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Home arrow Newslettter arrow College Newsletter - Spring 2010

College Newsletter - Spring 2010 Print E-mail

images/stories/testimonials/carolien_van_geloven.jpg"The college provides a comprehensive curriculum that balances body-oriented and psychodynamic theories. The training program has helped me to articulate my own experiences more clearly, as well as understand others more deeply. The training was not an easy three years, but I am hugely grateful for all the learning I received. 
Through my many years working as a Diabetes Nurse Educator I often found that the medical system falls over in certain situations. For example, by not taking in consideration certain related factors such the role of stress on physical and emotional wellbeing, or by remaining stuck in a dichotomy of thinking of mind and body as two separate entities - rather than one body-mind. 

I now find myself better equipped to deal with difficult people, in difficult situations, both privately and professionally.  Since my graduation, I took a different course in my career. I am now self-employed, working both as a somatic psychotherapist and a private practice Diabetes Educator.  I am now finding it very rewarding and have opened my own psychotherapy practice where I work alongside my partner and other like-minded people."

- Carolien, Sydney


"As paimages/stories/testimonials/serge_koreneff.jpgrt of my search for my personal meaning and development, I was introduced to the concept of somatic psychotherapy as a means of enabling people to improve aspects of their lives – particularly in the workplace. I saw the combination of the somatic and the academic aspects being offered by the college as being very important in giving me the language to be accepted in the corporate arena, as well as providing me the opportunity to learn the skills to be able to effect the changes.
The cutting edge training mix of experiential, academic and continued personal growth has enabled me to more clearly define my purpose in life and to develop the skills and abilities needed to work in depth with my clients. Although I no longer see myself as an agent of change in the corporate arena, I clearly see myself as a somatic psychotherapist working with individuals and couples. I have set up and I am building my own practice with my partner, with a new confidence in my abilities as a psychotherapist. I am grateful for the changes in my life and opportunities the college has afforded me during my training."

- Serge, Sydney

Sounds interesting? Further testimonials from our graduates can be found here.


Interview with April Lewis

images/stories/testimonials/april_lewis.jpg* What do you do for a living?

I’m a part time Japanese high school teacher.

* Why did you choose to do the ACCSP training?

I knew I wanted to do the training through my experiences in personal development. I felt I was opening up and didn’t want to stop - I wanted to go further.

* Describe the experience of being involved in the training?

Three things stand out: firstly, the material - it is definitely not just academic. You process what’s in the books on a deep level. Secondly, the group process: the interaction, the ‘dance’ between group members. It’s an opportunity to do something different, and I have been so touched by how the teachers hold the process and work with us. Thirdly, the requirement of your own individual therapy: I can see the theory in my own therapy and witness a different way of being through the therapist. Being able to name and understand what’s going on, due to our studies – now it all makes sense to me. 

* What do you enjoy most about the training?

The combination of connection with others and the learning - both the theory and about myself.

* What do you find challenging about the training?

The workload, because of processing the material so deeply – it’s not just theory!  But of course the work is necessary, different, hard and good!

* Would you recommend the training and why?

Yes - I want to stand on the rooftops and scream “Just do it!”. I’ve got much more out of it than I could ever have imagined possible and I’m only in second year. I used to be a lot more in my head and I like how I am now more‘in my body’ and comfortable expressing emotions. I feel so much more alive. I love being me!

* What plans do you have for after the training?

I want to work as a contemporary somatic psychotherapist – as well as continue my own individual therapy andprofessional development.

* In what ways do you think the training will equip you for a career in the helping professions?

Through the way it brings together such a vast variety of material, modalities and theories. Through the support from the teachers. Through having my own therapy and the group learning.  Ido feel now that I could work in a therapist role – it just resonates with me, it’s what I want to do. The training is a strongbase to work from – having a solid theoretical framework is so important.

The training has taught me how to be more skillful in relating with others.Now it’s more about who I am, rather than what I want.



