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Relational & Experiential Psychotherapy

Our Counseling Approach Journey:

As I mentioned in the section About Me, during my development as a therapist I have develop a passion for Attachment Theory and Trauma treatment. Throughout the years, I immersed myself in different modalities and training to specialize in the topic. It is fascinating that no matter what people are looking for when coming to therapy (loss of a baby, depression, eating disorder, high anxiety and stress, relationships or loneliness, addictions, parenting, work related issues and self-esteem…), sooner or later, in 90% of the cases, we end up talking about ordinary trauma and some sort of attachment injury. The percentage of people with one trauma theme or event is minimum. We don’t treat soley the symptoms or clinical diagnosis, we treat the underlying issues that caused them. 


After years of research experimentation, I can tell there are two big paradigms that influence our practice orientations: ATTACHMENT & MEMORY RECONSOLIDATION. 

Don’t worry. The good news is that now change and recovery is possible. Moreover, you can earn a secure attachment and heal from trauma (overtly caused or because of the lack of something).

Why is that?

ATTACHMENT: Because there are four main types of attachment: Secure or healthy. Insecure anxious or avoidant) and disorganized. Research shows that secure attachment is the number one predictor of emotional regulation and resilience in life. So, most people that don’t have that attachment style (which develops pretty early in life) tend to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with difficulties, pile on trauma experiences and, present many of the common symptoms that bring people to therapy later in life. So, the more we can process and heal the trauma and revert people to secure attachment (natural adaptive form or real self), the better the person will do in life.

The ACE Study (Adverse Situations in Childhood, 1995) is one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and household challenges and later-life health and well-being and changed the future of psychotherapy. It proved how change is not a matter of willingness. Most people that have low improvement or constant relapses in therapy, it is not because they don’t try enough, it is because of childhood trauma.

So, the more we can process and heal the trauma and revert people to secure attachment (natural adaptive form or real self), the more the symptoms will vanish and better the person will do in life.

MEMORY RECONSOLIDATION: Another huge discovery in the field during the past 20 years has been the neuroplasticity of the brain. Don’t worry. Now we know we can change, and recovery is possible. Meaning, you can earn a secure attachment and heal from trauma.

How does that happen? There are 2 forms of main therapeutic movements: Reconsolidation vs extinction.

Extinction tends to form a separate learning in a physically separate memory system that competes with the old memory. In some cases, this is enough to get the person to a better place or change behaviors (CBT, DBT, ACT, Solution Focused, …fall into this category. Faster results, more active. Might have more short-term results.

Reconsolidation activates the old neuropathway by increasing emotion in the moment (I call it warming up the oven -:), pairs it with new information and rewires that memory.  That way the person is no longer exposed to triggers or relapses depending on the circumstances because healing has occurred. For people with more trauma, developmental or otherwise, this type of work is needed since otherwise, it will continue to get in the way of creating newer or healthier neuropathways. Trauma is relentless so we need relentless methods to treat it. (AEDP, IFS, EMDR, Dare, Attachment, Inner child work, Coherence Therapy, Emotion Focus Therapy or EFT, Interpersonal Neurobiology, TIR, …). are some of the treatment modalities we recommend.  Reconsolidation and extinction are neurologically distinct processes (Duvarci & Nader, 2004; Duvarci, Mamou & Nader, 2006). Longer recovery, harder and deeper work. More experiential.

The knowledge of memory reconsolidation brought a deep transformational power and integration to the field of psychotherapy since the 2000s.

Trust me not everybody needs one or another, usually is a crafty combination tailored to your needs and situation.

DC VA Counseling Therapeutic Modalities of Choice:

Psychology is a relative new science (Freud, 1940). However, there are many new and different therapeutic modalities today and, they are all helpful in their own way.  

Therapy modalities are building from each other and adding new discoveries. Research and advances on neurobiology are being integrated in the application of psychotherapy. We can see and proof now how psychotherapy changes the brain, the interaction of the brain and the mind, and not only work with trauma and psychopathology but, also create new and healthy neuropathways in the brain.

It is very exciting! However, the trick is for your therapist to know and choose what is best for your case. No one theory or approach fits all. It is the art of the combination that makes the best therapy. Therefore, I connected with other therapists that share this vision and expertise so we can serve more people and collaborate in cases together. As attachment and trauma experts, we combine the following modalities in our therapy work:


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help you understand the experience and expression of your emotions.   Then you can identify and challenge your beliefs and attend and respond to your emotions adaptively.


Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) teaches clients four sets of behavioral skills: mindfulness; distress tolerance; interpersonal effectiveness; and emotion regulation


Mindfulness is a basic human quality, but it is also a practice that you need to learn in relationships. That is why meditations groups work because we aren’t meant to regulate alone. In a compassionate and empathic environment, you can feel (for some people for the first time) a way of learning to pay wise attention to whatever is happening in your life–here and now. In the process of exploring and understanding the interplay of mind and body, you start mobilizing your own inner resources for coping and growing.

