Title: Development and empirical proof of embodiment techniques for the improvement of emotion regulation

Status: Ongoing

Description: Many studies prove that deficits in interoceptive ability correlate with difficulties in recognising, identifying, understanding and regulating emotions. Furthermore such deficits significantly increase the risk for people to develop mental health problems and various physical illnesses (Murphy et al., 2017). Although the importance of interoception is well known for the development of emotion regulation, interventions that you could use in clinical practise are in their infancy. In this project the effects of embodiment are discovered in basic research, then captured and applied in clinical practice. By combining research with clinical applications of embodiment techniques, new training formats for clients arise. These clinical applications are being tested for their effectiveness in real world clinical settings.  Healthy samples of students from the Ulm University and clinical populations will be randomly assigned to treatment using embodiment interventions and compared to a wait list control group. Special focus is placed on the application of embodiment techniques with clients who have anorexia, obesity, eating disorders and autism.

Involved people/ researchers and institutions:

  • Dr Gernot Hauke and Dr Christina Lohr guest researchers from the clinical and health psychology department of the Ulm University
  • Evelyn Beverly Jahn
  • Dr Tania Pietrzak, Adjunct Research Fellow School of Psychology and Public Health- La Trobe University, Melbourne Australia. Current research: An investigation of interoceptive accuracy, awareness and sensibility in adults with and without autism spectrum disorder: the moderating effects of alexithymia.
  • Prof Dr Dr Olga Pollatos, Dr Matthias Messner and Felicitas Weineck from the clinical and health psychology department of the Ulm University
  • ANAD e.V. centre for eating disorders

Title: Connecting Couples Intervention: The clinical application of embodiment techniques in couple therapy

Status: Completed in 2016

Description: Communication starts first in the body between couples before verbal exchange happens. Different embodiment techniques were applied for the improvement of the reciprocal empathy, the emotional regulation and the couples’ satisfaction. The work in the emotional field helped to deepen the couple’s previously hidden emotions of their partner. In this study there were 3 hypotheses: 

  1. The experimental group will show significant and meaningful increases in empathy measures, in couple satisfaction as well developing a more secure attachment style – at the same time decreasing measures of depression and anxiety.
  2. These effects correlate with an optimised reciprocal comprehension of the couple in terms of their individual emotions and behavioural patterns.
  3. In comparison the waiting-list control group will show no changes on the above measures.

Method: The couples are randomly assigned to (N= 20 with 10 couples) the experimental group and waiting list control group. Following parametres are measured: 

  • affective and cognitive aspects of empathy
  • satisfaction in partnerships
  • attachment style in close relationships
  • depression

The couples received 20 hours of group therapy with following focus: 

  • cohesion will develop between group members by use of guided exercices for imitation and synchronicity
  • to uncover/ reveal the frustrating 'partner dance' because of the different emotional survival strategies of the partners. The other group members act/ serve as resonance/ feedback and later as a bridge for the topics for the single couple. The imitation of the body as basis  for reflection of the emotions play a central role.
  • Every couple develops their own movement solution on the foundation basis of individual needs and shared empathy. The emotions serve as navigational system and helps generate a 'moved' solution for the body to rise, which subsequently is verbalised and then later concrete projects in everyday life are developed for the couples to practice at home.

Results: Multivariate ANOVA showed meaningful increases in measures of empathy and the couple satisfaction in the experimental group compared to the control group. There were no significant changes in depression measures and the attachment style of the couples. 

Involved people/ researchers and institutions:

  • Dr Tania Pietrzak from ERA Australasia
  • Leanne Kennedy, neuropsychologist (Melbourne, Australia)
  • Dr Gernot Hauke and Dr Christina Lohr guest researchers from the clinical and health psychology department of Ulm University
  • Evelyn Beverly Jahn

Publications and congress contributions:

Hauke, G., Flies, E., Kleiman, A., Kritikos, A., Lohr, C., Pietrzak, T., & Schmidt, A. (2016). Symposium “Embodied Cognition In Cognitive And Behavioural Therapy (CBT): Bodies And Minds Together“ on the 8th World Congress of Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies (2016), Melbourne/ Australia 

Pietrzak, T., Hauke G. & Lohr, C. (2016). Connecting Couples Intervention: Improving couples' empathy and emotional regulation using embodied empathy mechanisms. European Psychotherapy 13, 66-98.     Link here