BriefSeal of the University of Heidelberg report from Jeff Barlow on the international conference, Embodiment, Intersubjectivity and Psychopathology, held in Germany at the University of Heidelberg, sponsored by the Department of Psychiatry, 30 September – 2 October 2110.

When one of my third year students brought this conference to my attention a few months ago I immediately knew I had to attend. There had never before, to the best of my knowledge, been an international conference on these three themes and since the Australian College of Contemporary Somatic Psychotherapy has been developing its clinical training program based on these very themes for over 12 years now, this was a conference not to be missed. The question that was in my mind: “Has the cutting edge of the mainstream now caught up with what we have been teaching all these years?” made me very curious about the conference.

This conference was also, to the best of my knowledge, the first time that a department of psychiatry in a medical faculty had sponsored a conference on these subject areas, moving towards an interdisciplinary approach to working with human distress and psychopathology. However, I was surprised that I was the only somatic (body) oriented psychotherapist in attendance at this relatively small conference of around 150 delegates. It is interesting to note that in many countries in Europe one cannot practice as a psychotherapist unless one is a psychologist or a psychiatrist.

I was also excited to visit Germany again, a country I had worked in as a psychotherapist
Grand Hall of the University of Heidelberg over a number of years in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. The opportunity to visit the historic and very beautiful town of Heidelberg on the banks of the Neckar River valley, with its beautiful old bridge, historic castle (the earliest castle structure was built before AD 1214) and the historic university  (being the first university in Europe, dating back to 1386) was also a temptation I could not resist. In fact the conference was held in the very old university Grand Hall with its timber panelled ceiling and walls and painted murals – such a privilege to sit in such an historic building in a university that has produced in excess of 50 Nobel prize winners! The Nobel Prize has been awarded since 1901 for achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace. It is regarded throughout the world as the highest distinction of accomplishment in these fields. Fifty-five Nobel Laureates share a connection with Heidelberg University or the city of its founding.

The person responsible for setting up the conference was Thomas Fuchs
Professor Thomas Fuchs, Professor for Philosophical Foundations of Psychiatry, Department of General Psychiatry, University of Heidelberg. The conference was also held to inaugurate the recently established Karl Jaspers Chair for Philosophical Foundations of Psychiatry at the University of Heidelberg. This is the only professorship in Europe, and possibly in the world, that is dedicated to exploring not just the scientific foundations of psychopathology, but also the philosophical foundations! This is a huge break through in the historical development of psychiatry and psychology, with profound implications for the future development of these fields. It also takes me back to Freud who struggled to maintain psychoanalysis as a science when it was really a philosophy, despite Freud’s protestations to the contrary.

Professor Fuchs wrote: “The conference is aimed at creating an interdisciplinary forum for the exchange of ideas on the themes of embodiment, intersubjectivity and their role in psychopathology. It brings together worldwide experts from the fields of developmental psychology, philosophy and psychopathology, in order to advance on some key questions for this research area, among them:
•    What is embodied subjectivity? How far are our relationships with others mediated by the body?
•    What role does embodied intersubjectivity play in the development of social cognition?
•    How can mental illness be conceived from an embodied and enactive point of view?
•    What is the use of the notion of ‘embodiment’ for therapy and training?

Heidelberg UniversitySince the College has been engaged with this thinking over many years and developing training and clinical practice based in this thinking, Professor Fuchs’ words were very exciting for me. In the College training program we have long advocated and advanced the idea of an interdisciplinary approach, drawing as we do on developmental psychology, trauma theory, attachment theory, neurobiology, psychodynamic psychotherapy from an embodied and Intersubjective perspective, with attention to the philosophical underpinnings of the work and the development of clinical skills based on this interdisciplinary approach.