Person Centered Therapy:

It is a non-directive form of talk therapy that was developed by humanist psychologist Carl Rogers. Rogers believed that the therapeutic relationship could lead to insights and lasting changes in clients, which intuitively was, what later became the bases of attachment. He believed that if the person feels accepted and safe, he/she can access his/her inner resources and wisdom.

Experiential or Process Oriented Attachment Therapy:

When in need of deeper healing and resolution, bottom up approaches or so called -process oriented therapies- are more effective. Why? Because in addition, to talk therapy, they are going to activate your nervous system, so past memories can be process and new and healthier neuropathways can be rewired. Some of those modalities are:

attachment therapy va
AEDP therapy VA
Ifs therapy VA

EMDR ( Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing )

EMDR is an effective method of psychotherapy used for a wide variety of life concerns including:

  • All types of trauma: one-time incidents and Complex PTSD trauma (relational and developmental trauma.
  • Childhood events which have caused low self – esteem or confidence problems
  • Anxiety/Phobias/OCD
  • Depression
  • Addictive Behaviors
  • Eating disorders
  • Grief/loss
  • Performance Anxiety in sports, work, and the arts.
  • Stress Reduction
  • Perfectionism

How Does EMDR Work?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a comprehensive approach to psychotherapy. It originally developed by Francine Shapiro, a Senior Research Fellow at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California in 1987.

Human nature is naturally geared towards health and to be in meaningful relations with others. When life conditions are good, we thrive; when we’re under prolonged periods of stress or disturbing events happen, symptoms can develop. Why? Because under high levels of stress the brain can not process information normally and therefore, those experiences tend to get stuck in isolated neuropathways.

“frozen in time”

Those moments become “frozen in time”, and remembering a trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings haven’t changed no matter how much time passes.  Such unprocessed memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and relates to other people.

EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way the brain processes information.  

EMDR appears to replicate what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.  Therefore, it can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy because it taps on the brains’ natural capacity to heal and helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way. So once normal information processing is resumed, the person no longer perceives the event nor feels the disturbing feelings as before.

EMDR offers a reprocessing of disturbing life experiences resulting in a significant reduction or elimination of symptoms such as emotional distress, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and nightmares.  EMDR is one of the most researched psychotherapeutic techniques in history.  A complete list of studies may be found through the EMDR International Association’s web site, http://www.emdria.org  or The EMDR Institute, www.emdr.com

Internal Family Systems (IFS):

Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy is not family therapy. The mind is not a unit, but the sum of parts. That explains the complexity of our minds. Many times, we are feeling more than one feeling at a time and even contradictory ones. (Basics of dialectics).  The name refers to each person’s internal community or “family” of psychological parts. Very often, our internal systems become organized around emotional pain, and how to manage it. So, an IFS therapist works with you to release pain, calm down problem areas and problem behaviors, and restore your original joy in life.

Aim of Internal Family Systems Therapy

Aim of Internal Family Systems Therapy is healing the wounds associated with traumatic situations or the lack of nurturing in life. So, the application of Internal Family Systems Therapy in family, couple, and individual situations. This technique combines two established methods: multiplicity of the mind and systems thinking.

Internal Family Systems Therapy brings together various strategies from the Bowenian therapy base, as well as from more traditional narrative and structural modalities. So, the different elements are united through the goal of addressing the sub-personality. In this type of therapy, it guides a person to realize their inner self through the use of practical applications. A person progresses on their own healing path according to their unique design without external urgency or persuasion. Richard C. Schwartz, Ph.D developed Internal Family Systems Therapy.

If you would like to read more about this model, visit htt://www.selfleadership.org

Attachment Therapy and Relational Trauma :

How does it Attachment Therapy work?

The core of this modality is to help you identify your Attachment style and its challenges. Therefore, by learning the exact language for each Attachment style and specific corrective experiences you can heal early wounds.

What does a Secure Attachment matters?

Secure attachment is responsible for (Segal & Jaffe, 2015):

Shaping our future relationships

Strengthening or damaging our abilities to focus, to be conscious of our feelings, and to calm ourselves (internal emotional regulation)

Forming our ability to bounce back from misfortune: resilience

Why learning the language of attachment is a foundational skill for all relationships?

1.  People often put their best intentions into trying to be ideal partners. However, often early biological wiring fuels automatic responses that create intense conflict and pain with the very ones they love most. So, by learning the language of Attachment, you can heal your childhood attachment wounds, which is ESSENTIAL to enjoy fulfilling relationships as adults now.

