Brief Academic Biography

Prof Elmien Lesch holds a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology (University of the Free State) and a PhD in Psychology (Stellenbosch University). She is currently the Programme Coordinator of the Master Programme in Clinical Psychology. She has a specific interest in close relationships (both romantic and family relationships.) In line with this interest, she has pursued training in an evidence-based relationship-focused therapy model and is now a certified Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist, Supervisor and Trainer. She also has a small practice where she focuses on providing relationship psychotherapy, and she frequently presents training events in Emotionally Focused Therapy. Prof Lesch is a NRF C-rated researcher. Her interest in close relationships extends to her research area where she aims to generate knowledge about women and men’s experiences in close relationships, as well as the quality of, and processes in, close relationships in the diverse South African population. Such knowledge contributes to a more representative body of close relationship knowledge as current literature mostly relies on research conducted in the global northern hemisphere. For example, although attachment theory is prominently used in international research on adult close relationships, the relevance of this theory for the South African population has not yet been investigated. Where possible, she opts to utilise dyads as research participants in research endeavours as most relationship research is limited in that it relies on the views of only one partner in a relationship. Currently, she is the lead investigator in a collaborative study supported by grants from the NRF and Centre of Excellence: Human Development, that focuses on exploring father ideas and practices.


Research Topics

  • Father-child relationships
  • Same-sex relationships
  • Single women and intimate/close relationships
  • Couple Therapy training and practise in Africa and South Africa

About My Research

My research interest is close human relationships. Close personal relationships refer to a range of relationships, including family, friend, and romantic relationships. It is well established that human beings’ general well-being is promoted by these relationships throughout the human lifespan. Conversely, problematic or unsupportive close relationships can be a source of severe psychological distress, and relationship problems are often indicated as the single most frequent presenting problem in people seeking counselling and psychotherapy. Furthermore, a lack of, or unsatisfactory, close relationships have been linked to mental disorders such as depression. Due to the evidence of both the enhancing and impeding impact of close relationships on general health, it is argued that a health and social policy focus on close relationships could be a cost-effective strategy to improve well-being on a societal level. It is therefore important in a developing country like South Africa with a strained government health budget, to nurture and safeguard close relationships that promote health and provide interventions for those that undermine health.

Despite the importance of close relationships for human physical, social and mental health, we know relatively little about men and women’s experiences in close relationships; and the quality of, and processes in, the broad range of close relationships in the diverse South African population. In my research, therefore, I focus on generating information about close relationships (romantic and family close relationships) in various contexts. I am currently working on a project that explores men’s fatherhood ideas and practices. Men’s increased involvement in caregiving can play a critical role in changing traditional and restrictive gender roles in South Africa by providing men with the opportunity to expand their family roles and in so doing, role modelling alternative masculinity practices to their children.

I have also begun to explore an area closely related to close relationships, namely couple therapy. Given the dearth of information on the practise of couple therapy in South Africa, I would like to investigate topics such as: (i) South Africans attitudes towards utilising couple therapy for their own relationships. (ii) Non-professional forms of relationship interventions, for example, the use of indigenous forms of couple and family interventions and the interventions provided by religious leaders. (ii) Experiences of couple therapy. (iii) Couple therapy services and training in South Africa, for example: Who provides couple therapy in South Africa? Which modalities are used by practitioners? I would also like to explore the relevance of Emotionally Focused Therapy for South African couples.


Coordination of Programmes and Modules


  • Module Coordinator: Psychotherapy 711
  • Programme Coordinator: MA (Clinical Psychology)

Teaching Areas


  • Psychotherapy
  • Couple and Family Therapy
  • Individual Clinical Supervision

Selected Publications

Articles in Peer Reviewed Journals

Lesch, E. & Kruger, L-M. (2004). Reflections on the sexual agency of young women in one low-income rural South African community. South African Journal for Psychology, 34(3), 464-486.

Lesch, E. & Kruger, L-M. (2005). Mothers, daughters and sexual agency in one low-income rural South African community. Social Science and Medicine, 61, 1072-1082.

