Anthroposophic psychotherapy aligns with the principles of the Medical Section in three ways. First, it utilizes concepts and language which can be understood by other anthroposophic health professionals. Second, it adopts a salutogenic as well as a pathogenic approach to healing in which the spiritual self of the client is of primary importance (1, 2). Third, therapists work, wherever possible, in conjunction with other anthroposophic therapists especially doctors although many practitioners often, by necessity, have to work in isolation.
Anthroposophic psychotherapy is a bio-psycho-social-spiritual approach to psychotherapy (3) inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner. He established the roots of its methodological and epistemological underpinning (4), its bio-psycho orientation (5), its psycho-social aspects (6) its psycho-spiritual focus (7) and its developmental principles (8). But it only emerged as a distinct therapy after the diagnostic research of Lievegoed (9). Ad and Henriette Dekkers then built on this work both in regard to research and teaching (10) and, as a result of this, anthroposophic psychotherapy took its place within the Medical Section. They also built a worldwide movement with courses in 14 counties in Europe, South America and Asia culminating in the formation of an international association in 2012: the International Federation of Anthroposophic Psychotherapy Associations (IFAPA); an ‘intercollegial and international stream of “work in progress” in connecting and interweaving anthroposophy with academic professional handwork in psychotherapy. A stream in anthroposophy, which is deeply intertwined with the Medical - and Pedagogical streams of the Sections at the Goetheanum in Switzerland’ (11) and which is managed by nine Board members from six countries.
Anthroposophic psychotherapy adopts the same principles as anthroposophic medicine by adding ‘further knowledge’ to existing methods as a result of making discoveries ‘by different methods’ (12, p. 1). But, unlike medicine, there are many different psychotherapeutic methods. So anthroposopic psychotherapy is inevitably pluralistic. It is taught as a post-qualifying course and so each therapist adds to the methods of their prior training. In the language of general psychotherapy this means that anthroposophic psychotherapists adopt an individual integrative model (13) and no two therapists work in precisely the same way. Post-qualifying training courses have been delivered in Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Holland, India, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
In view of its infancy anthroposophic psychotherapy is still developing its clinical interventions as demonstrated in the work of Ad Dekkers (10) which includes exercises for training which can also be developed as clinical interventions. Building on salutogenic principles the interventions aim to stimulate the will of the patient (henceforth client) so that the client’s spiritual self can take hold of their lives and unfold their karma. Anthroposophic psychotherapists offer two important qualities in interdisciplinary teams due to frequent sessions: (a) the possibility of acquiring in-depth knowledge of the client for the benefit or other therapists and (b) supporting client’s transformational healing processes which can be disorientating due to the familiarity of illness, the wish for dependency and fear of taking up the challenges and responsibilities of health. Therapeutic work may involve moving back and forth between the existential phenomenological reality of the client and the intensity of the here and now of the therapeutic relationship, encouraging healthy reflection on experience as opposed to misinterpreting social interactions (14), utilizing the pedagogical law (15) to give structure to a biography which is in a state of confusion, promoting healthy rather than pathological clairvoyance, utilizing somatic mindfulness in trauma work (16), focussing on concrete details to help the client to incarnate when in a state of dissociation and emulating the actions of medicines prescribed by an anthroposophic doctor (17). But this is just a glimpse of the possibilities.
Research into anthroposophic psychotherapy reflects its infancy. It is still at the stage of understanding ‘each individual case thoroughly, regardless of the outcome …. with all its idiosyncrasies’ and so evaluation research is minimal and it is not yet ‘acceptable to employ statistics’ (18, p. 252). Research is predominantly establishing mechanisms of action based on case study research to develop ‘new conditions, novel therapies, new perspectives in pathogenesis, inventive diagnostic procedures’ (19). The methodology is Goethean-anthroposophic in that it involves the principle of ‘delicate empiricism’ based on a ‘manner of observation not from the mind of the observer’ but from what is being observed (4, p. 11) and developing this further with the principles of Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition.
Apart from anthroposophic psychotherapy there are several other variants of psychological therapy working out of anthroposophy in several countries, especially Germany (20-24), the Netherlands (25) and the United States of America whose Association, the Association for Anthroposophic Psychology (AAP), was given full membership of IFAPA in March 2019 in view of its delivery of a 3-Year Certificate Program in Anthroposophic Psychology consisting of nine seminars, two major books (26, 27), doctoral research, making connections with the Medical Section in the United States, strong representation at all three IFAPA international conferences to date and an application which comprised an extensive clinical case presentation and a substantial article.
