Dr. Sue Johnson, (1947 to 2024) was the innovator of Emotionally Focused Therapy, EFT.

Dr. Sue Johnson (1947-2024) revolutionized relationship therapy

Remembering Dr. Sue Johnson

If you’ve heard me describe the work I do or have been a student, you’ve heard me talk about Dr. Sue Johnson. I felt (continue to feel) an enormous loss with her passing, April 23rd. No individual was more important to the development of relationship therapy than Sue. Her work and writing were grounded in seeing people’s good intent and using emotional experience to bring it back online, no matter how deeply it was buried. Sue saw the good, AND at the same time did not tolerate bad-faith engagement. She was soft, slow and warm Dr. Sue in the video demonstrations of her work, but another Sue emerged when good-faith left the discussion. I loved these things about her!

I found my professional home with her.

My work was becoming centered in attachment theory when I met Sue in the clinical research and then in a book called, “The Practice of Emotionally Focused Therapy; Creating Connection,” in 2000. A few years later I met her very briefly in person at the Evolution of Psychotherapy conference in Anaheim, CA. I remember my sense of her being on this little island where emotion was prized, in a huge sea of cognitive-behavioral waters. Sue made so much sense! I was working frequently with court-mandated clients and “changing thinking” was NOT an effective mechanism for change, but it was the prescribed one. Focusing on emotional experience through an attachment lens proved to be the key to true change. Fortunately, years later, I found a formal path to learning EFT. My clinical work went to a place it never would have without Dr. Sue Johnson. A week doesn’t go by without me feeling deep gratitude for Sue and Emotionally Focused Therapy. Thanks to Sue, I could profoundly impact my clients’ lives in ways I never imagined when starting my career.

In this same professional home I met colleagues from around the world, some of whom are now amongst the most dear and important people in my life. They are family. I’m glad Sue knew how grateful we were for the connections she fostered – connections evident at EFT summits, trainings, and online.

Sue Johnson embodied what she taught.

I wasn’t a close, personal friend of Sue. But I did spend some time with her and did correspond with her periodically- and this always felt close and personal. You could feel her attentiveness and focus in a way that I can only describe as “honoring”. Sue engaged in this way, and I think this way of attending was a big part of what she helped therapist students find in their work. I’ll treasure my correspondence with her, the opportunity I had to do a live case consultation with her and my role in continuing to grow a community of EFT therapists in the Reno/Tahoe area.

My heart goes out to the Sue’s family, the people closest to her and other colleagues experiencing her loss. Sue’s work will not only live on, but will continue to be expanded upon and proliferate. Here is a link to an article in the Ottawa Citizen where you can learn more about Sue and her work.

Cover photo of Dr. Sue Johnson (PHOTO BY BRUNO SCHLUMBERGER /Postmedia)

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