Iconic Therapist Dr. Sue Johnson on How to Improve Sex, Shape Love, Face Dragons, and Find Comfort in the Arms of Another (#529)

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“When we’re safe and secure and we feel we matter to others and that they have our back, our potential and our resources come out.”

— Dr. Sue Johnson

Dr. Sue Johnson (@Dr_SueJohnson) is a leading innovator in the fields of couple therapy and adult attachment. She is the primary developer of Emotionally Focused Couples and Family Therapy (EFT), which has demonstrated its effectiveness in over 30 years of peer-reviewed clinical research. Sue has received numerous awards in recognition of her development of EFT, including the American Psychological Association’s “Family Psychologist of the Year” and the Order of Canada.

Her best-selling book Hold Me Tight — with more than one million copies sold—has taught countless couples how to enhance and repair their love relationships. The book has since been developed into a relationship enhancement program called Hold Me Tight Online. Her most recent book for clinicians, Attachment Theory in Practice, delineates the promise of attachment science for understanding and repairing relationships.

As the founding director of the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT), Sue trains counselors in EFT worldwide and provides guidance to 80 affiliated centers. She consults for the US and Canadian militaries and is a popular presenter and speaker for the general public.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

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#529: Iconic Therapist Dr. Sue Johnson on How to Improve Sex, Shape Love, Face Dragons, and Find Comfort in the Arms of Another


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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear another episode with someone who seeks to help people better connect? Listen in on my last conversation with psychotherapist and New York Times bestselling author Esther Perel in which we discussed conducting remote therapy with couples during quarantine, coping with uncertainty, the paradoxes presented by spending more time with the family, prompts for reconnecting with old friends and colleagues, dancing versus exercise, the importance of decompressing from too much bad news, and much more.

#418: Esther Perel — Tactics for Relationships in Quarantine



  • Connect with Dr. Sue Johnson:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube | LinkedIn


  • What peer-reviewed clinical research supports Sue’s work? [06:25]
  • EFT has a high success rate in studies with distressed couples. How is success clinically defined for these couples? [09:33]
  • What scales are used to assess marital satisfaction and bond, and how has this played out in research? [13:33]
  • What is a hold me tight conversation? [19:41]
  • Examples of how hold me tight conversations can take shape. [21:01]
  • How a hold me tight conversation might work for someone who has a tendency to isolate (or feels isolated). [32:01]
  • On just how common such isolation is, and how “dependency” has become such a dirty word. [40:17]
  • Attachment parenting vs. sleep training. [44:36]
  • What are micro-interventions from Rogerian models of therapy (aka evocative questions)? [54:18]
  • How does Sue respond to a client who can’t really answer how they’re feeling in their body? [1:02:47]
  • How would someone “up the ante” in the context of a hold me tight conversation, and why does it usually have the opposite of its intended effect? [1:09:41]
  • How does Sue help someone work through anger? [1:11:35]
  • Why Sue is fascinated by Winston Churchill, and reading she recommends for someone who wants to know more about him. [1:15:02]
  • Tango talk. Since it famously takes two to tango, what kind of arguments do tango couples get into? [1:20:33]
  • How would Sue advise a couple who’s very much in love but their sexual spark has faded? [1:33:44]
  • Advice for a couple in which the woman has a more sustained sex drive than the man. [1:43:11]
  • What brought about the development of Sue’s Hold Me Tight Online program, and what can people expect from it? [1:48:44]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:53:17]


“Love is an ancient, wired-in survival code.” — Dr. Sue Johnson

“If you can’t find comfort in the arms of another to heal from trauma, it’s bad news.” — Dr. Sue Johnson

“What attachment science tells us is that emotional isolation is toxic for human beings. We found out that in the pandemic, but we still don’t get it.” — Dr. Sue Johnson

“Once you feel seen, accepted, and held, there’s a natural human growth process that happens.” — Dr. Sue Johnson

“The way human beings have survived through the centuries is through tuning in to others, reading their cues, collaborating, cooperating, moving close, supporting, that’s the way we’ve survived. And if you look at the problems facing our world right now, we’d better be learning from this science or we’re not going to survive. We’ve got to be able to come together.” — Dr. Sue Johnson

“Shutting down and numbing out is a fragile strategy you can’t keep up for your whole life. It shatters under any kind of pressure.” — Dr. Sue Johnson

“Parenting is a moving target. You accommodate your child, then your child changes.” — Dr. Sue Johnson

“We understand that to be emotionally alone traumatizes a child. We need to apply that to adults because in that sense, we never grow up. Attachment goes from the cradle to the grave.” — Dr. Sue Johnson

“Some of the cliches we have about love are really awful misinformation. But one of the cliches that’s really true, and this is true in most religions, is that when we’re loved, we grow and expand.” — Dr. Sue Johnson

“When we’re safe and secure and we feel we matter to others and that they have our back, our potential and our resources come out.” — Dr. Sue Johnson

“Attachment gives us a map to how we dance together with the people we love and where those dances go in terms of outcome. It gives us a map to our own vulnerabilities and emotions. It tells us how supremely sensitive we are to signals of rejection or abandonment by other people, and that this sensitivity is wired in.” — Dr. Sue Johnson

“We all know on some deep, visceral level how much we need others, and the strongest among us can accept that and learn how to connect.” — Dr. Sue Johnson

“Tango is about attunement, and so is love.” — Dr. Sue Johnson

“In the end, what none of us can bear is the feeling that we’re alone and that we don’t matter to another human being.” — Dr. Sue Johnson

“Passion is about feeling safe enough to be completely absorbed in the experience and let it take you over. Passion is about full engagement.” — Dr. Sue Johnson

“It’s very hard to be open and physiologically responsive when you’re afraid and guarding yourself all the time.” — Dr. Sue Johnson