Last Updated on November 8, 2023 by It’s Complicated
It’s been more than a year since the last episode of It’s Complicated podcast was released and a lot has happened.
It’s Complicated went from being the passion project of myself Johanne, a Danish psychologist, and Jakob, a Swedish psychoanalyst, to being a serious company of 10 people supporting people in finding their ideal therapist among the more than 2000 mental health professionals we have on the platform.
It was due to all of this activity, and the fact that I got really bummed out that the last interview I did was deleted before I could edit and publish it that I had a hiatus of 15 months. But I’m back now.
And while I’ll still be talking with therapists, I’ll do so with a slightly different focus. This time, I want to explore the work they do and how this might be compelling to all of you psychologically curious people out there.
To kick it off, I’ve invited my friend and colleague, the wonderful Katharina Albrecht to talk about therapy in these unprecedented times.
Season 2 Episode 1 Transcript
Katharina: I’m really glad that there’s actually a conversation that’s starting here. And so, for those who don’t know me, I am a sex and relationship therapist primarily, and I work both online and in person. I work with couples and individuals. I also have a postgraduate degree in refugee care.
There’s definitely an interest in talking about not just being a therapist, but also thinking about how to be a therapist in these times that are changing and evolving and how to administer care at different levels. So whilst I don’t actively work with refugees these days, I still am very much a sort of thinker in the field.
And since we last spoke, I had a real passion and desire to work with clients in a more embodied way: to incorporate the body a bit more because I felt that a lot of people that I work with are describing feeling cut off from their bodies and feeling overwhelmed in their nervous system. Finding it difficult to regulate their nervous systems then of course has a big impact on ones relational health and how people express themselves sexually when you are kind of stuck all the time.
So I started a training in somatic experiencing, which is very much a kind of trauma
and body sensation focused approach to therapy. And it’s just absolutely transforming my work, I can really see how in the room people are moving ahead in their processes and journeys when they haven’t in all this time.
So I think to be able to mix talk therapy was also being able to access the body and
learning the language of the body.
Johanne: Is it a lot of breathing techniques? What are the concrete tools that you’re using from this training?
Katharina: It’s not so much breathing. It’s more sensation tracking. So there’s the idea that our nervous systems, they can handle a certain amount of stresses, but when they become overwhelmed, it gets stored in the body, and this is a way to actually kind of access that.
And then also complete being able to complete the stress cycle so that people can quite literally move on from things that sometimes they’ve been carrying around with them for years. And so it’s not so much kind of practically telling people to do anything differently because I think we all already are doing all these things, but this is more to complete these cycles that have been where people feel stuck.
Johanne: I was just reminded of the saying “when name it, you tame it”. Maybe there’s part of somatic experiencing training really going deep on that: going into the nitty gritty of how to
really assist people in labelling.
Katharina: What I hear is there’s a kind of intelligence and knowing and naming it, and so people can really learn an intelligent way with their bodies. And I think especially in these unprecedented times, it is such a great tool to be able to do that because there’s a resilience that comes with it.
You know, nervous systems, they go up and get activated all the time, but then they’re supposed to also regulate. Downregulate. And when we don’t do that, the outside work becomes so much more important. When we can’t know where we are in relation to it.
Johanne: That’s great. Let me ask you, when when you think about the therapist’s positioning: can that also be translated to just any care worker, volunteer, or someone in a helping profession?
Katharina: In the last talk that we had, it was very much about how the world become more therapeutically minded. Not just how to be a therapist, but can there be a way for any person to do so.
And that’s always my big idea, but the fear to respond rather than react and asking what are the potential tools that they might benefit from having or being curious learning about and so on. I think in this particular situation I was quite curious about where therapist’s position themselves, in these major life events that are going on and that seem to steadily increase. We’ve got climate change, we had a pandemic, we have got wars going on and so on.
I’ve had people come in and be outraged and find themselve in conflict with lots of aspects of their life and the world, not so much their friends and their immediate social group, but with a wider society as a whole, and really struggling to find their place in it.
And those who are really not sure what is okay to say and what isn’t. I felt as a therapist I
I felt a bit pushed to also position myself in the situation that people were in, in the uncertainty and in the insecurity that they felt really seemed to be longing for wanting to know what I think.
Johanne: Did they ask you directly?
Katharina: There were a couple of times in that week where, and it’s people who’ve never asked me anything really before, but it was also then the question about me being German and what that means.
