Learning & Resources

Shalem Mental Health Network

The Legacy of Sue Johnson

Shalem is mourning the loss of a treasured colleague and mentor, Dr. Sue Johnson.

Dr. Sue Johnson is a widely known psychologist and the developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy, a model which changed our understanding of emotions and relationships in ways that opened up new paths for healing.

In recent years, Sue came to Hamilton, Ontario to be the key-note speaker at two conferences hosted by Shalem Mental Health Network. We loved hearing her formal presentations in which she unpacked the science of how relationship connections work, how those connections might go wrong, and how to repair them. We also loved getting to know her informally over meals and conversations. Many of Shalem’s staff also sought out additional training from her over the years. Sue’s EFT model of therapy has become a cornerstone of the clinical services Shalem’s therapists offer.

Sue’s work transformed the field of couple therapy, and her model has changed the way we do individual and family therapy as well. Building on the work of past professionals and the foundations of systems theory and child attachment theory, Sue developed a clear understanding about how emotions and attachment bonds shape adult relationships. She described how our emotions make sense when we understand how they are affected by the deep connections and attachment bonds we develop in our closest relationships. Sue helped us understand the logic of our fears and longings, and how we pursue closeness and protest hurts in relationships. She put language to the dance that shapes the movements of closeness and distance in our intimate relationships and in our families. And she studied what works in therapy so we know how to change the dance and heal hurting relationships.

Sue published her theories and methods and put them to the test through research, leading to evidence-based therapy approaches that are shown to have a high success rate in treating couples (EFCT), families (EFFT) and individuals (EFIT) with relationship distress.

Shalem held a circle conversation in which we as staff took some time to honour Sue and her legacy. We shared stories of our conversations with her, celebrated her sense of humour and honoured our shared and personal memories of Sue. Staff reflected on how their clinical work was transformed after being trained in Sue’s EFT models of therapy. Some also spoke about the personal impact of Sue’s work: how reading her books and experiencing EFT therapy themselves have helped them grow as people and in their own relationships. Sue’s ability to look at relationships through the lens of attachment, and her understanding of how emotions are connected to what is happening with those relationship bonds shape the conversations we have with our clients every day.

Dr. Sue Johnson published numerous books and articles about her work. The one we find ourselves recommending most often for the general public or for clients who want to learn about attachment in couple relationships is Hold Me Tight. When fellow therapists or students want to learn more about her model and how to use it in therapy, we send them to the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT), a network for EFT therapists established by Dr. Sue Johnson and her colleagues where we continue to access training in her model ourselves.

We are immensely grateful to Sue for her wisdom, her leadership, and her generosity in teaching us a whole new understanding of how we are created to move in relationships. She will be deeply missed.

You can read more about the life and work of Dr. Sue Johnson in her obituary and on her website.

Written by Susan Winter Fledderus, M.Ed., RP, RMFT-SM, RSW


(Attachment synonyms: bond, closeness, feelings for, relationship, intimacy, affection, fondness