AEDP West Sunday Seminar
with Karen Pando-Mars Mars, M.F.T.
June 1, 2008 | San Anselmo,CA
AEDP for Couples

REVIEW  by Lisa Hauck-Loy

Karen Pando-Mars’ training for the June 1, 2008 West Coast AEDP Seminar – “Can I Live With This?” – was exquisite: inspiringly touching and skillful. The following synopsis is a result of our attempt to make explicit the process through which she led her client through the three states and the two state transformations moment-by-moment in this one session.

Karen began her comprehensive outline of how AEDP works with this poem by Ranier Maria Rilke, which gives voice to the power of AEDP:

 I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for

may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing to you as no one ever has,

streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.

Karen integrated theory from Gendlin and Wallin into her PowerPoint presentation about the Three States and Two State Transformations of AEDP and described various AEDP skills that would be demonstrated during the tape of the session.

Karen began her client tape with the chorus from the Leonard Cohen song “Anthem”:
“Ring the bell that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack – a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”

Karen’s client was the wife of a couple Karen had seen 8 times for couples work. She saw each marital partner once individually. This session, L. came in by herself for the second time. Karen presented 55 minutes of a 75 minute session which adeptly illustrated all 3 states and 2 state transformations of AEDP.

L. began the session in State One (defense, despair) focused on her husband’s lack of reliability and chaotic lifestyle. Through a skillful use of psycho-ed and from the vantage point of her role as couple’s therapist, Karen helped L. shift her external focus to an internal one, in which she recognized her defensive pattern to blame and close down. L. expressed  confusion, distrust in her perceptions and despair about having to “live with this.” (chaos and lack of connection with her husband). Curiosity about her feelings of powerlessness and helplessness marked her transition into State Two (simply stated: core affect).

At this point Karen encouraged L. to make some room inside her self so that they could tend to her experience. Here, they tracked L’s breathing and the defense of zoning out around seeing her needs weren’t being met. “My pattern in life is to retreat”. There was hopelessness around ever being able to work things out with another. Karen invited L. to get in touch with an earlier time when she had felt this way. As L. focused her attention inwardly, she became teary and recalled a traumatic memory from childhood.

She had been hiding from her mom, desperately waiting and hoping her mom would come find her, but her mom never did. There emerged sadness, tears, a rush of grief: “not feeling important to anyone.”  This was followed by her  “don’t be so pathetic” voice. Karen stayed here with L. to explore this message. Karen’s empathy as the new attachment figure, “I would never not find you!” brought relief to L.  But the confusion about her deserving how she was treated brought a significant amount of shame into the mix.

In order to be safe in the here and now, you must give people what they needed in the there and then.
-- Bessel van der Kolk

In the process of decoupling the shame from the grief, Karen asked for more specifics about what happened around this incident, which brought L. to share another childhood memory. She was 8 years old, driving in the car with her mother and her siblings. There was a lot of arguing in which L. was struggling to get heard. Her mother stopped the car, told L. to get out of the car. There was nothing around but pitch black, dark woods. L. told Karen “Even my siblings pulled me out… like they were throwing me away . . .!” Karen’s empathy, outrage and aghast-ness on the client’s behalf at her mother’s terrifying behavior accompanied L. in such a way that she deepened into core affect and wept in grief. In this way L. got to feel with Karen here and now what she couldn’t experience with her mom and siblings there and then.

In reflecting on this therapeutic experience, metaprocessing, Karen asked L. how she was affected by talking about all of this. She reported a fear of being self-indulgent and feeling sorry for herself. This initiated the third segment of the session tape about restructuring shame. In this part Karen helped L. to sort out her present experience of their relationship from the voice that calls her pathetic (which she vividly recognized as coming from her mother.)

Karen asked what L. saw as she looked in Karen’s eyes and L. guessed Karen “thinks she’s pathetic, another complaining customer”. Karen skillfully questioned, “How much of you believes that’s what I’m thinking?” and then wondered if there’s another part.  L. responded, (as one participant commented it was as if her left brain was catching up with her right brain) “Oh, yeah!  Part of me knows you care and you do have empathy and want me to be able to cry and feel good about it.”

Continuing to reflect on their new experiences and meta-process together, L. and Karen came to the aha! that L.’s fear of her own feelings and needs brought about her defensiveness and withdrawal. As Karen shared her experience with L. and affirmed” I want to make sure you really know it is ok with me for you to feel your feelings.” L. replied, “I really do need you to be clear and explicit” (about that). And, she remarked that her confusion was going away as she began to understand now where her defenses came from.

This understanding became a marker for the shift into State Three (core state), as L.’s whole demeanor shifted and calmed. She spoke of being able to learn now because she could understand more. Karen encouraged her to feel into that and her eyes looked up, her fingertips pressed together and she named a “new world”. Karen asked her “Can we get a little closer and see what it’s like in that new world?” L. responded, “This is a happy place.” (One participant saw her face as angelic in this part)  “I’m allowed to laugh and be me. I can see myself there. I’m joyous. It’s coming from being safe and secure inside of me. I’m me and I’m ok.”

After this, L. returned to talking about her husband and realized how she needed his acceptance of her and her fragility. And in the final part of the tape she said, “I’ll be putting down my walls.” Karen repeated these words, savoring them as she and L. acknowledged the wow of getting to this point.

An interesting note is that David Mars was seeing L.’s husband as part of an AEDP coordinated therapy.  David and Karen spoke about how after this session, L. was more able to trust and express her anger at her husband’s behavior, which led him to admit that he had been hiding a daily addiction. This marked a vital turning point in their marriage.

Karen Pando-Mars has been a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Marin County for 20 years, participating in the San Francisco Core Training for the last two and a half years. She previously studied Existential/Buddhist therapy with John Welwood, who had trained in Focusing with Eugene Gendlin. Karen’s background includes training in Arnold Mindell’s ProcessWork, Authentic Movement, Sand play, and EMDR. In teaching Alternative and Innovative Therapies at Dominican University this spring, Karen used AEDP as the over-arching theory for the course.