

Expressing compassion towards oneself is a way of changing painful emotions (e.g. shame, fear, sadness) by internally confronting them with a different emotion.

In this task, the therapist first helps the client deepen their sense of anguish so that they can access their core existential pain and express the unmet need associated with it.

Then, the therapist offers a two-chair process to the client in which they enact providing what is needed (e.g. validation, support, protection) to themselves.

Several additional markers and interventions have been added to the five markers and
tasks identified above, including alliance rupture and repair; feeling overwhelmed and
clearing a space; meaning protest and meaning-making; and more.