Experiential Therapy (AEDP and DEFT)


Experiential therapies focus on bridging the gap between the intellect and intuition to create greater empowerment, peace, and vitality. 

As human beings, we often understand our problems and how we want to change them, but for inexplicable reasons, we find ourselves unable to carry out what we desire. 

Quite frequently, this is the result of unconscious anxiety and defenses, which create a barrier between what we know intellectually and what we feel deep down. 

Based on early experiences in life, we often learn that certain emotions are “bad” or off-limits, either explicitly with words or implicitly through what is modeled and what is censored, shamed, and praised. 

We are not consciously aware of this process and therefore it shapes the very lens through which we see the world. 

The fact that it is so deeply imprinted in us is precisely why it’s so hard for us to see clearly––and why it can be so difficult to change. 

Neuroscience research continually demonstrates that the unconscious mind is really responsible for the decisions we make, and our rational ideas and thoughts come after the fact. 

That’s why it’s absolutely essential to bring what is unconscious to us under conscious control so that we can get back in the driver’s seat of our own lives and break the repeating, harmful patterns that we can’t seem to shake. 

When we’re conditioned to cut off certain feelings, we lose a connection to our true selves, our intuition, and our sense of aliveness. 

Because any time you cut off any part of yourself, even painful emotions such as sadness and anger, you become disconnected from your ability to experience joy and vitality as well. 

Using Experiential Therapy, we can help you overcome anxiety and defense mechanisms in real-time in the therapy sessions to gain greater access to your true self and the healing properties of being deeply, authentically connected.

This restores a sense of aliveness, empowers us to live more courageously, and deepens our ability to create meaningful, emotional connections with others. 

We give you a different experience of yourself in the session, and the more you practice this new way of being, the more you can carry it into every aspect of your life. 


Intellectual Versus Experiential Awareness

While it may feel momentarily relieving to find an intellectual framework to understand problems that previously seemed bewildering, this can sometimes be a synthetic for real, experiential change. 

Most of our clients walk in the door understanding their problems from an intellectual standpoint, but they believe that’s an asset when it’s really a hindrance

Simply understanding our problems intellectually can actually take us further from healing because it gives us the illusion that we’re dealing with our problems when we aren’t. 

Intellectualizing is when we think about our feelings without actually feeling them. 

Contrary to popular belief, feelings aren’t mental, they’re actually somatic. 

Emotions are bodily experiences with a physiological and experiential phenomenology that is consistent across people and cultures. 

By contrast, intellectualizing bypasses the bodily experience of feeling, skipping to ideas, words, and analysis and misses the precious and vital healing properties of our inner experience.

Intellectual awareness is pseudo-awareness that doesn’t produce real change. 

This keeps us detached, preventing us from experiencing the suppressed feelings that need to be faced, felt, and released in order to grow and change. 

Otherwise we develop “emotional backlog” that causes anxiety, defense mechanisms, depression, addiction, and other mental health and relational problems. 

This prevents us from healing trauma and growing. 

We often are so accustomed to this intellectual way of being that we don’t even realize we’re completely disconnected from our feelings. 

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We’re so used to thinking about our feelings that we’ve forgotten how to feel them. 

Experiential awareness is the opposite of intellectual awareness. 

Intellectual awareness happens solely in the mind and appears as words, ideas, and labels. But experiential awareness happens in the body.

Experiential awareness shows up as physical sensations and imagery (though we may use words to describe the experience).  

The reason experiential awareness is so powerful is because personal transformation doesn’t happen primarily in the conscious mind.

If the conscious mind were capable of solving our problems, we wouldn’t have any. 

So many of our hangups, patterns, and stuck points are a result of unconscious forces that are beyond our awareness.

That’s why the conscious mind and intellectual awareness can only take us so far.

We need them on one level, but they can’t do the heavy lifting required to create deep and lasting change. 

