Since 2016 my practice has been shaped a great deal by my training in AEDP, which led me to become a Certified AEDP Therapist and be on the verge of becoming a Certified AEDP Supervisor. I participated in the international research study on the efficacy of AEDP and I have taught several AEDP workshops and seminars both in person and online. I found the model compelling and some of what I learned while applying it remains integral to how I work.
Since December 2019, when I initiated a conversation on the AEDP list-serve about using the model to address whiteness, white privilege, and white defenses as they are operating in therapy, I have had to face problematic aspects of the structure and functioning of the AEDP Institute, the faculty of which is 91% white. (The community is of similar racial makeup though I do not have specific stats.) In particular, the Institute’s pyramid structure, lack of transparency, and lack of accountability became increasingly apparent. My confrontation with faculty culminated in my leaving the community and the interruption of my certification as a supervisor.
In understanding the dynamics that played out between the Institute and me, three pieces of writing have been particularly helpful.
1. Daniel Shaw’s book chapter “Narcissistic Authoritarianism in Psychoanalysis.” In it, Shaw describes how psychoanalytic training institutions with pathological narcissists leading them embody an authoritarian structure in which dissent is quickly silenced and the organization functions much like a cult. You can read that paper here.
2. Tada Hozumi’s writing about trauma-bonding and cultural codependency. Hozumi argues that trauma bonds are “emotional entanglements that form when we go through peak experiences together that resonate with pieces of unprocessed trauma in our unconscious.” He names the communal dynamic of enmeshment that occurs as a result, “where the objects of admiration of trauma-bonded codependents become redeeming saviors that can do no wrong – until they do. When enacted in a community, trauma-bonds tend to create cult-like collective dynamics.” You can read this blog entry here.
3. The article “Whiteness as Pathological Narcissism” by Arianne E. Miller and Lawrence Josephs. In it, the authors argue that white, liberal, educated, upwardly mobile people are often thought to have transcended racism, despite the obvious advantages we derive from it. As a result, attempting to address these people’s denied privilege is similar to addressing denied grandiosity – it is experienced as an attack, elicits defensiveness, and results in counterattack. (That article appears in Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 45:93-119, 2009).
As I have more space from my experiences with the AEDP Institute, the pattern of founding “community” based on peak experiences and enmeshment, made more effective by the skillful manipulation of attachment theory and the attachment frame, is much clearer to me, as is the authoritarian structure lacking transparency or accountability, and the ways in which all of these phenomena are consistent with white supremacy. It is also more evident how much the Institute relies on the economic exploitation of therapists seeking to become more effective healers, which results in a pyramid system with faculty earning extraordinary amounts of money (one of my supervisors charges $325 USD / $427 CAD per session) and students paying multiple tens of thousands of dollars for training.
As a result of these experiences and insights and the ongoing highly problematic ways in which the Institute has failed to address structural racism or respond adequately to claims of harm from BIPOC, I distanced myself from the Institute in early 2020. I have, however, continued to use the title Certified AEDP therapist and to teach the model, believing that I could make a clear distinction between the functioning of the Institute and the practice of the model.
More recently, I have begun to question that this distinction between Institute and model can be made. As I undertake a deeper and rigorous enquiry into how white supremacy functions within me, in the institutions around me, and in the evolution of psychotherapy from its origins, I have been challenged to face the possibility that the AEDP model itself contains deeply problematic elements.
As a result, I have chosen to stop using the title Certified AEDP therapist, to stop making use of many elements of the model in my work, to cancel all further teaching engagements, and to make my position explicit.
Here are some of the main reasons I am no longer identifying as an AEDP therapist:
- Using the acronym and remaining affiliated with the model perpetuates the growth and reputation of the AEDP Institute, which is problematic for the reasons listed above
- The model is itself founded on the close observation of the phenomena of human defenses and affect exclusively by white people; as a result, it has significant unacknowledged blind spots in tracking and responding effectively to the experience of BIPOC and in seeing white experience as racially situated as opposed to universal
- The model and faculty, despite public statements to the contrary, have not demonstrated self-awareness of whiteness as a race or of white racial defenses, and thus the model is complicit in the maintenance of these defenses (also known as “white fragility”) which are a factor in the continuation of white supremacy and a major barrier to social change
- The application of the attachment frame in AEDP presumes that the therapist can take the stance of an “older wiser other” and that one of the main mechanisms of change is in addressing childhood trauma with a corrective experience in the here and now; the assumption that trauma is located in the past and in the family of origin does not address current-day racialized and systemic trauma and oppression that is therefore likely to be re-enacted between white therapists and BIPOC
- The model and the Institute are apolitical and situated within a frame of western white individualism. Therefore the model, like all models developed within this tradition, colludes with the status quo. I have learned a great deal about this from Shawna Murray-Browne’s course “Decolonizing Therapy for Black Folk” in which she covers in depth the ways in which mainstream therapy arises out of and repeats colonial violence, drawing on the work of thinkers such as Ignacio Martin-Baro, Edwin Nichols, Franz Fanon, Marimba Ani, and many others. You can read more about Shawna-Murray Browne on her website.
I am writing this to address to my students, the people I have worked with, and visitors to my site in an effort to embody the transparency and humility of naming my complicity and collusion in a white supremacist and destructive organization. I hope that my doing so is a small movement towards truth and repair, and I welcome any questions, comments, and responses to this disclosure.
Kristina Kyser, RP