Accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy (also known as AEDP for short), is a healing-oriented form of psychotherapy developed by clinical psychologist Dr. Diana Fosha. This particular from of psychotherapy draws upon and blends components of a variety of theories and approaches, including attachment theory, emotion theory and emotion-focused therapies, body-focused therapies, other dynamic psychotherapies, and developmental mother–infant interaction research.
The goal of AEDP is to transform and heal your emotional experience by helping you experience and more fully utilize the healing power that lies within. By developing a strong emotional attachment to the therapist, and working through intense emotions and painful experiences, you can learn to regulate and manage your emotional response in a healthy manner. The therapeutic relationship is the catalyst for the healing and growth that takes place in AEDP.
The Meaning behind the Name
Most people (at least outside the mental health profession) have never heard of accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy. Each word in the name represents an important element of this particular treatment approach:
Accelerated – The word “accelerate” often refers to making something go faster or gain in speed. However, it also means to gain momentum, which fits with the way in which AEDP works. In AEDP you start by processing distressing emotions. As you do this, and as you activate your internal capacity for healing and growth, you gain momentum. Your newfound resilience and enthusiasm propels you forward in life. Therapy serves as a springboard or platform for continued personal growth.
Experiential – In psychotherapy, the word “experiential” refers to engaging in a therapeutic activity (e.g. dancing, role-playing, or interacting with horses or other animals). In other words, you’re not just talking – you’re actively doing something in the session as part of the therapy process. In AEDP, the experiential aspect refers to the trust, connection, and, ideally, the secure attachment you experience in the therapeutic relationship. Experiencing this positive relationship enables the desired transformation – the emotional healing – to take place.
Dynamic – The word dynamic means that something is constantly changing or progressing. The authentic therapeutic relationship in AEDP is dynamic in nature. AEDP therapists utilize their own humanity as part of the process. Unlike some types of therapy, in which the therapist’s role is that of a blank slate, AEDP therapists strive to interact on an authentic emotional level with their clients. This doesn’t mean they are unprofessional or inappropriate, but they are open to their own emotional experience as well. By doing so, they not only strengthen the therapeutic bond; they also help the client feel less alone.
Psychotherapy – This last part of the name is rather self-explanatory. AEDP is a form of psychotherapy. As such, it maintains the goal bringing about healing, positive change, and personal growth in those who are seeking help.
How AEDP Works
Trauma and other intense, deeply felt experiences can completely overwhelm us if we don’t have other people in our lives to help us regulate our emotional response to them. However, sometimes these relationships fail and we’re left completely alone with these intense, unbearable emotions. This is believed to be the cause of psychopathology in AEDP. It develops out of our use of maladaptive defense mechanisms in an attempt to cope. The more we rely on these unhealthy coping mechanisms, the more deeply ingrained our emotional and psychological problems become.
AEDP works by “undoing” this aloneness. The therapist provides the necessary support by being with you as you face and work through intense emotions that were previously too frightening and too overwhelming to process on your own.
As humans, we’re wired to heal and self-right (or reverse) this psychopathology. This adaptive change occurs when our ability to heal is activated, which is what AEDP strives to accomplish. Establishing an affirming, nurturing, caring, and authentic relationship with the therapist – the experiential aspect of AEDP – enables you to access this innate ability and use it to grow.
In AEDP, the therapeutic relationship instills a sense of hope and trust in the power of healthy, supportive relationships. The therapist takes on the role of your trusted, “true other” – someone you can confide in without reservation – who helps you feel safe enough to drop your defenses and take risks with your emotions. This can be tremendously empowering. As you learn more adaptive ways of relating and experiencing in therapy, you’ll begin using them outside of therapy as you interact with the world around you.
Accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy asserts that the challenges life throws our way – via trauma, suffering, and other painful experiences – are actually profound opportunities for growth. It’s these experiences that have the greatest ability to make us aware of our innate capacity to heal ourselves. It may seem desirable to avoid painful life experiences; however, without them our true strengths and abilities may never be realized or activated.
