Heidelberg Node

Project 1: The Theoretical Foundations of Embodied Intersubjectivity

The experienced researcher at the Heidelberg node has the task of developing a comprehensive theoretical framework that highlights the relevance of embodied and enactive approaches to investigations concerning the relation between basic self-disturbances and disturbances of social cognition. She will engage in particular with those problems of intersubjectivity that emerge in the field of psychopathology – especially in the schizophrenic and the autistic condition – and to propose a conceptual comparison of self-disturbances experienced in these two conditions as an alternative to currently dominant individualist theories. In a more general sense, the experienced researcher will also work to integrate empirical evidence from the behavioral and cognitive sciences with phenomenological theories in order to identify interrelations among neural processes, self-experience, self-other relations and social cognition. In addition, she will support the theoretical core activity of the TESIS project and assist in integrating empirical findings produced in the network’s nodes within a unified and coherent philosophical framework for embodied intersubjectivity.

Project 2: Embodied Intersubjectivity in Schizophrenia and Autism (Laura Galbusera)

As a first part of the research project we will carry out a qualitative psychotherapy process study. The prior aim is to complement the RCT outcome study of a dance-movement intervention with schizophrenic patients, with the qualitative dimension of psychotherapy process research. This may help to identify the mechanisms underlying therapeutic change. The qualitative evaluation of change will address two different levels: on one hand the reflective, phenomenological level of the patient’s experience and on the other hand the implicit bodily level during the interaction (the patient’s bodily and phenomenological way of being in the world). The changes occurring during the therapy/intervention will be made apparent by pre- and post-therapy (/intervention) assessments.

We will implement during the pre-therapy assessment a deep phenomenological interview focusing on patients’ anomalous self-experience (EASE interview; Parnas et al., 2005) and we planned to use a qualitative semi-structured interview on psychotherapy change processes (Change interview, Elliott et al. 2001) for the post-therapy assessment. Alongside the quantitative measurement of change implied in the RCT methodology, these interviews will allow a qualitative description of what actually changes and what is effective in the intervention.

At the implicit bodily level, the interactional synchrony between the patient and the interviewer will be assessed with Motion Energy Analysis (MEA; Grammer et al. 1999) in the pre- and post-therapy assessments. As embodied intersubjectivity is a major dimension addressed by the dance-movement intervention, a process of change is expected also at this bodily level of interaction. On the basis of the results related to this specific dance-movement intervention we may attempt to delineate some relevant principles for an effective treatment approach to schizophrenia.

The second part of the research project consists in a comparison between schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders. From a phenomenological point of view, schizophrenia and autism are considered as disturbances of embodiment: whereas schizophrenia is considered to be primarily characterized by a disembodiment of the self, autism is considered a disorder of primary embodied intersubjectivity. Through a content analysis of the EASE interviews, which allows for a detailed exploration of the patients’ phenomenological experience, we may be able to distinguish the core characteristics of the two psychopathologies, with a particular focus on the embodied aspects of each.

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