During his introductory address Professor Fuchs outlined his view that during the last decade, the concept of embodiment has become a key paradigm of interdisciplinary approaches from areas of philosophy, psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience. I would disagree with him on this as I see it as an emerging new paradigm rather than a key paradigm. But why quibble over words when a university department of psychiatry, with support from other professors of psychology and psychiatry from throughout Europe and the UK, (and as I will outline later, with financial support from the European Union) is keen to provide an alternative to the dominant materialist and scientific domination of psychology and psychiatry over the past 50 years! This is an awe-inspiring development that provides a deep validation of what the College has been pioneering for over 12 years!

HeidelbergFuchs went on to say in his address, “The body is no longer merely considered as an interesting input for the brain or mind. The new trend is to link embodiment, cognition and emotion in a deeper way, and this has particular repercussions for understanding our social engagements (in other words, for understanding our relationships). This in turn has implications for psychopathology and psychotherapy, because embodied and intersubjective views on mental illness can offer new insights useful for diagnosis and remediation.” Again, this was like nectar to me as the College has consistently engaged in developing an embodied relational approach to our training, advocating that affects (emotions) are the organizers of our experience and advocating the profound impact this approach can have on working to relieve the intense suffering of many of those in distress.

The presenters at the conference had been invited by Professor Fuchs and all but two were professors of psychology, psychiatry or philosophy at universities in the UK, Spain, Germany, Italy and Denmark. In addition two developmental psychologists, from France and the UK respectively, also gave papers.

HeidelbergThe quality of the papers was of varying consistency. Some were profoundly academic and opened up in considerable detail, various philosophical issues and themes, but overall I was surprised to observe that there was nothing of direct value to the clinical work of adult psychotherapists. In fact the only papers presented with any real clinical significance were from Peter Hobson, Professor of Psychology, London and Jessica Hobson, a developmental psychologist also from London, who reported on their radical and successful clinical work with treating child autism. Their paper, Dyadic states of consciousness and parent-child interaction in autism, reported on how the lack of joint attention and emotional engagement between parents and their children with autism, can impact the development of a shared interpersonal experience. They also showed a very interesting video to demonstrate how disengaged and depressed an infant can become when its caregiver does not engage the infant’s attempts to make emotional connection via facial signals and gestures. Not only was the video startling to see but the shocked response from the delegates was also memorable as they saw the infant move in a few seconds from a happy, excited and engaged presence, actively seeking contact with its care giver, to a disengaged, emotionally flat and depressed infant showing autistic symptoms. In fact Professor Peter Hobson stated that the theory of a biological basis of autism in his view was incorrect. He said that his research was indicating that there was probably a biological predisposition to developing autism but that early relational experiences between caregiver and infant played a significant role in whether the biological predisposition became actualized into autistic symptoms. Their work has been focused on remediating autistic symptoms in infants and children via new controlled and contained relational experiences.

images/stories/Heidelberg/university library.jpgOther papers of interest were presented by George Downing, a psychologist from Paris whose paper was titled Early interaction and the procedural core, and Colwyn Trevarthen, Professor of Developmental Psychology, from the University of Edinburgh, whose paper was Innate duplicity: We are born to share experience and feelings and to make meaning in companionship. He uses the term ‘duplicity’ to mean something like ‘intersubjectivity’. Professor Trevarthen was arguing that we need to understand the power of affectionate and mutually supportive engagements of expressive action in early infancy and that in understanding the power of these interactions for the healthy and creative development of the child, we can better understand how to intervene when we meet those who have suffered ‘faulty’ development, experiencing a lack of self regulation and self-other engagement. He put to the delegates that this understanding could be useful in educational settings and for understanding and treating depressive illness, autism and schizophrenia. Essentially he was arguing for the profound importance of intersubjectivity and shared emotions for psychological health and well-being. He sounded like a walking advertisement for one of the central themes of the college training program!!

