From the First Minute of the First Session*
Rather than seeking to find the problems that the couple has, the therapist who is practicing AEDPfC (AEDP for Couples) focuses on discovering and amplifying the strengths of the couple relationship and softening the defenses that have been keeping these natural capacities from emerging in a more full and stable way. Subtle and overt signs of the felt experience of love are evoked in each couple member from the first moment of the first session. Here is an example of a prompt from an AEDPfC therapist at the opening of the first session: “Will you please turn toward each other and tell your partner, if this therapy is to be a success, what do you want to experience with your partner?” This is different from what one member wants from the other, which especially for the more avoidantly attached member can come across as demanding or as a criticism about an implied deficiency.
Transformance drives are the central guiding force of AEDP for Couples. Diana Fosha (2008) coined the term to describe the indwelling biological drive to evolve and progress to higher levels of relational capacity. In 2009 David Mars adapted the term to the specific transformance drive in couple members to love and be loved. As the fMRI research of Helen Fisher (2004) shows us, the brain centers for the in-love experience lie even deeper in the brain than the centers for lust. This longing for the “in-love” experience that feels good, peaceful and safe becomes a guiding light for the therapist and each couple member.
Cultivating the Self of the Therapist
AEDPfC is based on increasing the whole body somatic attunement of the therapist. This somatic attunement grows in the therapist who is accessing natural transformance drives to facilitate the couple’s process. Relational connectivity and “undoing aloneness” (Fosha, 2000, Mars, 2011) through the judicious use of self-revelation on the part of the therapist helps to build an alliance with each couple member.
Emerging affective neuroscience and applied attachment research are key elements of AEDPfC. … Another intention of the work is to evoke the somatically attuned self-at-best in each couple member progressively from the first session going forward. … By self-at-best, I refer to a term used by Diana Fosha (AEDP’s founder) in her remarkably prescient book ,The Transformative Power of Affect (2000). Self-at-best describes the way we most long to be and act that is exemplified by being self-reflective, attuned, and effective even when circumstantially activated or triggered. Imagine your level of responsiveness and creativity of engagement on a “good day” when all is right in your world. Imagine now being this way even in couple sessions, when attachment level activation and agitation is looming between two couple members who arrive in a distressed state. The training and practice in AEDP for Couples is strongly oriented to the grounded inner work of the therapist in expanding the capacity to see, hear, feel, sense, notice movement, and track subtle energetic shifts moment-by-moment.
* The description above is largely excerpted from David Mars’ (developer of AEDPfC) recent article, “What is Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy for Couples?” (published July/August 2017 in The Therapist, magazine of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists)
For the complete article, click here.
About the developer of AEDPfCDavid Mars, M.F.T., Ph.D.
David Mars, Ph.D. is the developer of AEDP For Couples. He has specialized in the somatically focused treatment of couples and groups for four decades, as an innovator in developing process-oriented, somatically, and empathically focused couple treatment. David has trained, supervised and consulted with Dr. Diana Fosha, the originator of AEDP since 2005.
David develops and presents training seminars and workshops nationally and internationally that focus on the AEDP for Couples model. He is the lead supervisor of the AEDP for Couples Core Training. He teaches at AEDP Immersion Courses, the Essential Skills Program and leads two ongoing AEDP for Couples supervision groups. He is one of the founders of AEDP West. David is also on the adjunct faculty of the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco where he infused AEDP into his teaching of courses on the Clinical Relationship.
David’s style as a presenter is described as inspiring, warm and deeply personable. He quickly evokes trust from his audiences, which ushers in a deep level of transparent exchange of ideas and points of view about how therapists can more effectively treat the historical trauma and deprivation that underlies marital dysfunction. Perhaps most importantly, participants are moved to apply what they learn in these training programs, due to the depth of experience they take in while witnessing videos, live demonstrations and engaging in experiential practices.
