AEDP West Sunday Seminar,
with Ron Frederick, PhD, LP
MARCH 21, 2010 | San Anselmo, CA
Cultivating the Skills of Emotional
Mindfulness in AEDP

REVIEW By Pauline Wakeham, L.C.S.W.

Back at “the castle on the hill”, our AEDP community came in out of the spring sunshine and into the warmth of a community, nourishing itself with connection, reflection and inquiry.

Karen Pando-Mars introduced Dr. Ron Frederick, a licensed psychologist, a fifteen year veteran of AEDP, and her own original core group leader, with affection and appreciation. Ron originally trained with Diana Fosha and was one of the early faculty members of the AEDP Institute and has been a senior faculty member since 2004. Ron is the author of the award winning book (USA Book News Best Self Help book for 2009) Living Like You Mean It: Use the Wisdom and Power of Your Emotions to Get the Life You Really Want (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and has begun an Emotional Mindfulness series of CDs the first being: Making Room for Joy: a Three-Step Approach to Creating More Happiness in Your Life.

Ron’s warmth and emotional engagement was apparent from the start of the seminar as he invited us to share in his way of seeing, of looking through the lens of Emotional Mindfulness. He identified: What the problem is that we are dealing with, Why it is a problem, and How can we help. Usually presented in a 6.75 hour format, we had only 4 hours and I wrote myself a joke/note that this would be Extra Accelerated AEDP.

Ron also invited us as therapists, while we listened, to consider our own relationship to our emotions and reflect on our ability to engage in emotional experience with our clients. The fruits of this invitation would be experienced throughout the afternoon, as members of the audience shared the emotional impact of witnessing the video clips; acknowledging the courage of the client, the moments of her becoming, her grief and the liberating shift of Transformance. And Ron’s skillful facilitation. More of this later though.

Ron began the seminar with a quote from Diana Fosha: “To live a full and connected life in the face of difficulty and even tragedy requires the capacity to feel and make use of our emotional experience. So much of [what] leads individuals to seek therapy can be traced to the terror of affect . . .

Ron spoke of the relationship between fear of feeling and the nature of personal suffering; how a fear of affect can lead to such problems as anxiety, depression, insomnia, lack of motivation and isolation.

He invited us to think about how our clients come into therapy, constricted in their emotional affect, but, during the course of therapy become less afraid. He looked at the defenses we build to avoid our feelings, especially from the perspective of attachment theory.

Why is avoiding feeling a problem?
Ron turned our attention to attachment theory and pointed out that a baby adapts to the emotional responses of the caregiver on whom they are completely dependent. Caregiver discomfort is frightening to a baby and they cannot manage/regulate intense emotional affect. Thus, babies learn to avoid feelings that trigger emotional discomfort and fear of abandonment by the caregiver. Being completely right brain dominant, babies are highly responsive to non-verbal, emotional cues, and adjust their emotional repertoire to avoid danger.

Problems occur later when the strategy for avoiding discomfort as a baby becomes the very cause of discomfort later in life.  Symptoms develop because we are missing out on a truly felt and lived experience of life. The avoidant behavior gets “wired in” and has long lasting effects. Looking at what neuroscience has to offer regarding the fear of feeling, Ron spoke of the “emotional memory store house” function of the amygdala. He highlighted the need to reprogram the amygdala, upgrading the wiring, so that avoided feeling can be felt without overwhelm and the need to avoid, thus creating new pathways that override the old wiring. He emphasized the need to do this by encouraging being present to feeling, a little at a time. It is his aim within therapy sessions to help the client to regulate the anxiety that arises in response to intense emotion and thus take another step towards being present to emotions rather than avoid them.

The rest of the seminar was spent addressing: How we help with the problem of being afraid of feeling.

Emotional Mindfulness and the 5 Essential Skills:
Fundamental to this question and to AEDP is the requirement to create a safe and secure relationship with the client in which a reparative experience can be had, while in relationship with the therapist i.e. not alone. Ron has termed the capacities that we are trying to develop in our clients: Emotional Mindfulness.