For me that just started a conversation or a dialogue in my head about where therapists
kind of historically were, and in a sense, we still are, I still see myself as a person who does not directly respond to these questions, but I want to think about it and I want to think about it in
a holistic, useful way and use it for the process.
It’s therefore triggered this curiosity to reflect on it because I think that’s what we can do. This is something we can all do and perhaps the only thing we can do is to reflect on these
things and to ask these questions. So that’s sort of a very long answer to your question of what I have in mind.
Johanne: You’ve been reflecting on the therapeutic space, in its traditional context, in its historical context.
Katharina: Yes. So I did my a part of my training in the UK in London at the Tavistock Center and that’s a more psychodynamic, psychoanalytically minded institute.
And, I can see how they really think in the more traditional psychoanalytic way of working, the relationship was very much between the patient, and the therapist, and the whole work seemed to revolve around the transference and counter transference, the projections, and working with the unconscious and so on.
And, just if I think about it, people would be in psychoanalysis five days a week and they really wouldn’t have much of the representations of their external life factor into the therapeutic work.
I remember for example, when I was there around 10 years ago, clients being advised who were in psychoanalysis to not enter into a romantic relationship because they were in a relationship of sorts with their therapist.
So it was that people would say if someone missed the bus, it would really be about the relationship between the therapist and the clients that maybe they were avoiding showing up for the session or something.
Johanne: So imbuing every single external happening with psychoanalytical, personal, intentional meaning?
Katharina: It might have been that just a single mother – there was definitely something where it would isolate the person from its socioeconomic or cultural context and take it out – therapy was only kind of available to certain people. So in that sense, it was actually quite political.
How the therapist would be more of a blank slate in that view. And of course the therapist has an embodiment and an internal representation of what’s going on. But it wasn’t worked with in the same way that it is now, perhaps.
But I do think that I’m very grateful and happy that I did have that very thorough psychoanalytic education because A) it was fascinating, and B) it sort of trained my muscles. I was quite young really when I was doing my undergraduate, and it really trained me to think in a certain analytical way that is like a kind of classical musician training or something.
Johanne: But tell me more. What is that muscl? Is it the muscle of imbuing things with a useful meaning… Is it a muscle of really spurring on self-awareness?
Katharina: I think it’s something of a point of view, and I don’t mean so much an intellectual one, but it’s a way of being with a client in this space and really attuning to what you see in the immediacy, what you see between what happens right now, but then you get these senses of something happening in my body or I’m having a very strong reaction and to then think, is this something that’s happening in the present or is it something that’s old?
It’s a certain way, I suppose of joining the client and being able to put it into a developmental context or link it to moments of the client’s biography, which I find so fascinating. Especially working with couples to see what might be reenacted in that space.
So I think it’s a certain way of seeing, and it’s just a way of going a bit deeper. I do think having said that psychoanalysis was limited that in a good psychoanalytic training, you’ve really got everything. Because there are certain mistakes a psychoanalyst will not do because of how much they work with themselves and their own projections and so on.
Johanne: And do you think then it is due to this psychoanalytical training that you are able to
resist responding directly to these questions that you’ve been asked in the past weeks, for instance, about your political positioning because you’ve briefly mentioned that you actually do consider yourself as someone who does not respond directly. I don’t know if I’d be able to, and maybe that’s due to my lack of psychoanalytic training.
Katharina: It is quite confronting when it happens, because most people are very shy
with their therapists, and it’s also a huge sign of trust when someone says “I want to know what you think”.
Especially somebody who hasn’t gone there. So it’s really something I don’t want to shut down at all and not to give the feeling that that’s too much. So there’s a kind of stance to take where it’s to demonstrate rather than say . Because it’s at the tip of my tongue to say, I’m German, but I’m not like other Germans who have really misbehaving themselves.
And I’m equally ashamed, you know, and equally devastated. That’s about me. That’s my ego. There’s that part of me that wants to make it about me. There’s a part of the client perhaps
would quite like it to be about me rather than it being about them.
That’s the psychoanalytic thing that I’m not trying to to act out on. But in a way, there’s the moment when we as therapists start to talk about ourselves, it is no longer about them. And that might be a role they are unconsciously giving us or trying to give us. But it’s also very much my responsibility.
The moment it becomes about me, it’s as if the space to talk, the space to feel, the space to be isn’t there anymore for the person who needs it. So I’m very conscious of it. It’s like when people say to be kind isn’t always nice, and what seems like the nice thing to do would be to say yes: isn’t it? Isn’t it just horrible?