Benefits of AEDP
Individuals who participate in AEDP experience a wide range of benefit. Following are several of the potential benefits from this particular form of psychotherapy:
- Increased resilience in the face of stress and life challenges
- A sense of resolve with regards to challenging emotions
- A newfound sense of meaning in life
- A sense of empowerment
- Greater coping skills
- Increased ability to freely experience a wide range of emotions instead of over-regulating them
- A renewed enthusiasm for life
- Greater ability to accurately identify emotions
- Greater sense of trust and security in relationships with others
- A more positive self-perception
- Greater motivation for ongoing personal growth
- Improved ability to access positive emotions
- Greater self-awareness
- Increased trust in oneself
- Happier, more positive mood
- Less anxiety and dread
- More energy
- Greater ability to tolerate and be comfortable with negative emotions
- Improved ability to be more present in relationships with others
Disorders, Conditions, and Problems that can benefit from AEDP
Accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy can help individuals who are struggling with a variety of life challenges, mental health disorders, and other problems. These include but aren’t limited to:
- Depression triggered by life events (exogenous depression)
- Anxiety disorders
- PTSD and unresolved trauma, particularly relational trauma
- Loss of a significant relationship (e.g. a divorce)
- Threat of losing something of significant importance (e.g. due to death or illness)
- Unresolved grief
- Deep sense of futility or dissatisfaction with one’s life, usually triggered by a crisis that serves as a sort of “wake-up call”
- Difficulty finding meaning in life
- Difficulties changing maladaptive patterns in one’s life
Who Can Benefit from AEDP
Accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy is particularly effective for certain types of individuals. These individuals have:
- The ability to reflect upon their life, relationships, and choices (at least to some degree)
- A reasonable level of functioning even though they’re struggling with a disorder or issue that’s led them to seek treatment
- A background that includes a significant loss or traumatic event*
- A tendency to over-regulate (or essentially over control) their emotions (rather than under-regulating them, which means they can’t seem to control them and become easily overwhelmed by intense emotions) which causes problems in the person’s life
- A tendency to be overly responsible and put others’ needs before his or her own – to a fault (e.g. the person who’s always taking care of everyone else while neglecting his or her own needs)
*As many people come to find out at some point in their life, it’s often a major loss or trauma that brings deeper issues (e.g. a sense of futility in life, or the unshakeable sense that something very important is missing from one’s life) to the surface. Although they may need and seek help working through the loss or trauma, the bigger problem is often this troubling realization that’s now gnawing at them. A painful significant event causes many people to take a step back and evaluate their life, eliciting tough questions such as “Why am I even here?” or “What’s the point of constantly struggling?” Accelerated experiential dynamic therapy can help them deal with these very issues.
Contraindications for AEDP
As with many types of psychotherapy, AEDP isn’t appropriate for everyone. Clients who would not be well-suited to this particular form of psychotherapy include those with substance disorders, psychotic symptoms, or impulse disorders. Individuals suffering from one of the bipolar disorders would also not be a good candidate for AEDP. Although AEDP can be very beneficial for someone struggling with exogenous depression (i.e. depression that’s reactive or situational in nature), it’s not recommended for someone suffering from endogenous depression Endogenous depression is defined as depression that seems to come from within as there’s no precipitating event or obvious cause.
Finding a Qualified AEDP Therapist
Therapists who offer AEDP to their clients have typically been trained and certified through the Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Therapy Institute. The institute was founded by Dr. Fosha, who also serves as the director. If you’re interested in working with a certified AEDP therapist, one of the best ways to locate one in your area is via the institutes website and directory, located here.
Although AEDP is a relatively new form of psychotherapy, it offers yet another alternative to working through difficult emotions, past trauma, and other challenges that may be robbing you of happiness, joy, and a genuine sense of fulfilment in your life. Working with an AEDP therapist cay help you resolve these and other issues as you discover inner resources you never knew you had.