Lesch, E. & Engelbrecht, S-K. (2008). The usefulness of relationship satisfaction measures in one low-income semi-rural South African Community. Journal of Psychology in Africa, 18(2),245-248.

Rabie, F. & Lesch, E. (2009) “I am like a woman”: Constructions of sexuality of a group of gay men in one low-income South African community. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 11(7), 717-729.

Lesch, E. & Engelbrecht, S-K. (2011). Relationship Satisfaction and Gender Differences in a South African Farm-worker Community. South African Review of Sociology, 42: 1, 58-77.
Lesch, E. & Furphy, C. (2013). South African adolescents’ constructions of intimacy in romantic relationships. Journal of Adolescent Research, 28(6), 619-641. doi: 10.1177/0743558413480835

Lesch, E., Deist, M., Booysen, L., & Edwards, C. (2013). South African social workers’ knowledge of attachment theory and their perceptions of attachment relationships in foster care supervision. Children and Youth Services Review, 34(7), 1101-1109. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth. 2013.04.025.

Lesch, E. & De Jager, N. (2014). Positive and negative qualities of South African adolescents’ parent and peer relationships. Journal of Child & Adolescent Mental Health, 25(2), 1-14. doi: 10.2989/17280583.2013.825620.

Lesch, E. & Scheffler, F. (2015) “I want a better life for her”: Father-adolescent daughter relationships in a minority, low-income South African community. Marriage and Family Review, 51(5), 441-465.

Lesch, E. & Casper, R. (2015). “Drinking with respect”: Drinking constructions of men who live in a Cape Winelands farm community in South Africa. Journal of Health Psychology, 22(4), 409-421 doi: 10.1177/1359105315603476.

Lesch, E. & Kelapile, C. (2016). “In my dreams she finds me… and she wants me just the way I am”: Unmarried fathers’ experiences of fatherhood. Men & Masculinities, 1-22. doi: 0.1177/1097184X15601476.

Lesch, E. & Scheffler, F. (2016). Fathers, adolescent daughters and gender in a low-income South African community. Journal of Gender Studies, 25(5), 540-556. doi: 10.1080/ 09589236.2015.1051521.

Lesch, E. & Adams, A. R. (2016). Sexual intimacy constructions of heterosexual couples living in a low-income, “Coloured”, farm worker community in South Africa. Journal of Sex Research, 53(9), 1082-1095. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2016.1144170s.

Lesch, E. & Adams, A. R. (2016). Couples living with and around alcohol abuse: A study of a farmworker community in the Cape Winelands, South Africa. Social Science & Medicine, 156, 167-174. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.03.030.

Lesch, E., Casper, R., & Van der Watt. (2016). Romantic relationships and loneliness in a group of South African postgraduate students. South African Review of Sociology, 47(4), 22-39.

Lesch, E., Brits, S., & Naidoo, N. T. (2017). “Walking on eggshells”: Experiences of same-sex student couples on a South African university campus. South African Journal of Higher Education, 31(4), 127‒149, doi: 10.20853/31-4-893.

Lesch, E., De Bruin, K., & Anderson, C. (2018). A pilot implementation of the Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy group psycho-education programme in a South African setting. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 1-25.

Lesch, E. & van der Watt, A. S. J. (2018). Living single: A phenomenological study of a group of South African single women. Feminism & Psychology, 28 (3), 390-408.

Lesch, E. & Brooks, S. (2018). Man talk: Exploring sexual communication between fathers and sons in a minority South African community. Sex Roles, 81(3),173-191.

Lesch, E., & Parker, M. (2019). “We are Equal”! Gender Constructions in a Group of Middle-Class South African Muslim Couples. Gender Issues, 36(1), 23-45.

Lesch, E., Briedenhann, C., & Du Toit, M. (2019). The maintenance of gender inequality in South African tertiary educated heterosexual couples. Journal of Family Studies, 1-16. doi: 10.1080/13229400.2019.1619617

Lesch, E. & Casper, R. (2019). “It almost feels like it gets lighter on your shoulders”: Men’s drinking with male friends in a low-income farmworking community in South Africa. African Journal of Drug and Alcohol Studies, 18(1), 1-16.