A number of papers were more deeply embedded in the philosophy of phenomenology, in particular engaged with the work of Merleau-Ponty, one of the few phenomenologists who wrote extensively on ‘embodiment’. Of particular interest to me was a paper by Professor Ezequiel Di Paolo, Professor of Philosophy, University of the Basque Country, Spain, who in his paper on The social invisible, not only made reference to Merleau-Ponty but also to the work of Varella and Maturana (writers who have been of interest to me for many years), arguing for a social invisible, in other words an implicit intersubjectivity – how we understand each other prior to verbal expression and this then feeding back into a further understanding as expression occurs. For Di Paolo embodiment (our sense of our own embodiment and of the embodiment of others) is central to the experience of intersubjectivity but that this intersubjectivity is first and foremost experienced not intentionally via cognition but via feelings of togetherness, isolation, fluidity, tension etc. The development of the self is dependent on a history of embodied social encounters.

images/stories/Heidelberg/heidelberg view.jpgany of the other presenters also focused on the significance of embodiment and how disembodiment is central to forms of psychopathology, including schizophrenia. As Professor Giovanni Stanghellini, from the University of Florence, Italy, who has been researching the phenomenology of schizophrenia, wrote: “The essential feature of schizophrenic experience … is its being disembodied. This is the feature that unifies the varied dimensions of schizophrenic existence. The disembodiment of the self, of the self-object relation and of interpersonal relationships all lead back to a kind of world in which the schizophrenic person lives and behaves like a soulless body or a disembodied spirit.” 

As you can see the conference material was at a high level of theoretical conceptualization and was to a considerable extent divorced from the actual clinical practice of adult psychotherapy. Nevertheless it was very engaging and an excellent start to the process of reconsidering the theoretical basis of psychology and psychiatry. Professor Fuchs was of the view that this is an urgent task as current scientific understandings of what it is to be human too often diminish the depth and intensity of human experience and the meaning of human existence. He argued for the “recorporalization of cognition” (that is, the embodiment of the mind) – a very radical position to advocate and one that all the college students and graduates would be very familiar with, as we have been teaching this approach now for many years.

What was also of considerable interest was hearing from Professor Fuchs that funding had been obtained from the European Union for a new joint European research project called TESIS, an acronym for Towards and Embodied Science of Intersubjectivity 2011 – 2015, which will bring together a cross disciplinary approach to human development and psychopathology drawing on Philosophy, Developmental Psychology, Neuroscience, Psychiatry and Psychosomatic Medicine. In my view we are seeing the development of the new paradigm in psychology, psychiatry, psychosomatic medicine and education. Exciting times indeed! And I am very pleased I was able to attend such a significant conference. It was heart warming to say the least, to feel that our work over so many years in the college training program is now being validated in this way.

One fimages/stories/Heidelberg/th_heidelberg view2.jpginal comment I would like to make is how I noticed a huge divide between the intellectual developments occurring in Europe and what is occurring in the USA. There was no mention of the field of Intersubjectivity that has developed in the USA, a field that has made a significant contribution to contemporary psychodynamic psychotherapy and also to our training program for over 10 years. And in the infant development papers there was very little reference to the infant research in the USA that has had such a significant impact on contemporary psychodynamic psychotherapy, which has also been central to our teaching over many years.

I can’t finish without making comment on the engaging and interesting conversations that took place over the breaks and at the conference dinner as psychiatrists, psychologists, philosophers, students and a somatic psychotherapist from Australia shared their experiences. This was a time to try to make sense of the papers and to begin to integrate them through conversations with others.

We are at the threshold of a major paradigm shift in psychiatry, psychology and psychotherapy and this conference in my view was the formal beginning that marks that shift. The paradigm tension has been building for many years and the College training program has been a direct expression of that paradigm tension as we have sought to bring embodied intersubjectivity and the centrality of emotions to the organization of human subjectivity into the training of psychotherapists and into clinical practice. Our clients are already benefiting from these developments.

Jeff Barlow

(photos credits: University of Heidelberg, Wikimedia Commons, annieaime, awecelia