The aim of emotional mindfulness is to help us be more consciously aware of our feelings and ultimately, more fully present with them. Ron Frederick

Ron has identified 5 essential sets of skills associated with emotional mindfulness and frames the client’s struggles as a need for skill development. His book reinforces this aspect, especially with its self-help approach. Ron suggested using his book as a way to help clients orient themselves to being more emotionally mindful and to support their skill development in between therapy sessions. He sees Emotional Mindfulness not as an end point but as a process that begins the moment the client walks into the office. The five essential skills are; awareness, anxiety regulation, affect tolerance, reflection, expression/reception. He does not see this as a linear process and showed us the impact of looking through this lens when presenting his work with a client.

Two video presentations of the same client became the means through which we witnessed these essential skills.

Identifying 8 Basic Emotions, Ron showed a client who experienced panic attacks (fear) and difficulty with feeling anger. Through Ron’s warm and infectious love of his work, we were guided in the “how” of helping a client become aware of feelings, how to slow down the process, noticing changes in the body, sensations and in one’s reactions.

Riding the Wave of Emotion: Affect Tolerance
Ron speaks of emotion as energy and, that by creating internal spaciousness, the emotional energy can be allowed to move like a wave, rising and falling. In order to facilitate that spaciousness Ron spends time helping the client to help regulate anxiety, especially through breath as well as visualization and a somatic hand on heart practice, and offers this support throughout his sessions. He helps his clients have feelings and watch them at the same time, staying open and allowing the process to unfold.

Some time was spent reflecting on how to guide a client into noticing a feeling, from the bottom up, putting thinking aside and attuning to the visceral, felt experience: sensations and bodily reactions. The role of the therapist as co-regulator was emphasized, lending their ability to feel and self-regulate. In this way we are working both at an interpersonal and intrapersonal level. Of particular note for me was how Ron spent time with the client in the shallows, after the wave of emotion had rolled to the shore. By staying emotionally mindful and tracking his client closely, he was able to support the client in increasing her emotional capacity and tolerance. With the practicing of being with emotions with acceptance, the client began to take a few steps towards being able to make choices about how she dealt with her feelings and gain a new perspective on herself, her value and her very being and sense of self. We were able to witness the deep sobs of her becoming, differentiating from the need to protect her caregiver from her feelings, un-doing the baby state of compliant adjustment to emotion intolerance from the caregiver. We witnessed the client surrendering into her felt experience. Ron supported this process of seeing an emotion through to completion, by helping his client follow the emotion through to the other side, with comments such as: “Is there more?” What else is there?” Is that all?” I appreciated and enjoyed the experience of watching Ron encourage the client to receive the gold of her emotional mining.

In this way, by staying attuned, by helping the client stay with and follow the emotional wave through to the other side, to get to, in her words, “not exactly calm but on the calmer side of things”, she was able to both express her feelings and to reflect, and be guided by the wisdom of her feelings. She started to say that she was overwhelmed, but careful tracking gave Ron the perspective that maybe something else was happening. Maybe she wasn’t overwhelmed and instead a new relationship to feelings was developing, (the rewiring of the amygdala). The client took the opportunity, (supported by Ron) and began to listen to what her feelings were telling her, sharing with her therapist, expressing/receiving, benefiting and allowing the deep freedom of the healing moment, the moment of Transformance. We witnessed the client understanding herself, developing the capacity to let her feelings be the platform on which she gets to stand. A new perspective, an insight, arose out of her emotional experience while being connected to Ron’s attuned and sympathetic otherness.