2. Attachment is present in ALL AREAS of our life: parenting, personal relationships, coaching, and business. Therefore, this work is expanding far beyond the field of trauma. Some of this isn’t that hard. Moreover, there are very learnable skills that can enable anyone to experience meaningful and fulfilling relationships in every area of their life.

3. When you understand early Attachment styles in a healthy, safe environment such as the one in therapy, the original imprints that are the foundation of the self-protective ego structure can be healed.

For more information about it, visit http://www.attachmentrepattering.com

Acelerated Experiential Psychodynamic Psychotherapy:

“AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy) is an integrative, non-pathologising, attachment-, emotion- and transformation-focused therapy that places the somatic experience of affective experience in relationship and its dyadic regulation at the centre of how it clinically aims to bring about change.”-Yeung & Fosha, 2014; Fosha, 2000

‘AEDP assumes a healthy core within all people, emphasises adaptive motivational strivings, works actively and explicitly to create the experience of safety in the therapeutic relationship, and stresses the importance of experiential work with adaptive affective change processes.’- Yeung & Fosha, 2014

What Does That Mean?
Those were two long sentences containing lots of therapy jargon; what does that all mean in practice? I’ll see if I can unpick some of it for you.

AEDP is About Healing and Transformation
AEDP is non-pathologising. Instead of starting from ‘What’s wrong with this person?’, AEDP therapists are trained to be ‘transformance detectives’. This means that we actively look for glimmers and signs of the healthy strivings towards growth and wholeness that are inside everybody. This can be profoundly powerful, and it means that even in the first session the client may feel that something true and deeply meaningful has been touched on. AEDP teaches therapists ways to work with a client’s strengths that can bring out the person’s ‘self-at-best’ in order to deeply accompany and heal their ‘self-at-worst’ (i.e. their hurt, traumatised, depressed or anxious self).

AEDP is an Attachment-Based Therapy
Many types of depth psychotherapy work to help the client develop an internal ‘secure attachment’. AEDP is particularly good, I have found, at offering clear, specific ways that secure attachment can be developed. This isn’t about making a client get attached to the therapist in an unhealthily dependent way. Instead, it’s about helping a client build an inner sense of stability. The therapist and client together use their authentic presence and relationship to build tools that the person can now have in all their important relationships, and in their relationship to themselves too.

By being explicitly inter-relational, in the here-and-now the AEDP therapist leads the client to reflect on the actual experience of what it’s like to explore these emotional layers of healing together. Through explicitly naming the gains and experiences in rounds and spirals of exploration– of doing this work and finding these epiphanies, and what it’s like being accompanied by the AEDP therapist– a client builds an inner sense of stability.

AEDP Works With Emotions
Most people who seek psychotherapy and counselling are having some kind of trouble with their emotions. It may be that they are having trouble accessing their emotions, instead finding themselves landed with symptoms like anxiety, gut problems, depression, or a feeling of flatness and ‘what’s-the-point?’ in life. Or it may be the opposite: their emotions are too big, too chaotic, too scary, and out-of-control. The most effective psychotherapies place emotion processing and emotion regulation at the heart of the work, because our emotions are fundamentally important to our lives. AEDP teaches very straightforward ways to process emotions, which means that we learn to allow our emotions to flow in a way that helps us feel better and clearer. Then we can use emotions as they were meant to be used: as ways to guide us and to solve problems.

Emotion is the experiential arc between the problem and its solution: Between the danger and the escape lies fear. Between novelty and its exploration lies joyful curiosity. Between the loss and its eventual acceptance lies the grief and its completion. Linked with adaptation, emotions are “ancestral tools for living” (Panksepp, 2009).

AEDP is Experiential
Therapy that works with here-and-now experience is very different from the kind of therapy that is focused on developing cognitive insight alone. In experiential therapy, there is a focus on helping the client to have an experience (e.g. of feeling an emotion) right there in the session, and to reflect on that experience with the therapist. (The opposite might be only spending the session talking about thoughts and ideas, and about experiences that have happened outside of the session). Experiential therapy is really valuable because it gets us using our whole brain, building new neural pathways between brain areas, and including the crucially important ’emotional brain’. Experiential therapy maximises neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to physically change) and creates deeper capacity for transformation.

AEDP is Relational
Multiple studies and meta-analyses have shown that across all types of psychotherapy/ counselling, by far the biggest factor in therapy outcomes, is the quality of the relationship between therapist and client. AEDP is certainly not the only type of therapy that has a relational focus. However, AEDP goes a step further than other relational psychotherapies, because it offers specific tools (such as meta-processing) by which therapists can use the therapeutic relationship to help the client process their experiences more deeply and more powerfully.

Next Steps:

So if you are ready to start your work with us, contact us. Isabelkirk@gmail.com or 703-231-7991.