Compiled Writings About AEDPFC
What Makes AEDP for Couples Different: How AEDP for Couples Goes Beyond Emotion in Treatment
by David Mars 2009
In treating couples, often more avoidantly-attached partners show a lesser capacity to perceive, receive and express emotion than their anxiously-attached partners. This “deficit” area can be shaming for that couple member if we focus the therapy on emotions, especially after years or decades of failing the partner in the area of being able to feel or name emotions. An over-focus on emotion, can create a thwarting and or even re-traumatizing bottleneck in treatment. Especially early in treatment, the avoidantly-attached member of the couple often finds that connecting to emotions, especially in the presence of his or her attachment figure, is so threatening as to become nearly impossible because of how quickly dissociation (dorsal vagal response) is triggered. The exception to this difficulty in contacting emotion is the feeling of frustration and irritation, which is not generally a core affect, but a defensive reaction.
In the AEDP for Couples model, we bridge to other channels of bodily experience in order to open and validate alternate pathways as being also “real” and true and valuable, so connection can be made in whatever channel of experience it can be perceived, received and expressed in each evolving moment. Part of the strategy of AEDP for Couples is for each partner to attune and then receive on the channels on which his or her partner broadcasts and then cross-train with each other to receive the channels of experience that are available as a larger repertoire is built over the course of treatment.
For the above stated reasons and more, in AEDP for Couples, treatment moves forward through moment-to-moment tracking of the co-created intersubjective field in a broadband sort of way. Because in work with couples we have more than one person to track, by involving the seven channels of experience, we include more of the precious epiphenomena in the room. This is what Allan Shore calls the intersubjective somatic field. The channels of experience include: sensation (including warmth, tension and tingling), energetic phenomena (expanding and contracting, filling and draining, brightening and dimming) emotion (joy, sadness, anger, fear, surprise and disgust), movement (including micro-expressions, and subtle gestures), auditory (voice tone and timbre and verbally conveyed meaning), visual (visible signs of expression, especially of love and caring) and imaginal (all of the other six channel of experience that appear as imagined that spontaneously or intentionally are called into awareness). For example: imaginal sensation, imaginal energetic, imaginal emotion, imaginal movement, imaginal auditory and imaginal visual experiences.
The intention in AEDP for Couples is to model and to assist each member of the couple to develop deep skills in holding an evolving witness consciousness that leads to a growing awareness and appreciation that a range of modes of experience and expression are valid and necessary within the growing culture of the couple. This process is about tenderly and respectfully bridging to the experience of each partner to go toward that which is longed for in a mutually welcoming connection. The natural flow is toward “uncrimping” all of the formerly defensively excluded channels of experience including emotion in a step-by-step process accompanied by affirmation and safety.
AEDP for Couples: Integrating Sex Therapy into Couple Treatment
by David Mars 2017
Introduce sex as a topic early in treatment with a question like: “So is your sexual connection part of what you want to improve as part of your work here?” Or “What would you say your sexual quality and frequency is compared to what you want it to be with each other?” The theme is to bring it to become explicit that talking about sex is a natural part of couple therapy from early in treatment, often in the first session. It is not important to be super-specific and detailed, unless either or both couple members invite that. Almost universally it is true that sexual quality and frequency has declined when couples come into treatment, so when the couple therapist brings it up, then the couple members can go into the sexual realm more fully from early sessions, since we set the tone of treatment.
The transformance strivings (the biological drive to evolve and grow) are the key to increasing the felt experience of eros, the life force, which energizes sexual desire and momentum toward sexual connection. Complaints about sexual “performance” are quite shaming and demotivating to both anxiously-attached and avoidantly-attached couple members alike, while speaking about what each partner wants is a conversation starter in-session and between sessions.
Since the Seven Channels of Experience include the energetic, sensation, movement and visual channels, there is much we can do to kindle the fire of erotic connection without being overt about it. Pinkness in the cheeks and reddening of lips are guides to increased arousal in couple relating. We are all mammals of course and the nerve bundles of the pelvic area are linked to facial pinkening that we can see and the couple members can sense. By bringing attention the inner sensations of warming in the face and drawing the attention of the partners to each other’s brightened eyes, pinkened cheeks and deepened and brightened iris color, we can open up a primal “conversation” with humor and delight amplifying an energetic lightening and stirring that is then shown through couple members movement channel as well. This movement of leaning in toward each other, curling up on the couch (with shoes off) and hands moving toward hands, feet moving toward feet can then be encouraged, moving beyond the edge of the habitual stopping places into breakthroughs that bring relief and new openings to bring home.
How does AEDP for Couples work?
