BSP Podcast: Caroline Greenwood Dower on Experiences of Anxiety

podcast update

This episode of the BSP Podcast sees Caroline Greenwood Dower present a paper from our 2020 annual conference, ‘Engaged Phenomenology’.

Season 5 episode 109: 17 April 2021

This episode of Season 5 of the BSP Podcast features Caroline Greenwood Dower, University of Durham. The paper is co-authored with Benedict Smith, also University of Durham. The presentation is taken from our 2020 annual conference: ‘Engaged Phenomenology’ Online.

Listen to this episode on the BSP’s Podbean site

You can also find this episode on all good podcasting apps by searching ‘BSP Podcast’.

Caroline Greenwood Dower
‘Experiences of Anxiety: Exploring the phenomenon for therapeutic benefit’

ABSTRACT: Anxiety is the most common mental disorder in primary care and higher education counselling settings.  Observations from clinical psychotherapy suggest a shift in reporting towards “I have anxiety”, an object-related sensation, rather than “I feel anxious”, a subject-related sensation. In anxious states individuals are typically highly vigilant, attentive to and at times preoccupied with the external world.  The physical symptoms of anxiety – breathlessness, increased heart rate – draw attention back to the inner experience of the body, but as with anxious thoughts, they are often reported as ‘intrusive’. In response to the increase in help-seeking students a programme of workshops entitled ‘Calm to the Core’ was developed within a higher education counselling setting, as an applied phenomenological therapeutic alternative to individual counselling sessions.  Group facilitated workshops help participants to explore and share the lived experience of anxiety, through a series of movement and breath-based enquiries.  Our interest is whether these workshops increase body awareness and specifically awareness of how the individual experiences and organises their contact with the world. A helpful way to understand the benefit of this approach is by utilizing Merleau-Ponty’s account of embodiment, particularly how an enhanced sense of embodied agency can help mitigate the effects of previously ‘intrusive’, passively-experienced, anxious symptoms. This paper addresses the practical application of phenomenology to common mental disorders for therapeutic benefit.  Some modalities of psychotherapy have a rich tradition of employing phenomenological methods within a talking therapy.  Here, movement is central to the approach, combined with an emphasis on the group verbal sharing of first-person lived experiences.  Diagnoses of anxiety, particularly in young adults, are increasingly becoming part of how such people regard their identity.  An increased understanding of anxiety is thus urgent.  To this end this paper will present pilot research findings from the workshops and set-out areas for future research.


Caroline Dower is a psychotherapist and Head of the Counselling Service at Durham University. Caroline has a long-standing interest in the integration of body-based methods into talking therapies and is beginning a study of the experience and conceptualisation of student anxiety in the ecology of the university setting.

Dr Benedict Smith is Assistant Professor in Philosophy at Durham University. His research interests include phenomenology, philosophy of psychiatry, Wittgenstein and Hume. Dr Smith’s research has focused on narratives of depression and the value of lived-experience in an interpersonal setting. His current research uses related phenomenological insights to address experiences of anxiety.

This recording is taken from the BSP Annual Conference 2020 Online: ‘Engaged Phenomenology’. Organised with the University of Exeter and sponsored by Egenis and the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health. BSP2020AC was held online this year due to global concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic. For the conference our speakers recorded videos, our keynotes presented live over Zoom, and we also recorded some interviews. Podcast episodes from BSP2020AC are soundtracks of those videos where we and the presenters feel the audio works as a standalone.

The British Society for Phenomenology is a not-for-profit organisation set up with the intention of promoting research and awareness in the field of Phenomenology and other cognate arms of philosophical thought. Currently, the society accomplishes these aims through its journal, events, and podcast. Why not find out more, join the society, and subscribe to our journal the JBSP?