AEDP for the Common Man: A Review of Living Like You Mean It

Use the Wisdom and Power of Your Emotions to Get the Life You Really Want

By Gil Tunnell

Living Like You Mean It: Use the Wisdom and Power of Your Emotions to Get the Life You Really Want by Ronald J. Frederick, Ph.D., Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2009, 184pp.

The central theme in Ron Frederick’s, Living Like You Mean It, is that becoming “emotionally mindful” can change your life. This theme is stated even more forcefully in the preface: “No real change in how we feel or behave is going to take place until we deal with our feelings” (p. xvi). Over and over, Ron Frederick, a master therapist and now excellent writer, invites the reader to get curious about emotions. He makes the point that emotions are hard-wired into the physiology of human beings for a reason: they are powerful, prudent guides to navigating life. Yet most of us fear our emotions, and Frederick explains why in simple terms in his chapter, “How the Heck Did I Get This Way?” (Hint without being a plot spoiler: It has a lot to do about maintaining the bond with our parents on whom we were utterly dependent.)

Written in an upbeat, positive tone, the book takes the reader through the steps of acquiring “emotional mindfulness:” (a) preparation: the choice to feel or not feel, and why it might be good to feel; (b) taking the first step: paying closer attention to body experience; (c) identifying our defenses, which Frederick eloquently defines as “any thought, behavior or reaction used to distance ourselves from our feelings” (p. 86); (d) conquering “affect phobia,” by reframing “anxiety” as a positive, green-light signal that we are getting closer to the gold: our more important, true, core feelings; (e) having a complete emotional experience: acceptance, paying attention, slowing down, giving way, seeing it through and reflecting; and finally (f) enjoying the aftermath of a new openness.

Living Like You Mean It is based solidly on Diana Fosha’s (2000) Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP). Frederick’s book is primarily a self-help book intended for lay persons interested in improving their lives by becoming less defended and more emotionally present, much as AEDP treatment does. One feature that adds greatly to the self-help component is Frederick’s frequent use of various guidelines and exercises that instruct the reader how specifically to become more attentive to emotional phenomena. Although it is an open question whether people can actually achieve emotional enlightenment from self-help books alone, the guidelines Frederick provides are unusually helpful. I imagine that the book with its many clinical vignettes will get a number of readers curious about experiencing the actual therapy.

It is also an open question whether the book would be valuable for patients already engaged in AEDP treatment. Some patients want or need a more cognitive understanding of the therapeutic process as they engage in it. For these patients, the book may provide a useful supplement to the more experiential work in session. However, for others, reading about the model of treatment in which they are currently engaged could well become a major distraction, serving as a defense against deeper emotional processing, keeping them too much in their left analytical brain rather than engaging their right experiential brain in sessions. After all, AEDP is an active interplay between emotional experiencing and cognitive reflecting about the emotional experience. The interplay begins first and foremost, however, with the bodily experience of emotion. Of course, for patients who insist on engaging the therapist in analytical discussions rather than doing the emotional work, that is grist for the therapeutic mill. Finally, for patients terminating AEDP treatment, this book would be great for therapists to recommend or give as a small gift, serving in the future as an instant refresher course in staying emotionally aware.

Frederick’s book is clearly not a manual for AEDP therapists. For example, “meta-processing” as a concept is not mentioned in the entire book, although in the numerous clinical vignettes, Frederick is continuously meta-processing with patients. As a second example, “core state transformation” is not mentioned per se, yet it is clear that a number of patients he describes had experienced core state transformations.

Although not a manual for therapists, this slim volume is instructive for therapists new to AEDP, as well as for more experienced AEDP therapists, because it is virtually stripped of psychological jargon. This alone is a major contribution to the AEDP literature. Each chapter concludes with a concise bullet-point summary, “Chapter Take-Home Points.” Frederick manages to translate complicated neuroanatomy and a review of contemporary neuroscience as it relates to emotional experiencing and psychotherapy into terms a non-neuroscientist can understand. One section I especially liked that could be utilized for helping AEDP clinicians recognize and identify specific affects in their patients is a list describing common physical manifestations of the six primary emotions (pp. 61-62). As evidenced by these helpful literary conveniences, this book, above all else, is eminently practical.

In fact, Frederick’s ability to translate complicated psychodynamic processes into ordinary language, without losing their essence, is amazing. A reader with no prior knowledge or experience of psychotherapy or the AEDP model would have no trouble understanding this book. Living Like You Mean It is an extremely accessible introduction and complement to more scholarly, theoretical and technical books and articles now emerging in the AEDP literature.

Aside from its “user friendly” style, the usefulness of Living Like You Mean It is also enhanced by the author’s “experience near” voice. Not only does Frederick cite numerous case examples of individual patients struggling to discover and express their core feelings, he enriches the book by including his own autobiographical narrative of how he acquired emotional mindfulness. These personal examples drive home his theoretical points, and make for a quite readable volume, e.g., “Years and years of stuffed feelings were clogging my system, making it practically impossible for me to be present and to connect, to take in all that was good” (p. 7).