Dr. phil. John Lees
Anthroposophic psychotherapist in private practice
IFAPA Board member
Course leader, training course in anthroposophic psychotherapy, psychopathology and psychosomatics, Emerson College, UK
Associate Professor of Psychotherapy and Counselling, the University of Leeds, UK
(1) Lees J. Client insight and client as healer in anthroposophic psychotherapy. Self and Society 2018;46(1):13-20.
(2) Lees J. Microphenomena research, intersubjectivity and client as self-healer. Psychodynamic Practice 2016;22(1):22-37. DOI: doi.org/10.1080/14753634.2015.1124801.
(3) Lees J. The emerging therapeutic landscape of psychotherapy in the twenty-first century and the contribution of anthroposophic psychotherapy. European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling 2017;19(2):141-57. DOI: doi.org/10.1080/13642537.2017.1312476.
(4) Steiner R. Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception. New York: Anthroposophic Press; 1886/1978.
(5) Steiner R. Spiritual Science and Medicine. London: Rudolf Steiner Press; 1920/1975.
(6) Steiner R. The Karma of Untruthfulness Vol 2. London: Rudolf Steiner Press; 1917/1992.
(7) Steiner R. Karmic relationships Vol. II. London Rudolf Steiner Press; 1924/1974.
(8) Steiner R. The Kingdom of Childhood. London: Rudolf Steiner Press; 1924/1974.
(9) Lievegoed B. Man on the Threshold. Stroud: Hawthorn Press; 1985.
(10) Dekkers A. A Psychology of Human Dignity. Great Barrngton, Mass: Steiner Books; 2015.
(11) Dekkers H. Membership of IFAPA: letter from IFAPA to Association for Anthroposophic Psychology on 10 June 2019.
(12) Steiner R, Wegman I. The Fundamentals of Therapy. London: Rudolf Steiner Press; 1925/1983.
(13) Horton I. Principles and practice of personal integration In: Palmer S, Woolfe R (eds.) Integrative and Eclectic Counselling and Psychotherapy. London: Sage; 2000.
(14) Bateman A, Fonagy P. Mentalization-based Treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2006.
(15) Steiner R. Curative Education. London: Rudolf Steiner Press; 1924/1972.
(16) Levine PA. In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness. Berlerley, Ca: North Atlantic Books; 2010.
(17) Lees J. Facilitating self-healing in anthroposophic psychotherapy. Forschende Komplementärmedizin. 2013;20:286-289. DOI: doi.org/10.1159/000354192.
(18) Steiner R. The Book of Revelation. London: Rudolf Steiner Press; 1924/1998.
(19) Kienle GS. Methodology and case reporting. 2017 [cited 2019 24 July]; Available from: Link
(20) Haas H, Hundhammer T. Selbsterziehung und der achtgliedrige Pfad - ein Gruppenprogramm. Der Merkurstab (Journal of Anthroposophic Medicine) 2013;66(6):496-506. https://doi.org/10.14271/DMS-20232-DE.
(21) Schopper C. Trauma überwinden: Ein Handbuch für Therapeuten und Betroffene. 2. Aufl. Stuttgart Verlag Urachhaus; 2019.
(22) Reiner J (Hg.) In der Nacht sind wir zwei Menschen. Arbeitseinblicke in die anthroposophische Psychotherapie. Stuttgart: Verlag Freies Geistesleben; 2012.
(23) Treichler M, Reine J. Anthroposophie-basierte Psychotherapie. Berlin: Salumed Verlag; 2019.
(24) Mancini A. Psychotrauma and Psychotherapy put on a broader basis with anthroposophy - a structured overview for research. Der Merkurstab (Journal of Anthroposophic Medicine) 2017;70:(4):278-286. DOI: https://doi.org/10.14271/DMS-20818-DE.
(25) Baars E, Koster E, Schoorel E. Client experiences with an integrated conventional and anthroposophic approach at the "Kindertherapeuticum" in Zeist. Der Merkurstab (Journal of Anthroposophic Medicine). 2012;65(4):335-338. DOI: https://doi.org/10.14271/DMS-19994-DE.
(26) Bento W. Lifting the veil of mental illness: An approach to anthroposophical psychology. Great Barrington, MA: SteinerBooks; 2004.
(27) Tresemer D. The Counselor ... as If Soul and Spirit Matter: Inspirations from Anthroposophy Great Barrington, MA: SteinerBooks; 2015.