Substantive, long-term changes require us to delve into the unconscious forces that shape us. 

These forces often control our lives without our awareness or consent. They can lead us to feel powerless and out of control. 

These unconscious forces arise as a result of past experiences that have shaped us in ways that are so deeply ingrained in us that we can’t see them. 

They’re so much a part of us, that they’re invisible. Which is why the struggles we’re experiencing can be so confusing. 

By contrast, when we make the unconscious conscious, we take back the driver’s seat.

That’s why experiential awareness is so empowering: it helps us stop the repeating patterns that have been running the show without our awareness.

It allows us to regain a sense of power and agency in our own lives. 

This in turn develops hope, resiliency, and a sense of confidence and mastery. 

Experiential awareness helps us restore our connection to ourselves, create more meaningful connections with others, and discover greater peace and freedom. 

This inner shift also helps us restore access to our intuition, which helps us navigate our lives with greater clarity and direction.

Experiential awareness takes place in the mind and in the body simultaneously: It changes both how we think and how we feel. 

As we learn to access long-suppressed feelings, our defenses begin to soften and our true selves begin to emerge from beneath these protective layers, deepening our inner life and our relational connections. 

Experiential awareness provides lasting, self-perpetuating change. Because experiential shifts are self-reinforcing, they have a natural momentum. 

This creates a feedback loop of healing, self-trust, and confidence.

These things build upon themselves organically over time, becoming stronger and stronger with time. 


What are the Types of Experiential Therapy?

Experiential therapies draw from elements of somatic and body psychotherapy, psychodynamic approaches, and emotion focused therapies. 

Some examples of experiential and somatic therapy are:

  • AEDP: Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy
  • ISTDP: Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy
  • Both of the above are considered to be “Dynamic Emotion Focused Therapies” and are also referred to as DEFT
  • Somatic Experiencing and Body Psychotherapy could also be broadly considered to be experiential therapies – there is a great deal of overlap between somatic therapy and experiential therapy, they just operate under different names and may employ slightly different approaches or interventions depending on your therapist. 

There are many different types of experiential therapy, and all are centered around recreating experiences in order to allow subconscious or buried thoughts to surface, so that you can experience them. 

Other experiential modalities may include music therapy, art therapy, animal therapy, wilderness therapy, and more. 

The ultimate goal with experiential therapy is to help shift your experience of yourself and the world around you.

The expressive and experiential therapies we use allow you to portray experiences that you might otherwise not be able to fully convey through conventional talk therapy.

For example, drama therapy can help you act out personal conflicts or personal stories in order to work through them. 

Art therapy can help you diminish negative experiences by expressing yourself through painting or drawing; it might be easier than trying to put your feelings into words. 

Music therapy can help you incorporate more positive behaviors into your life as well.

At My LA Therapy, we will find which mode works best for your unique situation.

And as we build a strong toolkit of techniques you most resonate with, you will be on your path to a greater sense of empowerment, meaning, and peace. 


Research-based, personalized therapy.

At My LA Therapy, our warm and experienced therapists specialize in anxiety, depression, trauma, & relationships.


Reconnecting with Our Aliveness

The basic premise of experiential or emotion focused therapies is that deeply experiencing long-suppressed emotions such as anger, joy, and grief is profoundly transformative. 

The founder of AEDP, Diana Fosha, writes in her seminal book “The Transforming Power of Affect”:

“Why does the experience of core affect heal? [Core affect refers to authentic, core emotions such as joy, sadness, and anger].

  • The experience of core [emotions] is healing in and of itself. Even when the [emotions] are painful and frightening, the patient experiences increased aliveness and meaning
  • Experiencing emotions so long feared confers a sense of mastery. Overcoming what has previously been overwhelming, confronting what one has been avoiding, is empowering.
  • The visceral experience of [emotions] brings access to new resources, renewed energy, and adaptive repertoire of behaviors, collectively referred to as adaptive action tendencies. 
  • [Emotion] is often the royal road to the unconscious. Deep experiencing unblocks deeper experiencing, and through it, entire realms of previously unavailable material (e.g. memories, fantasies, and states with their accompanying anxieties, defenses, and psychic pains can be worked through.)

