What Is Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy?

How AEDP can help people heal from trauma

Most people reading this will have experienced a traumatic event in their lifetime. As many as 70 percent of people in the United States will experience a trauma at lease once in their lives. With so many people hurting, more therapeutic approaches are focused on being trauma-informed or trauma-focused. Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP) is one of those growing therapeutic approaches to help people heal.

It is suggested that people who have experienced trauma will wait approximately two years after realizing the pain of their experience before ever seeking help. Two years is quite a long time to suffer in isolation, trying to sort through the pain of a traumatic experience on your own. Even when people try to reach out for help, if at all, they might be seeking help from family or friends.

Although their intent is likely positive, loved ones are not necessarily equipped to help you navigate and heal from the emotional suffering of trauma.

AEDP therapy
Verywell / JR Bee

History of AEDP

Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy is described as a healing-based and transformation-oriented model of psychotherapeutic treatment. Developed by American psychologist, Dr. Diana Fosha, Ph.D., AEDP views crisis and suffering as opportunities for people to find their ability to heal and experience the transformation that might otherwise not have the chance to happen.

Dr. Fosha is the founder and director of the AEDP Institute in New York where she teaches clinicians and practices as a psychotherapist. As AEDP has continued to grow in recent years, clinicians from all over the world are learning this model of therapeutic treatment to better serve their clients, particularly those who have experienced trauma.

Influences on AEDP

As with many other approaches, AEDP integrates a variety of therapeutic disciplines, such as:

  • Attachment theory
  • Affective neuroscience
  • Body-focused approaches
  • Transformational studies

As described by the AEDP Institute, the treatment model of Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy aims to "help our patients, and ourselves, become stronger at the broken places. By working with trauma, loss, and the painful consequences of the limitations of human relatedness, we discover places that have always been strong; places that were never broken."

Four Pillars

There are four key pillars that offer foundational support to the model of AEDP:

  1. Faith in the client's capacity for healing. This ability and capacity for healing is hard-wired within us, in our mind and body, and can be accessed. It is understood that we are all capable and that this part of us that can be accessed for healing has been locked down and hidden as a result of emotionally painful experiences.
  2. The power of being seen and understood. This is new to many clients. It helps to heal deep injuries and to create space for exploration and change. When we are used to feeling alone, isolated, and misunderstood, this new experience of being seen and heard can feel both exciting and vulnerable. It is in this space that the AEDP therapist walks alongside to help the client explore.
  3. Working through defenses quickly and effectively. This involves exploring the deepest places of wounding. Healing at these places can be most helpful in creating further change. The AEDP therapist gently walks with clients into those emotions, maintaining safety for the client and allowing them to process those levels of hurt that are often hidden from others.
  4. Discovering a newfound ability to trust and experience emotions. This means sharing with another person. Even uncomfortable emotions can be shared and processed. As clients continue to experience emotional safety throughout the counseling process, they are met with corrective emotional experiences. These are experiences that help them challenge their ideas that they are not worth knowing, that their experiences don't matter, or that they cannot heal. Clients begin to experience themselves in new ways through their process of healing.

AEDP Therapists

Clinicians trained in Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy actively engage with clients throughout their healing journey. This is not a passive or removed therapeutic style, but one in which the client and the therapist are partnering collaboratively during the process. There are certain things that a trained AEDP therapist will be doing during the course of healing.

Establishing a Secure Base

A secure base is a necessary part of most forms of therapy, in that it allows for an effective and healthy rapport between client and therapist. This is particularly so within the model of AEDP.

The therapist is open and curious about the client, removed from any perceived judgment or bias that might create feelings of uncertainty.

For many people, having someone who is genuinely curious about them and their experiences can feel new and different. It is in this new and different space that clients can begin to feel safe and open to the process of sharing their emotions and experiences with another person.

Letting Clients Know They Are Not Alone

One of the key aspects of AEDP is to "undo aloneness." Most of us know the impact of feeling alone and what it can do to us when we are already in pain. Our sense of being alone leaves us feeling isolated and misunderstood, and can lead to feelings of hopelessness that things can change. AEDP therapists create safety through their active presence with clients, helping them find the courage to explore.

Walking Alongside Clients as They Explore

For many clients, this therapeutic experience may be the first time they have ever felt safe in their lives. Having a compassionate, emotionally safe person to join them in their exploration allows them to uncover and walk through painful experiences that may not have been accessed before. Therapists stay compassionately present as clients process uncomfortable emotions.

Staying in the Here and Now

AEDP therapists are attuned to the client's experience in each session, staying aware of body movement, facial expressions, eye movements, tone of voice and more. Actively tracking clients this way can allow therapists an opportunity to help clients explore what is happening for them, even during their exploration.

Offering Corrective Emotional Experiences

Again, for many people, sessions with an AEDP therapist may be the first time in their lives that they have felt emotionally safe enough to explore painful experiences and emotions. Much of what keeps people from sharing is fear of how others will respond, if others will see or hear their pain, and if they will be criticized or judged.

All of those fears can feel removed within the AEDP experience. New experiences, like feeling seen, heard and understood by the AEDP therapist allow clients to have a corrective emotional experience.

