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Hermeneutics for Life: Meet our Alumna Laura Stahman (PhD 2005)

Submitted by Michael Neininger on February 20, 2019 - 10:19am
Laura Stahman
Laura Stahman

I completed my doctorate in Germanics from the UW in 2005. I focused on German-Jewish philosophy and literature through the lens of dialogic philosophy. Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas were the key influences for my exploration. I began teaching full time as a non-tenure track faculty member at Western Oregon University in the fall of 2003 and worked happily at that institution until 2009. I was able to co-design a German Studies major and develop 11 new courses for the program while working there and I know that this was possible due to the excellent mentorship and teaching experiences I had at the UW. I received an award for “excellence in adjunct teaching” in 2007 and was very active with German club, film nights, and conversation tables, as well as offering new courses in English with German literature for the general humanities program. As much as I loved my work as a German professor, there was another “calling” in my life that I felt I needed to fulfill. I discovered that I wanted to move the “I-thou” relationship from theory into practice by becoming a psychotherapist. While teaching at Western Oregon University, I began a Master’s degree in Counseling at Portland State University. I finished my Counseling degree in 2010 and moved to Portland, Oregon to set up a private practice. I also taught German part time at Lewis and Clark College while establishing my client base.

9 years later, I am happy to say that I have a thriving private psychotherapy practice. The art of hermeneutics is, of course, the foundation for therapy, and the transition from interpreting philosophy and literature to lived experiences with clients is a wonderful fit. I am actively engaged in “Existential-humanistic” therapy in Portland and participate in consult groups and reading groups in the field. Happily, the field of psychotherapy has taken the “ethical turn” and is embracing Levinas in a similar way that his work influenced literary studies 20 years ago. So I am able to apply my former theoretical work to a new field of scholarly research. What a gift it has been to be so richly rewarded by the opportunity to do graduate work at UW and to have benefited from wonderful relationships with professors and colleagues.

I feel so gratified to share how a PHD in Germanics can be applied to other fields. And now, though I don’t get to teach Freud, Adler, Jung, Buber and Frankl directly, they all influence the work I am privileged to do with clients every day. 

Thank you to the UW professors who helped me along the way. 

With fond regards, Laura Stahman