Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP)
Accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy (AEDP) is a form of talk therapy that aims to help people overcome trauma, loss, or other serious emotional challenges. Drawing on attachment theory, body-focused approaches, and other related disciplines, AEDP posits that humans are wired for resilience and have an inborn ability to cope with emotional pain; however, many people who have undergone trauma are unable to access the skills that would allow them to navigate these emotional challenges. AEDP aims to help clients uncover and draw on these innate coping mechanisms to manage their trauma and move toward flourishing.
During AEDP, clients work to process painful past experiences by uncovering and experiencing difficult emotions as well as identifying and working through the defenses they’ve built over the years to manage their distress. Over time and with the therapist’s close support, proponents claim, clients will develop new coping skills, restore their ability to trust, and be more comfortable feeling their own emotions and more capable of conveying them to those around them.
AEDP is a relatively new modality, and very few large-scale studies on its efficacy exist. However, some small studies have found that AEDP can lead to improvement in symptoms such as depression, anxiety, or avoidance.
AEDP was originally designed to treat trauma, especially that which occurred in childhood, and is thus often used as a treatment for PTSD. It may also be used to help someone manage the aftereffects of childhood neglect or being raised by distant, disinterested caregivers, which may have interfered with attachment and/or created relationship difficulties in adulthood. Trauma, loss, or attachment challenges may manifest as other symptoms such as depression, anxiety, or interpersonal challenges, all of which can be targeted by AEDP. The modality may also be used in the treatment of eating disorders, some cases of which are thought to stem from the experience of trauma, among other factors. It can be used with individuals or couples.
AEDP is a relatively active therapeutic modality, meaning the therapist will participate in discussions and explorations with the client, rather than employing a more detached or “blank slate” approach that is characteristic of some other therapy types.
Over the first few sessions, an AEDP therapist will likely work to establish a trusting relationship with the client by being curious about their past experiences and allowing them to express painful emotions without being judged. Next, the therapist will typically help the client look deeper inward, identifying problematic defense mechanisms and exploring emotions or experiences that may have been ignored or buried for long periods of time.
Along the way, the therapist will stay attuned to the client’s movements, facial cues, tone of voice, and other body language signals; at some point during sessions, therapist and client may discuss these signals themselves and what they might mean, as well as explore how it feels to share difficult emotions openly and consider one’s relationship with them (a process known as metaprocessing). Throughout, the therapist will work to “undo aloneness,” or the painful feeling many trauma survivors experience that they are alone with their overwhelming emotions. Ideally, clients will feel deeply seen and understood by their therapist, strengthening their ability to trust others or express emotions without fear that they will be received negatively.
AEDP was developed by psychologist Diana Fosha and first emerged in the early 2000s. Fosha argues that trauma or other painful emotional experiences can lead someone to experience overwhelming emotions in “utter aloneness”; undoing that aloneness, through a supportive and encouraging relationship with one’s therapist, is seen by AEDP practitioners as a key to healing. As this relationship is forming and has been solidified, the client will feel supported and understood, ideally gaining confidence and becoming more willing to explore their emotional experience. While it can certainly be difficult at times, this exploration is not intended to be entirely unpleasant; indeed, AEDP therapists often look for moments of joy during sessions and encourage the client to sit with them and focus on their accompanying sensations. AEDP therapists maintain that this process will lead to further positive experiences and personal discoveries that are necessary for the individual to flourish. AEDP draws on theories of emotion processing and the idea of neuroplasticity to argue that creating and nourishing positive emotional experiences will lead to changes in the brain that bolster psychological resilience.
As with other forms of therapy, clients should seek out therapists who are appropriately licensed and credentialed. In the case of AEDP, they may wish to seek out therapists who have pursued specific trainings or certifications in this modality, many of which are offered by The Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy Institute (led by AEDP founder Diana Fosha). Above all, it’s important for clients to find a therapist with whom they have a rapport and who they can feel comfortable sharing with, as AEDP can be an intense process and is heavily reliant on a strong therapist-client relationship.