Attridge, N., & Lesch, E. (2020). Inconceivable: South African Lesbians Talking About Being Voluntary Childfree. Sex Roles, 83(9), 636-655. DOI:10.1007/s11199-020-01132-2

Van der Watt, A.S.J., Spies, G., Roos, A., Lesch, E., & Seedat, S. (2021). Functional neuroimaging of adult-to-adult romantic attachment separation, rejection, and loss: A systematic review. Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings, online, 1-12.

Asiimwe, R., Lesch, E., Karume, M., & Blow, A. J (2021). Expanding our International Reach: Trends in the Development of Systemic Family Therapy Training and Implementation in Africa. Journal of Marital & Family Therapy.

Van der Watt, A.S.J., Roos, A., Du Plessis, S., Bui, E., Lesch, E., & Seedat, S. (2021). Reframing romantic relationship breakups in emerging adults: A narrative review of attachment, neural circuitry, and posttraumatic stress symptoms. Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy.

Peterson, J.M. & Lesch, E. (accepted for publication). “A child needs both a mother and a father”: The parenting constructions of a new generation of tertiary-educated South African prospective parents.). Journal of Comparative Family Studies.

Lesch, E., & Grötzinger, E. (accepted for publication). The father experiences and challenges of Namibian and South African offshore working men. WORK: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment & Rehabilitation.

Book Chapters

Lesch, E. & Scheffler, F. (2016). The importance of father-daughter relationships in South Africa. In Makiwane, M, Nduna, M, & Khalema, N. E. (Eds). Children in South African Families: Lives and Times. Cambridge Scholars.

Le Roux, M.C., & Lesch, E. (2020). A case study of social fathering in a rural, Western Cape community. In N. Roman (Ed), A closer look at parenting practices and styles. New York: Nova Science Publishers.

Websites and other Relevant Links

I am the co-founder of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, South Africa (; which is affiliated with the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (

I am certified Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist, Supervisor and Trainer. In this capacity, I provide continuing professional development activities, in collaboration with international trainers, in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). EFT is one of very few couple therapy modalities with substantial evidence of effectiveness. The EFT model prioritizes emotion and emotional regulation as the key organizing agents in individual experience and key relationship interactions. It is based on a clear, explicit attachment conceptualization of relational distress and adult bonds.


Certification as Emotionally Focused Therapy Trainer

I was certified as an Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) trainer earlier this year. This process was quite arduous and took a number of years to complete. In order to achieve trainer certification, my work was assessed over a number of trainings and therapy sessions in which I had to demonstrate my expertise as an EFT teacher, therapist, scholar, leader, and community collaborator.

EFT is a well-known humanistic approach to psychotherapy formulated in the 1980’s and developed in tandem with the science of adult attachment, a profound developmental theory of personality and intimate relationships. This science has expanded our understanding of individual dysfunction and health as well as the nature of love relationships and family bonds. Attachment views human beings as innately relational, social and wired for intimate bonding with others. The EFT model prioritizes emotion and emotional regulation as the key organizing agents in individual experience and key relationship interactions.

EFT is best known as a cutting edge, tested and proven couple intervention, but it is also used to address individual depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress (EFIT – Emotionally Focused Individual Therapy) and to repair family bonds (EFFT – Emotionally Focused Family Therapy). This model operationalizes the principles of attachment science using non-pathologizing experiential (paralleling Carl Rogers) and relational systems techniques (paralleling Salvador Minuchin) to focus on and change core organizing factors in both the self and key relationships. Most EFT research to date has focused on outcome and process of change studies with couples, and EFT for couples is the gold standard for empirically validated intervention in this field.

The popular basic 4-day Externship in EFT, taught in over 40 countries by ICEEFT certified trainers, is centered on working with individuals and dyads in distressed relationships and addressing dysfunctional patterns of emotion regulation and ways of engaging with one another that undermine secure bonding interactions, but it also outlines change techniques as used in EFIT sessions. Participants learn to use the macro-intervention sequence, the EFT Tango, across the three modalities of therapy.