The Importance of Language: learning to sail on the emotional seas while keeping the boat afloat: Ron used the metaphor of learning to sail when referring to navigating scary emotions. We practice and master skills and the more we do it the easier it becomes and the better we feel. I’d like to add that the therapist helps keep the boat afloat at times when the client fears they will capsize or not go out on the water at all but stay in the all familiar patterns of the dock. Ron’s videos showed the process by which he helps to keep the emotional boat afloat. I witnessed how he used emotional congruity, showing a resonance with the emotional material shared, sounds and gestures of encouragement (the softy expressive “mm’s” and non-verbal head nods, that seek to support without interrupting the client’s flow) and words of acknowledgment to resource the client and help her feel his presence and not be alone. By far the most important component seemed to be the slowing down of the pace so that emotions could be experienced rather than rode over. Here the words: “Take your time”, “Let’s slow down”, “stay with that” supported the client while breaking up emotional experience into smaller, more workable pieces thus lessening the likelihood of overwhelm.

Attention was paid especially to; not what are you feeling but what are you noticing in your body right now. Allowing questions to be broad and open such as “what’s coming up?” “what are you noticing” makes space for responses that may be an image, a memory, a sensation, a feeling. Inquiring as to what the feeling would like to do and listening for the message within the feeling Ron suggested, turned therapist and client into detective.

The client was assisted to reflect with questions such as “What was it like?”, “How do you understand now what was going on?” By making explicit the here-and-now presence of the therapist, Ron affirmed that his client was no longer alone with overwhelming feelings, as he asked: “What is it like to share with me?”

So what was it like to share this with me?
I appreciate so much more how deep and connected an experience the seminar was for me, even more so upon writing about and reflecting upon it. I am holding inside me, an image of the client sobbing deeply and Ron’s kind encouragement to “see if you can make space for this”, this wave of energy, this healing moment.  We made space for our responses as the microphone moved around the room and people shared their joy of witnessing the beauty of attuned companionship, of birthing a true self, of uncovering feelings and of not being alone. As I write this I am in touch with the significance of being in a community that together witnesses rebirth and healing that enters into an energy field of Transformance. I can still feel it now in my body, a heightened vitality, a sense of an inner hum, a vibration, a warmth, a sense of motion, as if the molecules of my being are dancing.

One participant asked Ron what he should do in a session when he felt a lump in the throat. Feel with your clients, undo their aloneness was Ron’s response, by being slow, regulating our anxiety and making space for our feelings

The day had ended; we had gone slow; slow enough to feel, though the time had gone fast.

The client had said “This is big, big in a smiling and happy way” I learned much today, in a slow and big and smiling kind of happy way and am deeply grateful to the client for her sharing, for allowing me to witness her learning to sail the seas of emotion. I am grateful to Ron for his emotional mindfulness and warm, deep presentation, for his emotional vitality. I’m hoping we’ll see more of him when he moves to LA and await his next CD with the possible title of Befriending Anger. Ripples of enthusiasm were felt in response to this announcement; I hope it comes to fruition soon. Best wishes for a good move to LA.

Thank you Ron, thank you everyone who organized and supported the event. I left nourished in many, many ways and with some renovation of my wiring too. It has been a pleasure to write in “the shallows of this particular wave”.

Pauline Wakeham, LCSW
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Ronald J. Frederick, PhD, is a licensed psychologist who has trained with Diana Fosha and been practicing AEDP since 1994. As one of the early faculty members of the AEDP Institute, he led of the first core training in the SF Bay Area for four years. He is author of the bestselling book Living Like You Mean It: Use the Wisdom and Power of Your Emotions to Get the Life You Really Want (Jossey-Bass, 2009). This book received the USA Book News Best Books Award for the Best Self Help Book for 2009. A longtime proponent of the transforming power of emotion, he co-founded the Center for Courageous Living, which offers innovative therapy, coaching, and consulting. Noted for his warmth, humor, and engaging presentation style, he lectures and facilitates workshops nationally. An invited contributor to several professional books, his work has also been featured in the APA Monitor on Psychology and Clinical Psychiatry News: The Leading Independent Newspaper for the Psychiatrist, and he's been quoted on