We were delighted to welcome Dr Kathrin Stauffer to Brighton once again. Last year Kathrin hosted her popular workshop on Neuroscience and the Psychology of Affect Regulation. We liked it so much we asked her back again this year!
Kathrin Stauffer’s most recent workshop was in September 2015. This time Kathrin used neuroscience to look at how neurosis and neurotic functioning develop, and how we can work with neurotic symptoms in the consulting room.
Before Kathrin became a psychotherapist she was a research biochemist. We really needed to know more about Kathrin’s career choices, and I’m delighted to say that we have managed to squeeze in this amazing interview where Kathrin tells us more about her life and interests.
Interview with Dr Kathrin Stauffer
1. How did you start out in counselling & psychotherapy?
I started as a client in psychotherapy in the year 1982 – I was just 24 then and having panic attacks all over the place. The psychotherapy helped within just a few months, and I have never really looked back since, because it just opened up a connection with what I can only describe as soul, and I knew that this was really important. So I have been on and off in therapy ever since, and been preoccupied with therapy all the time.
2. You originally trained as a Research Biochemist. What prompted the dramatic career change?!
Back when I started as a client in therapy I was doing my PhD in biochemistry, and for a number of years I had no reason to stop doing that. The career change only came about 10 years later, when I was told by my then boss that I needn’t bother applying for a tenured position because I just wasn’t good enough. My boss was a kindly person so I could just hear this as a factual statement and had to admit he was right, and this also made me realise that I wasn’t good enough because I wasn’t really interested in science.
So I had to go away and think very hard about what else I was going to do with my life. As I liked working with my hands massage therapy seemed an option, and this then grew into body psychotherapy.
3. You decided to re-train as a body psychotherapist. For those of us who trained as traditional humanistic or psychodynamic therapists what are the advantages of body psychotherapy over more traditional therapeutic methods in your experience?
I had already been a client of a body psychotherapist when I decided to train, and I liked working with my hands. To start with I was much less confident about using words! So in a way I came from the other side, from bodywork, and then realised very quickly that ‘mere’ bodywork was not going to be enough, I needed the theoretical framework from psychotherapy.
What I would say to those who are ‘ordinary’ psychotherapists is that body psychotherapy is to some extent a matter of personal preference – it just so happens that I can do things with my hands that others would do with words.
That is one possible answer. The other answer would be to say that it makes no sense to me to treat the mind or the soul as something that is completely separate from the body. It is always embodied and shaped by this. It especially makes no sense to think in this body-mind dualism when we start to include neuroscience! If we think about it even for a little moment we realise that neuroscience does not just talk about the brain but talks also about the peripheral nervous system which is distributed all over the body.
The brain may be the organ to regulate the body, but who would look at a regulator without looking at the thing that is being regulated (and feeds back all the time how well the regulation is working). That would be rather like a therapist who only ever considers their therapeutic intention and never stops to see what the client makes of sessions. Or like a government who goes to war in order to stop bad things happening and never looks to see if their war has actually made it better or worse – oh no, sorry, my metaphor doesn’t quite work, does it.
There is a third answer which is that body psychotherapists are trained to use their ‘energetic’ perception, and their bodily resonance with the client, and this means that they often work at especially great depth because they just pick up things that others might miss. I really wouldn’t want to claim that other therapists don’t work at this depth, just that it probably gives people a bit of an edge to have body psychotherapy training.
On the whole I think that body psychotherapy adds depth to ordinary psychotherapy. In practice it also gives us a very fast and powerful access to deeper material if that’s what we are aiming for. On the other hand for those clients who are swamped by their deeper material it can offer ways of reducing this overwhelm.4. You have written a book called Anatomy & Physiology for Psychotherapists: Connecting Body & Soul (W.W. Norton 2010). Can you tell us a little about this? Why is it important for therapists to understand these issues?
My book, Anatomy & Physiology for Psychotherapists: Connecting Body & Soul, was written from a course I used to teach which was holistic anatomy and physiology for body psychotherapy and massage trainees, and which students used to like a lot. This made me think that I was probably able to distil complex matters into reasonably simple concepts that were teachable.
I also wrote it very much as a project of trying to show what it might mean in practice to integrate the body into psychotherapy, and how that might look. It is so easy to pay lip service to regarding the mind as embodied and paying attention to the body, but what it means in clinical practice is not exactly straightforward, and my book was an attempt to offer a solution for this. So it is aimed very much at therapists who have started to think about the relationship between body and mind.
5. What got you interested in delivering training?
I was trained as a teacher as a young woman and didn’t enjoy teaching kids and teenagers. But later, as a postdoc, I had to teach some techs how to do practical labwork and found that I did enjoy that. So when I was offered the opportunity to teach for body psychotherapy training organisations I was just following my own enjoyment by saying yes. But of course in all honesty I also have to say that teaching is a career move in psychotherapy, and that was certainly another aspect of my motivation.
6. If you weren’t a therapist, what would you be and why?
Gosh, I really don’t know how to answer that! I suppose I might be back in Switzerland in some lab doing research into molecules that nobody is interested in, earning loads of money and being fairly miserable.
But really since I started to train in body psychotherapy I have never for one moment looked back, even when things got very hard. The sheer enthusiasm with which I tackled the training was just a complete giveaway, and made it clear to me that I had found something I really wanted to do. This has not changed.
7. Where can people hear more from you?
I haven’t started writing blogs yet, but people are welcome to look at my website (www.stauffer.co.uk) where there are links to some papers I have published over the years.
There is a new paper that should come out soon in the International Journal of Body Psychotherapy, and as soon as it comes out I will make a PDF version of it available to all interested. The paper is on the relationship between psychotherapy and neuroscience so perhaps of interest to your audience. Otherwise there is also the Website of the Chiron Association for Body Psychotherapists which is my own professional association (and I am the Chair), there are quite a few resources available there.