Rebecca WyssEditor society / magazine
He thinks too much. Broke, if you will. Unhealthy. He knows that, but once it starts to rattle, rattle it through. A compulsion. Marco, that’s his name, slides back and forth on the seat, tugs at the wooden beads that nestle around his wrist. Marco is waiting. Waiting for the woman everyone in this cramped room in a Bern seminar hotel is longing for: Stefanie Stahl. The most famous psychologist in Germany. But first he wants to get rid of something: “You women are far ahead of us. Have finer antennas.” Men have to fight hard to get access to their feelings. Clearly: unfair.
Solving problems, getting out of old patterns, inner peace – that’s what the seminar participants are looking for.
Marco fights. One of very few men this Saturday. But he has a lot in common with the women here: he wants to break out of old patterns. get rid of problems. Just like the woman with the short hair who has been through a divorce and no longer wants to live with the handbrake on. Or the one with the soft voice that always gets mixed up with the wrong person. And the one with the silk foulard, who wants to get out of the nice-girl role and has a hard time saying no. Her hopes rest on this day with Stefanie Stahl. They pay 220 francs for this. Marco says: “If I get one step further today, I’ll be happy.” The inscriptions on the shirts of the women who collect the banknotes at the entrance already suggest: “Everything is possible”. They belong to the esoteric association that organizes the event.
Psychotherapist and best-selling author: Stefanie Stahl.
Steel is a pro
Shortly after ten o’clock, Stefanie Stahl (59) steps in front of the full rows of seats. The air is thick enough to cut, her facial expression reveals: I don’t like it. But Stahl is a professional, manages to smile and says: “Dear ones!” And explains: “Our structure is not that complicated.” The brain is software. Be shaped by the experiences of the first years of life. These can be reprogrammed. She wants to help with that. This is how she sees her job. She says: “I want us to become better people.”
It is similar in her book “The child in you must find a home”. In it, the psychotherapist uses metaphors such as the “inner child”, the “sun child” and the “shadow child” to describe how positive and negative childhood experiences shape subsequent relationships. The book is a hit. It was sold 2.4 million times. In Switzerland it has been at the top of the non-fiction bestseller list for years. In autumn she followed up with her book “Who we are”, which went straight into the top bestseller places in Germany. There is also a YouTube channel, two podcasts and a Germany tour with a psychology show that sometimes attracts 10,000 viewers. In an interview with the Sunday Blick magazine last spring, she said: “I do the podcasts because I enjoy them and they are successful.”
Steel is as popular as the last cola in the desert. The German media are fans of her. There is hardly a critical line, on the contrary: For the magazine “Stern” she is “the Angela Merkel among the authors”. Not for nothing: “Stern”, “Welt”, “Die Zeit” – the psychologist provides them all with columns and advice formats. And the media are loyal to her: On the day in Bern she introduces “Stefan from the ‘Stern'”, who accompanies her for a portrait. And at the Frankfurt Book Fair in autumn, the most important in Germany, she rushed from one interview to the next, saying in a video on Instagram: “I’ve always dreamed of that.” Stefanie Stahl from Trier has reached a place where no psychologist in the German-speaking world has done before: right at the top. At the forefront of a trend. And it has long since arrived in Switzerland.
A woman in demand: she gave many interviews at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
The psycho trend pervades society
A commercial employee, a nurse, a teacher – a cross-section of society crouches in the Bern seminar room. People are engaging with their inner lives like never before. It used to be done secretly on the therapist’s couch – if at all. Today the trend is reflected in the advice market, in newspapers and in bar conversations. Psychologization permeates all areas of life. Our language, our view of ourselves and the world: trauma, toxic relationships, triggers – psycho-slang has become commonplace. Just like those affected coming out. Influencers label their profiles “mentally ill” or “mental health” and talk about their treatment in Instagram videos as if it were a new hobby. And a book has just come out about rapper Stress’s difficult childhood and depression. That can help many, is not only bad. But it is there, always and everywhere.
Psychology is omnipresent. Click, stream and buy. It has become a consumer good. Works according to the rules of the market: supply reacts to demand, the demand is huge. And Stefanie Stahl delivers. What is behind their success?
Stahl is a star you can touch, she is on first name terms, on her website she signs “Your Steffi”, like a good friend. One who dares a lot. She has already written twelve books. She was one of the psychotherapists in German-speaking countries who started it. And that’s this woman’s other secret. Stahl embodies what so many aspire to be: a confident woman. It sounds as an original sound like this:
“Stern”: “My new book is really, really good. There was nothing like that before.”