Addressing the Mind and Heart

Some therapeutic approaches tend to keep the mind and heart separate, or not address the heart much at all. AEDP allows therapists to maintain a balance of attuning to both the cognitive and the emotional experiences of the client. Doing so allows clients to feel integrated during their treatment, moving away from old patterns such as rationalizing or compartmentalizing their experiences.

Emotional Regulation

Many therapeutic models focus on relieving suffering and emotional pain. Helping people feel less pain is, of course, very important in the therapy process. People seek out help when they are in emotional pain looking for hope and guidance out of those uncomfortable spaces. However, the model of AEDP doesn't stop there.

In research conducted by Dr. Fosha and her colleague, Dr. Eileen Russell, Ph.D., they describe that the focus on a client's positive affective experience with regard to things like transformation, growth, and connection that are long overdue. These positive experiences are just as beneficial to the process of healing and, even more so, to the process of continued growth and flourishing. In fact, Fosha and Russell suggest that in AEDP:

  1. Working with positive affect is part of everyday, moment-to-moment psychotherapy in this model.
  2. It is necessary for positive emotions to be processed and regulated, just as we would do with more uncomfortable, painful emotion.
  3. Allowing positive affect to be part of the therapy work has been shown to make a big difference in improving the client's function, relatedness, and emotional resilience.

Who Can Use AEDP?

Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy is a therapeutic model that can be used with a wide variety of populations. Since the healing is based out of the platform of emotional attunement and client safety, many different presenting issues can be addressed.

The goal of the therapist is to actively engage and walk alongside their clients, to be curious about them and their experiences, to create a safe space for clients to explore and process their pain, as well as positive, emotional experiences.

Beyond simply a change in behavior or attitude, AEDP focuses on healing and change on a core level.

People can find true transformation through the AEDP therapy experience, impacting their sense of self, their sense of the world, their decision making and behaviors.

AEDP for Couples

Not only is AEDP an effective treatment model for individuals, but couples can also benefit from Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy for Couples. Just as the energy of AEDP for individuals is focused on things like attunement, safe exploration, and corrective emotional experiences, AEDP for couples offers this same energy to partners.

The influence of attachment theory is certainly present in AEDP work with couples. The painful experiences that people are coming in with may or may not have to do with their partner. Couples experience all sorts of wounds in their intimate relationship such as:

  • Infidelity
  • Dishonesty about finances
  • Spending habits
  • Household management
  • Parenting
  • Sexual intimacy
  • Emotional neglect
  • Emotional disconnect
  • Lack of communication
  • Anger

As much as there are several ways we can show love to one another, there are just as many ways we can hurt each other, especially in committed intimate relationships. When couples begin therapy with an AEDP therapist, they may be bringing in a history of traumatic experiences that took place within their dynamic or outside of their dynamic, such as in their past.

The AEDP therapist walks alongside both partners, tracking and helping them to explore their experiences. Creating and maintaining a safe emotional space for both partners is critical to the process.

During therapy, the AEDP therapist is modeling for partners how to become curious, how to help them not feel alone in their experiences, how to stay present, and how to offer corrective emotional experiences. As you might remember with individuals, the AEDP therapist is offering the client something that they have never felt before—an experience in which they feel seen, heard, and truly understood.

This is called the corrective emotional experience—one that offers hurting people the space and opportunity to fully process uncomfortable emotions and even celebrate more positive emotions, with a supportive person.

Couples in AEDP are, essentially, learning how to do this for each other, through the modeling of interactions with the therapist as well as better understanding through their own exploration of self in the therapy process.

Through exploration of self, partners can better identify possible roadblocks that might be getting in the way of true intimacy and vulnerability with their partner.

We use tactics all the time in our personal relationships to protect ourselves, often without realizing the painful impact it is having on our partner and the health of our relationship.

Identifying and clarifying these blocks to intimacy make them much easier to challenge and remove, allowing for partners to get to know each other in new, softer and more authentic ways. Through those moments in AEDP therapy, partners are building greater levels of intimacy and growing more closely connected.

Where to Find AEDP

As Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy continues to grow, clinicians are being trained across the globe. The AEDP Institute offers a database of therapists, psychologists, and other mental health practitioners who have advanced training or certification in this model of therapy. Because there are growing populations of trained AEDP therapists, particularly in the United States, there are established regional communities that you can contact for help in locating an AEDP therapist in your area.

Becoming Certified in AEDP

AEDP offers a formal certification program in this model of therapy to help maintain continuity in how this approach is being offered with clients. Because AEDP is a comprehensive, integrative theoretical clinical model, it is critical that therapists are trained properly with an established and consistent curriculum. The training in AEDP includes coursework, clinical experience, and supervision to help demonstrate knowledge, understanding and effective application of AEDP skills.

For someone to become fully certified in Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy, they must be a state-licensed professional qualified to work in areas of mental health treatment, including credentials such as:

  • Psychiatrists
  • Psychologists
  • Psychoanalysts
  • Mental Health Therapists
  • Marriage and Family Therapists
  • Art Therapists
  • Registered Nurses
  • Addictions Counselors

Many educational training opportunities are available for clinicians and other licensed professionals who may be interested in developing skills in AEDP. Seminars, workshops, conferences, and online trainings are available. If you are a clinician interested in becoming certified in AEDP, you can find more information about training opportunities at the AEDP Institute website.

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