Using these principles, we can work together to identify and break down unconscious defenses and anxiety

As a result, you will become free of harmful, self-protective strategies and defense mechanisms that lead to feelings of isolation, numbness, or confusion, and contribute to the development of unhealthy relationships that fail to meet your true needs. 

Through the release of negative emotions, you will regain access to positive emotions such as joy, hope, meaning, and aliveness. 

With AEDP you will be able to take a step towards positively changing current and future relationships—and your entire life—for the better.

This powerful approach can restore your capacity to experience joy and intimacy in relationships, and can transform a sense of helplessness into a state of strength, mastery, and vitality.

So often, we find ourselves repeating damaging patterns in our lives no matter how many times we promise ourselves we’ll change. 

And what’s worse is that we often blame ourselves for not being “strong enough” to change and then begin to shame ourselves, which only makes matters worse and makes it more difficult to change.

Rather than a moral failure or lack of strength or willpower, the inability to carry out certain behaviors or decisions is often a result of unconscious anxiety and defenses, which creates a barrier between what we know intellectually and what we feel experientially. 

That’s where experiential therapy comes in.

Using Experiential Therapy, we can teach you to develop greater self-awareness about your unconscious defenses and anxiety in real-time and experience the healing properties of connecting with your deep, true self. 

How AEDP Works

Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy was created by Dr. Diana Fosha. 

The foundation of AEDP is the concept that when you undergo crisis or negative experiences that cause you to suffer, you can unlock parts of yourself that you did not know you had. 

These parts show us our own “extraordinary capacities.” 

So, the goal of AEDP is to use these capacities in order to begin the process of changing and healing from your experiences.

There are four pillars that AEDP is built upon. They include the following:

  • Having faith that the client can heal
    • It is important to understand that everybody has the capacity to heal, but sometimes our abilities to heal are locked up deep down inside of us because of trauma or negative experiences that we might have faced. 
  • Understanding the power behind feeling understood and being seen
    • This is beneficial and one of the first steps in healing inner wounds and injuries. Our therapists will help you feel seen and heard; although this can be new to you and might make you feel vulnerable, it is an important step to take in the journey to healing. Showing deep emotions in the presence of a safe and supportive witness is a part of healing the relational defenses and shame surrounding emotional expression. 
  • Working through defenses quickly and effectively
    • We rapidly identify and compassionately interrupt defense mechanisms that are occuring in real-time in session. We help you explore and release what is beneath them and help you become aware of how these are tied to the problems in your life. Once we get to what’s beneath our defenses, profound healing and transformation can occur. 
  • Finding a new way to experience your emotions and trust your emotions
    • This is another way to experience your emotions that might be associated with trauma. We will guide you towards a “corrective emotional experience,” in which your experience in therapy serves as a healing counterpoint to your hurtful past experiences. This is one of the final pillars to healing.

Want to talk?

At My LA Therapy, our highly-vetted Experiential Therapy experts are selected not only for their clinical acumen but for who they are.


Our Therapy Methods

Therapy can improve your life by minimizing the anxiety in your life, identifying and changing underlying thought and behavioral patterns that contribute to your struggles, and providing you with strategies to decrease discomfort while restoring an overall sense of peace.

To experience true and lasting joy in our life, we must face and conquer our pain by healing our underlying trauma and confronting our fears and suppressed emotions. 

Our evidence-based, scientifically proven interventions are demonstrated by research to be effective in addressing a wide range of psychological, relational, and mental issues.

Learn more about our empirically based therapy modalities by visiting our Methods page. 


  1. Psychology Today
  2. AEDP Institute
  3. Very Well Mind
  4. American Addiction Centers

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