The AEDP for Couples therapist helps his/her clients discover and inhabit their embodied experience and cultivates boundless compassion and curiosity for their experience. From the get go, the therapist aims to help couple members experience each of their core selves, their core yearnings to love and be loved – distinctly from the defensive patterning that understandably gets wired-in for protection when these innate longings to be seen, met and understood were thwarted – not necessarily out of mal- intent, but through the long lineage of compromised others.
The AEDP for Couples therapist knows in her bones and feels in her heart what is possible and guides couple members to decipher for themselves what they have hidden in shame, reacted to out of self-preservation and protested to out of unmet needs still striving to be heard. The transformative process evolves step-by-step, moment-by-moment, channel of experience by channel of experience.
So what is the magic of how?
S L O W D O W N
Get each couple member used to speaking from his or her body experience in I statements (“Will you pause for a moment and try this?”) and having their language shaped into a more specific and embodied way of speaking from their experience.
Get out of the way and become receptive when the true stuff emerges.
Thoroughly metaprocess the heck out of each and every shift that occurs, within themselves and between each other.
Be ready to catch them when they trip before they hit the ground (or each other metaphorically).
And when they misstep, notice what is evoked, and what shame spirals get sparked. When misunderstandings don’t correct easily, be curious for the clues they offer: perhaps about core needs or vulnerabilities. Who is in the room (or bed) with them with regard to unresolved trauma?
Through exploring what emerges with care and curiosity – help couples to see for themselves the living proof of their capacity to transform. Help them build the compassion to want to know themselves and each other deeply and purely – because they feel the difference and know in their hearts that they are real and their longings are true… that each partner has a story with a history and a self with huge potential yet to be realized.
In AEDP we look for glimmers of transformance. In couples, central transformance drives are the longings for connection and strivings to heal to become better partners and lovers. So we track these glimmers and fan the embers into a more palpable glowing and heat of caring and passion to love and sex.
Help them to experience moments of change and stay with this somatic change process until recognition takes hold. Then encourage each to take what is new and help it to move from unformed, preverbal and not yet fully known, across the corpus callossum from right-brain to left-brain and back again (via metaprocessing) into words. Words grow self-reflective function, and new realizations distinguish between “what was done to me” from “whom I am”. Not limited to who I am, I can reach for “who I can become,” and the “relationship I want to have and can choose to bring into form.” All this can come into play in AEDP for Couples. The goal of treatment is developing earned security for each couple member and for their children who will be affected deeply through the transformative process of the parents.
My hope is for each of you to find your way via AEDP for Couples – aspiring to become your own self-at-best therapist. My want is that each of us be true to ourselves. Through following this truth sense in each session, we can be guided by the light of each of our own inner compasses while held within the structure of the AEDPfC model.
How the Internal Working Model Changes In AEDP for Couples
By Karen Pando-Mars, MFT
Building a new self-other template:
In AEDP for Couple’s work I am intending to bring about healing processes for each individual in a way that allows each to become the sensitive and reliable other for the other partner. This means moving from repetitive, reflexive and reactive patterns into responses of curiosity and interest and taking less and less personally the fights, flights and frights that have previously triggered escalation.
I guide couple members to become progressively more willing and capable to endure potential triggers and to hold awareness of their somatic awareness until the original wounds come into view and together with my firm and kind guidance, the warmth of their own love and inner guidance grows. Verifiable trust, love and caring then come to the fore. Each couple member learns how to listen deeply and stand with and support the other in new ways. This process brings corrective emotional and relational experiences that surprise the self of each partner
In the AEDP for Couples method, we grow the relationship vehicle for transformation to increasingly meet and satisfy early longings and unmet needs. We grow the strength of new attachment bonds between each member of the couple. With deepening safety and accompaniment each member of the couple can support the exploration and courage needed to face honestly the historic moments and patterns that need fresh completion, rewiring and healing. In this way, each couple member grows their own earned security and transforms the lived experience of their relationship.
AEDP for Couples (AEDPfC)
By Idit Setter (Israel)
Working with a couple through AEDPfC, gives an opportunity for the partners to experience the feelings and sensations of being the true other for one another, and the spectrum of feelings and sensations related to having their partner be the true other for themselves, in an expanding array of ways of perceiving, receiving and expressing within their dyadic process and shared lives. It is this process fear, instability or fixation are transformed through unique somatically experienced moments of connection, hope and compassion.