But the kind thing actually isto keep in mind all of these things and to just not take this space away from the person. Because the moment it becomes about my political views, that’s what the person will be thinking about rather than being left with perhaps an uncomfortable
feeling and a feeling that’s very difficult to digest, which is that they feel somewhat lost.
And that’s an important feeling to have nonetheless, even if it’s hard.
Johanne: And is it completely possible? Can therapists maintain their neutrality still?
Katharina: Well, I think we are people and there are certain situations where I would perhaps clearly demonstrate that I’m not neutral about it. But you know, during the pandemic there were a lot of people who were anti-vax, and I think it’s a very understandable and relatable question to say I would rather work with a therapist who is vaccinated, and so I think pretending to be neutral would be dishonest.
But I can use my positioning in order to work with it rather than to shut things down, which I think links to the question of how to be a therapist in unprecedented times. It’s working with it. Whatever comes up.
Johanne: That makes a lot of sense. And would you say that, the way the therapeutic space or that therapy has evolved also helps you integrate these more societal, or cultural
socioeconomic aspects into treatment?
Katharina: Yes. I think, you know, when I do an assessment with someone, I would now take into account a more systemic approach in these things. I think with you [Johanne] being more into CBT there’s also the external conditions and the frame that we exist in to take into account.
And so I think there is a way to work quite dynamically with those things that are part of a person’s reality. Whilst maybe if somebody shows up late every time, I might analyse that, but I also have an understanding that there are very real and concrete reasons for certain things happening. I try to hold in mind the place and time that we live in.
Johanne: We’ve spoken up until now about the therapist’s positioning and how therapy has evolved, how the therapeutic space has evolved. But what about the role of clients?
Katharina: I was thinking about that recently. When I was training in London and I was seeing clients as a trainee, we had certain people working with couples. People would come in and maybe there was an affair and they were seeking support in how to work through this.
Whereas these days people just really seem incredibly informed and incredibly educated and knowledgeable. I work with attachment theory a lot and and in supporting clients and polyamorous relationships and open relationships and all these different sorts of constellations and, and, and relationship dynamics and I find that often people come in having read all the literature that I’ve been reading and seem very informed, they’re very much autonomous agents in their own healing journey, which I think is a really great thing.
I’m not necessarily sure if there’s a representation of society as a whole, but very much in this bubble that I, for better or worse exist in, people seem to really want to actively play a part in their healing process. Which is really refreshing.
At the same time, you know, I think there’s another side to this. What my clients these days do not struggle with seemingly is getting the information. But what they seem to struggle
with, after all, is how to unlearn certain things and how to be comfortable with the not knowing.
And I can really see that in the world it seems to be sort of falling apart in some ways, that the position of not knowing can be a very difficult one and that nobody has an answer. But I think there’s something about surrendering to the therapeutic process and putting your trust in a
therapist, which is also a very important part.
I can do certain things to support clients in getting there to actually unlearn and trust and be in the space. There’s a line that a mutual friend who also works at the practice used on psychological wholeness not being able to protect you from the world. I think about this all the time.
It so nicely illustrates the limits of therapy and that we can work on ourselves, but there’s a certain kind of existential thing going on where perhaps it’s not all that important. And we don’t have to constantly brace ourselves, but to be in our full humanity is actually a great power in these times.
Johanne: So that then is the perfect way to to end this really fulfilling conversation. The majority of our relationship is jumping online to talk about really deep and existential topics.
Katharina: Thank you so much. Your input has really been great.
Summary of the Episode
Johanne: So thank you listeners for tuning into our It’s Complicated podcast, Therapy Talk, with yours truly Johanne. This time of conversation with sex and couples counsellor, Katharina, about the potential of therapy in a world that triggers outrage and confusion and dysregulated nervous systems.
I found it really interesting hearing Katharina talk about how she supports people and completing stress responses on a somatic level – to release these overwhelming experiences that may be stuck in the body. And how she encouraged people to bring their raw and authentic selves to the consulting space. To surrender fully to the process, so to speak. This seems especially important when these unprecedented times are asking of us to always be on guard and in control.
I will be back in some weeks with an episode where I’ll be in conversation with a therapist, Rebekka Lehmann, who specialises in secondary trauma and compassion fatigue.
Until then remember you can find out more about Katharina and all of the other It’s Complicated therapists on www.complicated.life.
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