AEDP West Sunday Seminar
with David Mars, Ph.D., M.F.T.
September 7, 2008
AEDP for Couples

REVIEW by Ken Benau, Ph.D.

The fantastic four (Donna Fraser, Lisa Hauck-Loy, Karen Pando-Mars, and David Mars) did it again, this time with David Mars presenting his unique approach to couple therapy. The turnout was impressive, as was the presentation. I was asked to write a summary, so here goes my version of events.

David has been in the biz for a long time, and his influences that inform his approach to couples are many. From a theoretical perspective, they include attachment theory (which he referenced throughout his over 1 hr. videotape presentation of a couple), developmental research, affective neuroscience and various short-term dynamic psychotherapies (STDP's, not to be confused with the stuff Andy Granatelli used to put in his engines to make them run faster and cleaner!). David's clinical training and influences include process oriented therapy (Mindell), authentic movement (Janet Adler), selective perception (Emmett Miller; a new one for me, and I thought I knew at least the name of every therapeutic approach ever invented), and my man and apparently David's, Carl Whitaker, who he aptly dubbed the "wild man" of family therapy.

David shared with us his interesting past, working with mentally retarded and autistic adults in the mid-70's when long-term institutional care was mostly ended, and he worked to help families adjust to family members they hardly knew come home. David used the experience of these families to speak to shared issues with couples, i.e. overwhelm, unbearable aloneness, shock, isolation, shame, guilt, helplessness and other stressors. He went on to say that the main goal of his brand of AEDP Couple Therapy was to undo aloneness within the marital dyad, and this was clearly borne out repeatedly in his taped material.

David achieves this goal in many ways. They include (among others) helping a couple establish earned secure attachment; moving from blame to authentic communication (both expression and reception) of one's deeper, less defended self; from furious to curious (I liked that catchphrase), etc. His goal is to help couples move from reacting to truly seeing and loving again the other, including their differences.  He does this with lots of affirmation, moment-to-moment tracking of affective and somatic experience, and supporting felt safety so that core affect and adaptive action tendencies (e.g. unspoken longings and desires) can be expressed. The therapist "holds a secure place for feeling to emerge for both partners". He actively teaches couples how to attend to 7 channels of experience (more than I typically attend to on my therapeutic tv), which include:  proprioceptive (skin, muscle, joint sensation, etc.); energetic (e.g. chill/flush, fu ll/empty, etc.); emotional (e.g. core affect); kinaesthetic (e.g. movement and impulses to move); auditory (e.g. the prosody of speech, voice resonance, tone, etc.); visual (e.g. changing facial expressions); and imaginal (e.g. inner, creative or symbolic imagery that come unbidden). Eye contact, physical proximity, and witnessing the other's experience are all encouraged, as are direct expressions of the above 7 channels to one's partner. David ends each session with a metaprocessing of the take home feelings of love and hope, and works to help couples tolerate anxiety associated with feeling too good. (Obviously something is happening in his sessions that often don't in mine, if he has to help them tolerate too much good stuff!)

David showed 70 minutes of tape, divided into I think 8 sessions that took place over a 9 month period. It would be impossible to capture the richness of these sessions, so I'll just share some highlights:

  • David helps the couple not only express feelings, but communicate how those feelings feel, so that the partner knows/feels s/he has been received. E.g. "How do you feel her in your body".
  • David uses a lot of psycho-ed in the beginning, actively training the couple to access and communicate from the 7 channels of experience. These tapes emphasized somatic experience, emotion/core affect, voice tone, energy and movement from my observation.
  • David actively worked with defenses, particularly the wife's when she started getting some of what she wanted, i.e. a more emotionally present husband.
  • David wasn't afraid to process the wife's anger over the ways in which the husband had absented himself in the past. He was very empathic with her without making the husband feel ganged up on at all.
  • David effectively helped the wife move from a dissociated state ("going blank") after she had felt more seen, to a more embodied expression of her fears of being seen as "the injured one".

Those audience members who did have a chance to comment were of course very laudatory of David's work. Comments included:

1) Being impressed with David reminding the wife that he and her individual therapist would be there for her, providing "extrafamilial" support she never had growing up;

2) David being both a master therapist and master trainer, and how we all need to have the capacities we encourage our clients to develop (e.g. moving to core affect; working somatically; etc.). A brief discussion of when to focus on the pain vs. the positive affect also ensued;

3) A question about the husband who to one audience member did not seem very avoidant. David said he was less so in session, but could be elsewhere in his life and also during portions of sessions we didn't see;

4) A comment from Karen Pando-Mars about the distinction between saying the right words and speaking with a more resonant, embodied and believable (to the wife) voice;

5) Appreciating David's drawing the husband's attention to the tremor in his voice as a way of helping him embody and deepen what he was saying to his wife.

There were snacks too that I missed out on 'cause a client of mine decided to call me in a crisis right at the end. (Tho' it was a tough call, I chose client crisis over snacks, which looked very yummy!).

Well, that's plenty for now. I'm sure others who were there will have their own unique impressions, so feel free to chime in. I just want to say, however, as a card carrying member of AEDP west, I think David and the rest of the crew kicked butt both in presentation, organization and hospitality! (For you kinder, gentler types, that is very good thing, tho' I recognize that phrasing runs counter to the spirit of Buber's I-thou relating that David was entraining!)

Your irreverent yet respectful reporter,

Ken Benau, Ph.D.