Through working with each partner deeply into core affect and focusing on “I” statements that reveal the inner world of each partner to the other, shame, criticism and anxiety are alleviated and safety comes forth. The AEDPfC therapist encourages direct couple communication between the couple members from the start of the first session and for every session, while carefully shaping the affect-regulation of each partner.
Finally, AEDPfC puts emphasis on somatic curiosity and holding and expressing somatic awareness. Rich understanding of self and other is promoted through the use of seven channels of experience, which gives depth and honor to each experience. This process is about giving birth to new experiences with the partner in successive ways within and between sessions that co-generate earned secure attachment.
Because of all of this, AEDPfC work is profoundly touching and is bound to affect the therapist in deep and unexpected ways.
AEDP for Couples (AEDPfC)
Partners play a very significant healing role for each other within the practice of AEDP for Couples. As they speak with each directly starting in the first few minutes of the first session about what they want with each other, what gets them “tangled up” as a couple comes forward as well. They often find within that tangle, each other’s early relational wounds. AEDP for Couples makes room for the couple to grieve for each other’s young selves, and for each to take a stand for each others young selves and to set right together what was wrong or unjust in his or her partner’s early life. Together they team up to become healing witnesses and true protective others to each others young- and adult selves as well.
AEDP gets to the heart of the attachment longings, which exist for each partner, and sets the couple on a new path in which a practice of sending and receiving clear direct and explicit FELT expressions of love becomes the focus of the therapy. While honoring existing wounds that are in need of repair or areas of deprivation, grief or misattunement within the marriage, AEDP for Couples is neither problem-oriented nor is it deficit-based. AEDP for Couples looks intently for what is right, just and caring in the way each partner gives love. The AEDP for Couples therapist notices and amplifies the selves-at-best of each couple member and affirmatively guides each of the partners to attune and respond to the other without shame or blame.
The therapy occurs in an environment where healthy relational risk-taking can occur and where new moments of truly nourishing each other can be celebrated.
What is AEDP for Couples?
This model guides me to be a transformance detective. From the moment I interact with a couple, I am scanning for what is working, and what already exists. I lean into moments that have the beginnings of light, love, care, compassion and vulnerability. I use all of my senses and channels of experience to begin to put language to longings that live in each individual in the couple. AEDP for couples gives me language and tools for knowing when I am with a young part of the couple and tending to their needs/hurts/longings. Rather than the therapist be the option for a corrective experience, I begin to help couple partners witness and be a “true other” for their partner’s young part. Undoing aloneness is one of the gifts of AEDP and re-organizing experiences to help them get filed in a part of the brain that allows for a narrative to be spoken about their young life with more emotional regulation. This process for healing allows more space and organization for couple’s to be with their current material. While this might be a simple intervention, I am consistently guided to slow down and check in with myself as the therapist to notice and track what is stirred in me somatically to potentially make room for something that is going on in the couple that is being unconsciously avoided by one or both. Safety is key to this model. I hold a space for couples to be brave, honest and try on new language to speak their longings and practice more attuned responses to one another.
AEDPfC in 100 Words
by Maria Palmer (Sweden)
I’m passionate about working with couples, but it’s risky business. How many of us have not experienced conflict becoming intensified in couple’s therapy? Not to mention the experience of being at loss about what to do! The sense of responsibility when we witness a crumbling relationship in our office can be overwhelming. I feel fortunate that AEDPfC helps me to stay present in the process and to change channels. That’s when new experiences can emerge. AEDPfC gives me tools, courage, and heart to answer the call for help from clients who long to “undo aloneness” in their most intimate relationships. By distinctively basing this method in neuroscience and by making facts accessible and understandable, we effectively combat shame and guilt. We approach toxic states with empathy and compassion. The couple-members are guided to share directly with each other and are coached to have a positive connection from the get-go, to embrace what is new and to meta-process what the new experience is like. When safety is established, we enter painful places with accompaniment, creating a platform for the couple-members to become more conscious and able to grow. The power of portrayals is also transformative. We encourage healthy boundaries and individuation, which makes it possible to become “true others”. Healing begins in the first session. This method utilizes all that is effective in AEDP, adding the power of offering this experience to partners who then go home and live their evolving lives together. Those who decide to go separate ways are guided to do so with love, respect and integrity. I’m ever so humble and grateful to have the honor to participate in the process.