“Tages-Anzeiger”: There are probably “hundreds of thousands of people who are walking around outside and whom I have helped”.
From the book “The child in you must find a home”: Stahl has “developed a problem-solving structure” (…) “with which you can solve almost all problems”.
What does she mean by that? What to achieve with your books?
Stahl has written twelve books.
Video call to Stefanie Stahl. She says: “I give people the common thread.” A blueprint of the psyche. She wants to help reflect the early childhood imprint. Her approach: If you understand where you come from, you can make freer decisions. “Stop!” say, behave differently, be more socially acceptable. You are no longer a “slave of your own brain”. She says: “If humanity had started earlier, we would have a much better world today.”
opposition from colleagues
Healing on a grand scale. We asked two experts who know Stahl’s work what they think of it: Lutz Jäncke, neuroscientist and psychologist, and Daniel Strassberg, Zurich psychoanalyst and specialist in psychiatry and psychotherapy. Her conclusion: critical.
Lutz Jäncke says: “Change doesn’t happen with a snap of your fingers, it’s incredibly difficult to achieve.” The brain needs structure and hates chaos like hell, so hold on to old patterns. Change is possible, he says. “But only through countless repetitions, through constant doing and thinking differently.”
The emeritus professor of neuropsychology: Lutz Jäncke.
Daniel Strassberg argues similarly: “Most people cannot break their patterns.” This is often kept secret by guidebook authors. There is something immoral about providing people with the illusion that changing one’s patterns is easy. But the illusion pulls. Especially in these times. He knows this from his practice, which he led until recently: in the past, world events would have worried people less, in recent years they have been more insecure than ever because of Covid, the climate crisis and war. Steel jumps into this gap. “Her books comfort.” In addition, according to Strassberg: “Your books are of a frightening banality.” She used scientific knowledge and trivialized it beyond recognition.
Critical psychoanalyst: Daniel Strassberg.
Stefanie Stahl disagrees: She reveals the structures of the human psyche. “Some people confuse that with simplification.” That’s why so many people could relate to it. She also says: “The approach with the inner child is not new.” But she created a new concept from this, among other things by contrasting the injured inner child, i.e. the shadow child, with the sun child as a vision of the healed self.
The criticism bounces off the hall door in Bern. The outside world fades. In the here and now, only one thing counts: your own inner world. Just in time everyone was drawing their inner children on paper with colored pencils and filling them with sentences about their childhood experiences. Now Stahl is looking for volunteers. A woman with a bun shyly sneaks forward and hands the psychologist her note. Stahl addresses the audience: “You all open your hearts now and listen.” Then she puts her hand on the woman’s shoulder and says: “Oh dear, my poor little mouse. Mom was always stressed. Was so unapproachable. And you always felt rejected.” The woman looks down, says nothing. Stahl strokes her shoulder and continues: «There was very little love. It wasn’t your fault.” And in the audience someone wipes tears from their cheeks.
The big question on the day of the seminar in Bern: How did my childhood shape me?
At the invitation of esotericists
The preoccupation with the self. Belief in the individual. This is the essence of our zeitgeist. And hence the triumph of psychology. Just like that of the esoteric. Although the two are far apart – psychology is based on science, esotericism on belief – they collide this Saturday in Bern. Stefanie Stahl came at the invitation of the esoteric network «The Source». Just like the historian Daniele Ganser before her, who suggested that terrorist attacks were staged and that those of September 11, 2001 in the USA were not carried out by Al Qaeda. A popular conspiracy theory. Or the self-proclaimed Toggenburg “medium” Christina von Dreien, who spread the esoteric fairy tale that the corona virus was brought into the world by dark forces.
The founder of “The Source” also has a direct line to the supernatural world: on his website, Patric Pedrazzoli from Bern advertises a 21-day long-distance healing treatment that also works when someone is on another continent – scientific studies have shown that . All he needs is a photo of the person concerned. What it also says: “Possible cure for all diseases”, including: “Cancer”. One thing is certain: all nonsense. In August, he denied the allegation of making promises of salvation to the news portal Zentralplus. In a statement to the platform, he wrote: “I am for conventional medicine and alternative healing.”
Stefanie Stahl distances herself from all of this, saying: “I’m zero spiritual and esoteric.” And she has nothing to do with conspiracy theorists like Daniele Ganser.
Neither do the women and men in the hall. They only want one thing: to work on themselves. Towards the end of the day they rush to the book table, stock up, and drive home happy with full bags. The only one of whom there is no trace: Marco.