AEDP Institute

About AEDPfC (AEDP for Couples)

AEDPfC has been developed by AEDP Senior Faculty Member Dr. David Mars. Like AEDP, AEDPfC grows through the ongoing contributions of faculty and community members including AEDP’s talented Experiential Assistants who play an active role in AEDPfC training courses. On this page, David and his co-presenter and wife Karen Pando-Mars, MFT, also a Senior Faculty member of AEDP, as well as many AEDPfC Experiential Assistants write about AEDPfC from their perspectives.

From David Mars, MFT, PhD
AEDPfC Developer

** 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 attachment member can come across as demanding or as a criticism of an implied deficiency.

Transformance Drives

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, track subtle energetic shifts moment-by-moment.

** The description above is largely excerpted from David Mars’ (developer of AEDPfC) 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.


From Karen Pando-Mars, MFT

How does AEDP for Couples work? 
from AEDP for Couples Core Training

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[1] 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 whom 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.

[1] 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)



From Idit Setter, LMFT, MA
AEDPfC Experiential Assistant
– Tel Aviv, 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.


From Maria Palmer, LCSW-R
AEDPfC Experiential Assistant 

– Stockholm, Sweden

AEDPfC in 100 words

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.


From Pauline Wakeham, LCSW-SEP
AEDPfC Experiential Assistant 

– Oakland, CA, USA

About the AEDPfC Community Healing Workshop
in New Jersey in 2014

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 first for 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…


From Ashley Wood, LCSW, CEAP
AEDPfC Experiential Assistant 
– Corte Madera, CA, USA

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.


From Polly Ely
AEDPfC Experiential Assistant 
– Corte Madera, CA, USA

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.


From Steve Carroll
AEDPfC Experiential Assistant 
– Haddonfield, NJ, USA

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.


From Birgitta Gabel
AEDPfC Experiential Assistant 

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!