18 Jun 2019

An interview with Christiane Sanderson

Christiane Sanderson is a senior lecturer in Psychology at the University of Roehampton and will be with us on the 12th October 2019.

Christiane Sanderson is a senior lecturer in Psychology at the University of Roehampton. 

With 28 years’ experience working in child sexual abuse interpersonal trauma and domestic abuse (and trauma), she has run consultancy and training for parents, teachers, social workers, nurses, therapists, counsellors, solicitors, the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Committee, the Methodist Church, the Metropolitan Police Service, the NSPCC and the Refugee Council. 

She is also an author and some of her books include: Counselling Skills for Working with Shame, Counselling Skills for Working with Trauma: Healing from Child Sexual Abuse, Sexual Violence and Domestic Abuse, Introduction of Counselling Survivors of Interpersonal Trauma, Counselling Survivors of Domestic Abuse.

On the 12th October Christiane will chair and present at our one-day conference: 
The Body in Mind: The Body In The Therapeutic Space

Her presentation is entitled: Dissociation in the Therapeutic Space: Somatic Empathy and Embodiment

We spoke to Christiane about her paper and hopes for the day:

Wimbledon Guild Counselling Training are delighted to having you both chair and speak at our October Conference The Body In Mind - The Body In The Therapeutic space.
Your presentation deals with dissociation in the therapeutic space, what led you to focusing in on this particular area of work?

A. A common reaction to childhood sexual abuse and complex trauma is to dissociate, especially during the traumatic experience. This is a highly adaptive psycho-biological survival strategy that occurs outside of conscious awareness or voluntary control. Dissociation anaesthetises pain and numbs overwhelming and confusing feelings. With repeated exposure to trauma this can become a default setting in which all feelings, even pleasurable ones, are numbed due to the terror of inner experiencing. As a result, survivors commonly become disembodied and are unable to access feelings or bodily sensations. 

Could you tell us a little about somatic empathy and embodiment?

As survivors delete their body and lose contact with their inner experiencing, thoughts, emotions and sensations become somatised yet remain outside of conscious awareness. Practitioners who are embodied and fully present are able to resonate with these feelings and sensations through somatic empathy, or what is sometimes referred to as somatic counter-transference. In somatic empathy the practitioner uses their own body as a tuning fork to experience the felt experience of the client. Practitioners also need to ensure that they are embodied and in contact with their own inner experiencing to optimise somatic empathy and minimise their own capacity to dissociate.

What do you feel are some of the particular challenges for therapists working with clients presenting as dissociated? 

The complexity of dissociation and the range of dissociated states and presentations are often not covered in some training programmes and are therefore poorly understood which can lead to misinterpretation and in some cases misdiagnosis. Recognising that dissociation is a protective survival strategy which has aided survival is critical. In addition, practitioners need to be aware of the hallmark signs of dissociation and help clients to come back into their body through grounding skills. As dissociation is accompanied by cognitive shut-down and lapses in attention and concentration it helps to have a range of skills that will aid focus and ensure that clients are aware of what occurred during the session. 

What are your hopes that delegates will be able to take away from your conference presentation?

My hope is that they will have a better understanding of dissociation., it’s impact and long-term effect. They will also be able to identify the clues to dissociation in the client’s presentation as well as how to use their own bodies to resonate with clients somatic experiencing through the use of somatic empathy. This will be aided by introducing a range of grounding skills and the practice of mindfulness to ensure that both client and practitioner remain present and embodied. 

To buy tickets for the conference please visit:

You might also be interested in

We need your help...

Socially isolated people across Merton are depending on us for immediate and practical support with food deliveries, telephone befriending and much more. In what is a difficult time for everyone, help us support vulnerable people who are likely to feel the impact most.