The Seven Channels of Experience

I want to briefly summarize a teaching from my approach to therapy that has been a novel innovation in the past five or so years. I want to put this out to the public because of how impressed I have been on the precision that this construct gives me as a therapist.

 

These set of ideas was created by the psychotherapist David Mars PhD who also had innovated a particular form of couples therapy based on AEDP called AEDP-fc (AEDP-for couples).

 

For anyone familiar with mindfulness and other awareness work, there is usually some emphasis on the difference parts or facets to direct-experience-in-the-moment. I need to emphasize that hyphenated statement about direct experience as many modern people in this information age are unfamiliar that there is actually embodied experience deeper and more fundamental than thinking and ideas.

 

What I mean by parts or facets to experience are things such as body sensations, senses or outer perceptions and emotions or feelings.

 

Many “experiential” psychotherapy schools in the past had emphasized emotion or behavior and expression but missed many other parts to direct embodied experience. (The body is the only place where change really happens. Even if thoughts change, there is still a change in the body associated)

This particular teaching on the seven channels teach this: everyone uses different experiential language. Some emotion focused therapists work and work to get a client to feel their emotions only to be met with a blank stare and confusion. Or some prefer to carry out therapy through imagery and this may change the life of some, moderately help others, and some may find this not helpful.

 

Dr. Mars had discovered (several other therapies may have similar teachings though) that if you can precisely speak a client’s experiential language, or their particular way of experiencing themselves and their inner experience, you can reach your clients with much greater precision.

I’ll list the seven channels below:

  1. Visual: seeing, emphasis on the eyes and viewing
  2. Imaginal: use of imagery and imagination
  3. Movement: use of bodily expression of emotion and emphasis on acting
  4. Emotion: feelings, emoting, the big six emotions (anger, joy, disgust, love/attachment, fear, sadness)
  5. Bodily sensation: such as clients who feel things like tension instead of direct emotion
  6. Energy: felt-sense of oxygen ions (secular version of energy in the body), meridians and other forms of the bodily experience of energy
  7. Voice: vocalizations, verbal expression, emotion expressed verbally

This teaching goes further in that each of us has about 1-3 preferred channels in which we express who we are and feel our inner experience of our lives. And we have about one that is “defensively excluded.” Meaning one or two channels are cut off from experience, usually because of traumatic experiences but I would also say culture, family environments and other factors can cut us off from these parts of ourselves.

 

To get an idea on how this plays out, I’ll disclose my experiences as a patient going through experiential psychotherapy myself:

Despite fixating on the idea that working directly and boldly with emotion was the most accessible way to deep and lasting change, I had extreme difficulty feeling much of anything, especially in front of a therapist. It actually took me some time, too long, to contact the real issues in me and come to deep integration and transformation.

The problem is, that I used to live with the emotional channel excluded from awareness. Powerfully defended against. I would feel weak and out of control to contact any feeling or spontaneous expression. I used to have an avoidant attachment style. I avoided emotion in myself and others. Half of my family are Mid-Westerners, the masters at avoidance, so of course that would be my preferred method of relation to myself and others.

 

Looking back, I can now clearly see what led to all of the change I went through: My preferred channels were visual and imaginal. I took to ego-state or parts work strongly, despite first judging it as goofy. “Yeah right, like I have these parts in me that are like separate entities… oooohhh okay parts do exist.”

Parts work tends to emphasize the imaginal channel, meaning spontaneous rather than guided imagery (I rarely use guided imagery, I prefer the mind to reveal itself spontaneously) which led to an unlocking of the emotional and other channels, such as sensation, movement and energy.

 

When I work with a client, I am on the lookout for which channels they prefer (subconsciously) and what may be excluded. And work from their precise experiential language to truly meet them where they are at.

 

I am in great debt to Dr. Mars for this innovative set of ideas and his fantastic form of couples therapy.

What is AEDP?

 

Although I have stated that I do draw on 6-7 different approaches in my work, I identify my fundamental approach as this thing called AEDP. Being an integrative approach is organizes many different approaches and techniques into a whole.

But what is that acronym and this strange, sort of convoluted name for a therapy? You may ask…

It is first and foremost about change and transformation than anything else. It is a way of moving from stuckness, stagnation, and psychopathology to change, movement, resilience in the face of traumas and past limitations.

AEDP stands for: Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy.

Accelerated means emphasizing discontinuous change over long continuous change. Think of a line moving upwards in a series of large steps. Or a fractal pattern of a shell with many compartments that exponentially get larger and larger.

Most change approaches, whether psychotherapeutic, meditative or other, emphasize slow and continuous change. Where a person only knows they have changed after reflecting back on a period of long work.

This approach boldly focused on new experience and leveraging new, positive, and unexpected change, all felt in the body to deeper and deeper levels to create rapid shifts. Although nothing is guaranteed with any therapist or approach, when AEDP works, the client knows for a fact, at that crucial moment that change is occurring and can occur.

This would ideally occur in small or large ways every session but everyone has different degrees of stuckness and some clients take much more time to get the pieces in place so that great change can happen.

Experiential means the therapist works in the moment with direct, felt, embodied experience and action. Rather than talk therapy. Talk is of course occurring, but change does not occur unless the problems and issues are brought into the here and now in an embodied manner.

AEDP and my approach within this model draws from Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy, parts work such as approaches like Internal Family Systems, and Gestalt Therapy. Each approach is a different take on the same thing: “the there and then is taken into the here and now.”

It’s easy to talk about an issue or problem but to feel how it is held in the body, dialogue with important figures in one’s past or present, work with the body and actions that have been held and stopped, and so on lead to the direct experience of embodied change. Change isn’t a nice thought, it is an experience.

Dynamic refers to the relational aspect to this work of change. This is harking to the Psychodynamic approach that evolved from but way beyond Freud’s original form of psychotherapy.

Diana Fosha, PhD takes this psychodynamic relational work to a different level. To a completely different style that is in many ways at odds with traditional psychodynamic psychotherapy. The relational work emphasizes rapport and a highly affirming stance from the therapist almost immediately.

Traditional psychodynamic and humanistic approaches to the therapeutic relationship take a long time and can be very indirect.

Our approach is a highly involved and active stance from the therapist. We work to make what is unstated in the relationship explicit, or stated. Of course, in a disarming and tactful manner.

A client will also notice a therapist using this approach to be highly attuned to them on a moment by moment basis. Drawing the client deeper and deeper into the here and now moment with the therapist. As much as they can handle at the time of course.

We also work to be highly sensitive to where the client is at and what it provoking too much anxiety or negative experience and can change our approach and/or back off at a moment’s notice to re-establish safety.

Furthermore, relational work goes deeper into a client’s relationship with themselves and their inner “parts” or sides of themselves. Also called “ego-states.”

To conclude: I identify and train as an AEDP oriented psychotherapist because this approach emphasizes change and human transformation significantly more than anything else I have come across, having studied dozens of approaches in graduate school. It is very precise in it’s moment by moment tracking and exactfulness but is flexible enough to throw a linear approach out at any time to become organic and non-linear.
Most importantly, I find it to be one of the most palatable approaches for both therapist and client. It just feels good to practice and experience!