AEDP for Couples Community Healing Workshop from New Jersey November 2015
This past AEDP For Couples weekend was as transformational and as deeply experiential as a training experience as has ever been for me. Though I came to New Jersey already steeped in AEDP for Couples, I entered the Community Healing model only for the second time and feel the Transformance drives of our live couple reverberate around the room. As witness after witness stands up to speak about the hidden place in them that is revealed and healed through this community experience, I sense a deeper reaching into my own way of partnering to look more closely and more honestly at my own blocks to loving and being loved. I also feel the couple therapist in me grow more stable, more inspired to take risks and more accompanied in taking those risks.
To all who contributed with their attendance and heartful presence— Thank you. This was a firstfor me to traverse the four states as a collective…to shed tears and feel pain, to be aware of being joined with and to be accompanied in a healing experience amidst caring others…while learning so much!
I return home to San Francisco to meet my partner anew, to meet my couples who are in treatment with fresh eyes and with a lasting Core State feeling that comes from being part of something much bigger than myself. Most of all, I am infused with a sense of how this model allows me to reach far into the future to change the way love is sent, and received for generations to come…Recognition is a glimpse of the core self: an understanding, making sense in a fresh way, a matching of something in the self and something out there: “a click.” Recognition requires an “other” through which to see and know oneself. Recognition responds to the new with sense of familiarity. Fosha (2013)
AEDP for Couples (AEDPfC)
Joseph Campbell said that the realization of love is nature’s noblest work. One of the aspects of AEDPfC that so inspires me is that it provides a map and a compass for this most essential journey. Well beyond the issues that bring our couples into treatment, AEDPfC seeks a deeper level of transformation such that all aspects of the relationship organically change and grow out of the created safety, earned secure attachment and healing practices. This is a model that takes the glimpse of the promise that we receive when love finds us and brings it to fruition.
I love that AEDPfC focuses on what is good, what is true, what is beautiful as a way to access and cultivate our selves at best. So, in this way, when we work with our more compromised selves and those of our partners, we are more resourceful, kinder, more loving which then mediates the problems and conflicts that we all struggle with through the conduit of love, not fear. And, as our couples increase this capacity, it releases a whole other set of transformational affects such as joy, pride, confidence, gratitude, deeper recognition and more which then get harnessed to create an ever emergent transformational spiral that takes on a positive life of its own. The couple members are then able to create a new narrative of their relational experience born out of their own truth and authenticity, not a story that was bequeathed to them. This is so inspiring to witness!
AEDPfC also really gets that true, deep coupling can only come from the recognition of the identity of the other – “the otherness of the other”. This process of differentiation is continually facilitated so that couple members are freed up to experience each other more truly and not as a projection from an unresolved issue from the past. I am deeply grateful that we have AEDPfC as a powerful modality for this noble work.
AEDP for Couples (AEDPfC)
Birgitta Gabel, Ph.D.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
While AEDP brings the power of undoing aloneness to our work with individuals, AEDPfC brings that power to couples seeking help who are feeling helpless and alone in the recurring dark moments of their most important relationships. In my work with survivors of trauma as well as people struggling at the edges of mainstream society, those dark moments can be particularly dim and messy. With its gentle moment-to- moment tracking and owning of experience, delight in spotting each couple member’s yearning to love and be loved, constant care for creating safety in the room, and support for each member to witness the one they love with kindness, AEDPfC supports me in bringing those dark moments into the light where shame and fear can relax.
I feel moved over and over again as I witness couples come out of this darkness into true intimacy. I find myself not anxious about whether this couple stays together, doesn’t stay together, whether this person finally changes or that person is ever going to stop…. With AEDPfC I am learning to engage in this moment, this space, where two people see each other – sometimes for the first time – and where each person can dare to really look at their beloved or risk the profound vulnerability of being seen.
For me a vital aspect of being able to do this challenging work has been my experience over and over again of being held in the light of the AEDPfC community of clinicians – at the Hybrid trainings, in on-line groups, in core training groups – where we privilege showing up with vulnerability as well as with the desire – and tools – to nurture safety for all of us as we practice and play with this model. I feel supported in my attempts to wade out into the dark waters of intimacy that are so often scary for me too. What an adventure!