#tango EFT #forrò

EFT teaches us to dance with our clients, couples and individuals who ask for our help with their broken hearts, suffering and denied needs.

She does this in Sue Johnson’s beautiful words, and she also does it in her practice, with the metaphor of dance applied to conflicts, external, between people important to each other, and internal.

For Sue Johnson, and for those of us who follow in her footsteps, conflict is a perpetual dance that is self-perpetuating. In conflict there is no blame, no accountability, only cycles that become recurring over time. The good news is these cycles can be changed. Especially with the help of a guide who can accompany the partners to new paths and new dances.


Through five key movements that we will recall in a moment. But first… a step back.

What do Emotionally Focused Therapy and dance have in common?

The similarity of dance encompasses a few key points.

The first point is action, that is, doing.

Dance is action and indeed its magic is in the doing, in the trying, in the throwing.

Yes tuning in, yes understanding the movements, yes listening to the teacher, yes talking about the dance, seeing the films, understanding… but then there is the moment when we have to launch ourselves. There comes the moment when you really dance and you step on toes, sometimes you have doubts, sometimes you lose hope, you say to yourself:

  • Maybe I don’t have the right body…
  • My body is inadequate for dancing
  • I don’t have the culture…
  • I am not capable…
  • I can’t…
  • I have problems standing on my toes…
  • I have balance problems…
  • I have problems with femininity…
  • I’m a man: I ‘m not able to dance…
  • I am a man, I mean, I really cannot dance!

I am doing difficult movements that I have never done….

  • We can like them so much right away and then after the first few lessons we don’t seem to be able to do them anymore.
  • Then we can also like them after an initial stress.

The truth is that none of us are unfit, we are just not used to certain movements, but they can become ‘natural’ with repetition.

  • With practice.
  • With the attunement that is established.
  • With calmness and acceptance of what we are feeling, while we are feeling it.
  • With the help of someone who guides us in a safe and welcoming way.

This is true in the Tango and also in the Forrò: each step is a passage that opens new doors for us.

At the precise moment when we put our foot down and begin to dance, to really dance, change happens. The same as movement three of the Tango that we do with our clients: the enactment.

Without movement three of the tango, we cannot create change in our clients, leading them towards new, clearer, more specific emotional signals… and we cannot have change in us. This also applies to us in our training.

For us as therapists, our enactment is role playing, supervision, it is filming our videos and showing them to supervisors and colleagues; it is seeing in practice, getting out in the head, entering also into fear but in a safe environment where we know we can also take risks, because we are never running alone.

But let’s remember the movements together, one by one.

The EFT tango

1. Present Process – Reflecting the Present Moment and Process

In the context of a safe therapeutic alliance, the therapist’s first step is to offer the client(s) a tuneful and simple description of the process that is occurring in the present, in the presence of the therapist.

To do this, it is necessary to collaboratively trace and name the experiential and interactional processes occurring, both those within the client and in the interactions between the client and the therapist or a real or imaginary other in the room. It is essential that this is done in a descriptive, normalising and evocative way (without evaluative commentary) that encourages engaged exploration at the boundary of experience or awareness of a person’s interactional patterns, rather than in an intellectually discursive or rationalising way. – Sue Johnson

It applies to every cycle of interaction, whether between partners, in the individual, or in families, because dance is always relational. Even when it is a single person dancing.

The purpose of this first movement is to help clients see the movement where they get lost, where they get stuck, where things get difficult. To watch, know, define and reflect their ‘chaos’. Say OK, let’s slow down, let’s stop here, this is a good place to work, let’s describe it together and look at it in a welcoming non-judgmental and non-pathologising way.

2. Assembling the ‘puzzle’ of emotions, distilling and deepening them

How do we help clients discover their emotional experience in a way that is tangible and relevant to them? We focus on the core elements of emotion and then put them together.

That is, we assemble them with the customer into a whole that creates a sense of wholeness, a ‘Yes, that’s how I feel and it makes sense’ experience. This opens the door to further discovery and awareness of more hidden or unrecognised emotions.

Assembling a client’s affects is a relatively simple concept, but it proves extremely useful in clinical practice. Dealing with emotions effectively and systematically, being able to raise and lower them, or order them when they are chaotic, can seem an overwhelming task. – Sue Johnson

Assembling the clients’ emotions, finding possible causes, reflecting on perceptions, bodily responses, tendencies to action; putting the pieces of the ‘puzzle’ together and looking at the whole and then delving into it.

