What is Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP)?

By Jennifer Edlin, Marriage and Family Therapist, Certified AEDP Therapist

Accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy (AEDP) starts with the assumption that we are all wired to self-right, heal and transform provided we are given the right environment. AEDP works through creating a container of emotional safety that allows for the client to experience deep connection with self and other. Relying on the strength and safety of this connection, the therapist and client can then venture together into experiences the client has had that have been too painful or places where the client has felt unbearably alone and, together, bring what is needed to allow healing to occur, in the form of a corrective emotional experience.

There is no better way to capture the ethos of AEDP than to say that we try to help our patients–and ourselves—become stronger at the broken places . . . and to discover places that have always been strong and never were broken.”

Diana Fosha, PhD, developer of AEDP

What does AEDP look like in practice?

Many types of therapy focus on the content or the stories that people tell about their lives, their relationships and themselves. The therapist and client in these therapies look for insights to change what isn’t working or seek to change faulty beliefs or thoughts on a cognitive level. AEDP is different. It focuses on building increased awareness of the client’s experience, moment by moment, as it unfolds in the therapy hour. The client and therapist stay with the client’s emotional and relational experiences and the physical sensations of those experiences, as they unfold.

The AEDP therapist is emotionally engaged, actively involved, affirming and supportive. The therapist encourages the client to stay with her experience, encourages focus on the areas of strength, health and hope that already exist and assists the client in putting aside protective strategies to allow new experiences to occur. These protective strategies are often developed in childhood and used so as to not feel or not act certain ways. They develop because in the child’s environment growing up, such feelings or actions weren’t safe to experience or express.

For instance, if a child’s mother always becomes overwhelmed when the child gets sad, that child will adapt and will not only not be sad with the mother (to maintain a connection that is critical to the child’s survival) but will also not experience the sadness for herself (to avoid being left alone with an overwhelming emotion). The sadness gets pushed out of consciousness, but with this pushing away, a deadening of experience occurs.

In therapy, as the client’s experience unfolds, new ways of being in the world and knowing one’s self emerge. Emotions, when allowed to flow to completion, have biologically wired-in adaptive action tendencies. So, in our example above, when the client allows herself to feel her sadness with the therapist, she can then also have the experience that follows a wave of sadness, which is often described as the clarity after a storm or a calm knowing.

It is a core tenet of AEDP that (to quote Eugene Gendlin, the founder of Focusing) “nothing that feels bad is ever the last step.” While at first, going towards the sadness may feel painful, through allowing her emotional process, the client gets to a deeper, more alive connection with self. In a bottom up way, people come to experience themselves differently and, hence, to know and think about themselves differently and act differently with others.

Just as the more difficult relational and emotional experiences are processed between the therapist and client, so too are these newer, transformative experiences. Through processing, this new experience is reinforced and absorbed at a neuronal level. This in turn leads to even newer transformational experiences. We are hardwired to heal, and the AEDP therapist helps the client to tap into and stay with these spirals of healing and transformation.

What issues does AEDP work well with?
AEDP has been used by clinicians to treat a wide variety of conditions including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic Shame
  • Trauma and PTSD
  • Relationship concerns
  • Attachment issues
  • Stress
  • Addiction
  • Abandonment
  • Life transitions
  • Dissociation
  • Personal growth

What theories and research inform AEDP?

AEDP is grounded in psychodynamic theory and informed by neuroscience and attachment theory as well as emotional theory and body focused approaches. It brings to the therapeutic relationship all that we know about the brain’s increased neuroplasticity in securely attached relationships. Each time we engage in a new attachment relationship, the brain is more able to wire together new sets of neurons, and hence change the way we feel, think and act. This is true when we are young, and also true at any time in life, in any new attachment relationship. In addition, in a secure, safe, responsive relationship, humans are better able to regulate emotion and stress.

The AEDP therapist comes to the therapeutic relationship as an authentic, attuned, caring other and works actively to repair any ruptures in the relationship. The therapeutic relationship therefore becomes both a safe haven to retreat to for support as well as a secure base from which to leave to explore. Together, therapist and client explore both the client’s challenging experiences and her new positive experiences of self and other to effect change on a deep level.

For More Information on AEDP

For more about AEDP, please see the AEDP website www.aedpinstitute.org.

For a description of one therapist’s use of AEDP with a particular client please see this article from the New York Times’ Couch Series: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/03/10/its-not-always-depression/?_r=0.

Jennifer-Edlin-MFT-San-Francisco-Oakland-CA-2About this Contributor: Jennifer Edlin, MFT is a Marriage and Family Therapist seeing clients in private practice in Oakland and San Francisco. She is a certified AEDP therapist and helps facilitate small experiential-group trainings for therapists through the AEDP Institute in the Bay Area, New York and Boston. She also serves as co-chair of the AEDP Institute Research Committee.  Jennifer helped to spearhead the launch of the Berkeley Initiative for Mindfulness in Law at UC Berkeley Law. She received her undergraduate degree from Princeton University, a juris doctor degree from New York University and her masters of arts degree in counseling psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies. She endeavors to bring a natural warmth and ease to her work with clients as well as to her work supervising interns and therapists seeking to develop in their practice of AEDP.  

For more information about her work, please visit: http://www.rewireyourheart.com.  

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