The process itself not only increases awareness, but also improves emotional balance.
The elements of emotion that we go on to explore, distil, and assemble again in a more orderly and coherent way, which Arnold describes are:

  • Trigger
  • Initial perception
  • Body response
  • Creation of meaning
  • Action Tendency

This final element moves emotion not only into the realm of personal motivation, but also into the interpersonal realm. Emotion organises actions towards others, and emotional signals establish and constrain the self. These signals also create habitual patterns of interaction, or ‘dances’, which then affect and frame the experience of each of the dancers. Emotions therefore move people, and we through this movement help them to see how.

This process of discovery and assembly regulates emotions at the same time as it arouses and distils them. As they occur, key emotional responses are made coherent and integrated into the self and the system. However, the assemblage is not the whole story; it is the prelude to the next part of the tango is – the deepening and exploration of the emotional experience. Once the emotional elements have been named and made sense, the therapist focuses on increasing engagement with the deeper central emotions. In preparation for the enactment – Sue Johnson

3.  Pass It over (Enactment) – Choreographing the Encounter

“Capture the emotional music and choreograph an encounter with the partner, therapist, internalised other, or part of self.”

In this phase, the client’s internal drama shifts into the interpersonal sphere and he or she is guided to share with a significant other the assembled and distilled (and sometimes deepened) emotional realities one has been confronted with in Tango movement 2. In the course of sharing the emotional experience with a significant other, a new or expanded emotional reality is made explicit, concrete and coherent, and the client comes to own it, alone or together with someone significant. – Sue Johnson

Enactments are tuned steps, not cognitively cold, but warm, involved and clear. They are structured, but emotionally warm interactions in which to help clients ‘dance’ more fluidly.

They are necessary to create change in therapy, they are the “Save” of our computer to save the work done so far in the session.

4. Process the Enactment – Process the Encounter

Analysing the choreography performed, trying to observe and feel it, always in the present moment.

In movement 4 of the Tango, the therapist reflects and summarises the process of the interaction, the transactional drama arising from the client’s new emotions that are shared directly.
emotions of the client that are shared directly in an engaged way. With the client, the therapist explores how this emotion was enacted and how the responses of the other (be it the therapist, the partner, a family member, an imagined attachment figure or even a disowned part of the self) were listened to and integrated. One can also explore the blocks that prevent one from listening to the other’s experience or response. – Sue Johnson

5. Integrate, validate, Reflect Process  – integrate and validate emotions with “a nice bow”

“It’s OK that it was painful, it’s OK, more than OK: it’s a demonstration that you are both terrified of losing each other…”

In the final move of the process of new and deeper engagement with one’s own experience and significant others, the therapist reflects the entire process of the previous four moves from a meta-perspective and highlights significant key moments and responses, using them to validate each client’s strength and courage.
The message clients receive from this intervention is that they can change the way they live and manage their emotions, understand themselves and others, and begin to move into the key relationships that define their lives. – Sue Johnson

Movement 5 of the tango is a moment of validation and celebration, of integration of the lived experience, it is taking clients on a little plane and flying over all the work done so far, showing them, celebrating them!

Learning the steps helps, a lot. But as Sue Johnson says, it is not enough: to dance we also have to be in tune, to be emotionally present and attuned to each other.

And this principle applies to partners within the couple, to individuals and, of course, also to us therapists…

By the way, again celebrating the wonder of diversity (we talked about it here), this dance, while resonating on the same frequency, is by no means the same all over the world. It adapts to the voice and style and culture of the therapist, and is filled with nuances and sounds.

In Argentina and in many parts of the world, it is a tango.

In Brazil, it is a Forrò!

The Forrò is intense, involving, full of pathos.

It is also an instinctive dance, made up of harmony and coordination, I would say co-created live between the dancers.

Whatever the music, for us EFT therapists, the essential thing is to dance to it together with those who have our backs!

Nel Video Giulia Altera during a Forrò lesson with her teacher Daniel Costa.

Insights into the Forrò: 

Bodies That Sing – Forró Music in a Traditional Setting”, written by Megwen Loveless,  a PhD Candidate in Social Anthropology at Harvard University. The mentioned essay is an excerpt from her dissertation on forró music and dance, currently in progress. Megwen lives in New Jersey, where she teaches Portuguese at Princeton University. – Revista, Harvard Review for Latin America

Insights into Tango:

The Argentine Tango

In the beginning it was danced inside houses, in conventillos, peringundìn and brothels, where women were paid to dance with men. The language used in this world was Lunfardo, a mixture formed by the contamination of the Castilian language with Spanish, Italian, French, English and German terms, characterised by the ‘vares’ or change in the position of syllables within the same word. Soon the Tango was discovered by the bourgeoisie and from here the leap to European salons was short.


“Attachment Theory in Practice: Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) with Individuals, Couples, and Families” by Susan M. Johnson, 2019. Franco Angeli.