“The Therapist in Integrative Therapy: Implications for Practice, Research, and Training”
The 32nd Annual Society for the Exploration of Psychotherapy Integration (SEPI) Conference was held Thursday 16 to Saturday 18 June 2016 in Trinity College and what an event it proved to be! Almost 400 delegates representing more than 30 countries attended this conference, including leading lights from the international field of Psychotherapy. Indeed it was one of the best attended SEPI conferences to date.
IICP are extremely proud to have been involved in organising such a prestigious event in the Counselling and Psychotherapy calendar. Our Director, Dr. Marcella Finnerty, chaired the Local Organising Committee which also featured our Registrar, Triona Kearns and our Executive Assistant, Laura Pierce.
Throughout the three days, delegates were treated to over 85 events including workshops, panel discussions, symposiums, plenary sessions, receptions and dinners. All of this against the beautiful backdrop of Ireland’s oldest and most renowned University – Trinity College, Dublin.
Videos of the event can be viewed at this link while the latest SEPI newsletter containing another review of this event can be viewed here.
IICP would like to thank all those involved including the SEPI Local Organising Committee, the SEPI Program and Executive Committees, and all the volunteers who graciously offered their time to assist in the running of this remarkably successful conference. The names of the members of these various groups alongside a wide range of photographs from this event can be found below.
Reflections of Three Senior Therapists on their Careers as Psychotherapists
by Miriam Finnegan (IICP MA Student 2014-2016)
Reflections by Marvin Goldfried, Stanley Messer and Arthur Bohart was a date not to be missed at the 2016 SEPI conference in Dublin. My decision to attend this breakout session was an easy one based on the knowledge I already had of these three clinicians. The audience was treated to over an hour of quality discussion, banter and fun all wrapped up in the context of psychotherapy. What struck me most about this session was the ease with which the therapists delivered their experiences. They were comfortable in their own skin, with each other and with their audience….truly a joy to experience.
The session commenced with a relaxed, informal introduction regarding the session content between the therapists. The session plan was discussed as the audience witnessed solid friendships which seemed to date back as far as early college years. It was noted that the meaning of lifes’ problems today when compared to long ago have changed tremendously. Goldfried talked about the difference between a map and the territory. Telling us how we might look at a map to try to find our way around, then after finding our way, come back to the map, Goldfried then highlighted how different the map looks after viewing the territory. I was reminded of the little nuggets held in old notes from my first years of graduate training. The learning pre training and post therapy was flagged as significant at this early juncture in therapist training. Noting that this is something that happens to all of us in various aspects of our lives, prepared me for my days learning.
As each therapist shared thoughts on their particular home theory, the learning offered to the audience was all embracing. Listening to the background each gave of their professional journey alongside a personal journey; their passion for what they do was evident. This passion must truly transfer to the listener in any given context. It was refreshing to hear discussion at such a senior level trace their journeys through a single theory approach and how the influences of multiple theories shaped them as therapists. While a home theory underpinned practice, the expectation that one must stick to a single approach was removed. Stanley Messer coined it when he said “I became more relational over time both in terms of the theory of Psychoanalysis…the drive towards bistructural theory was more prominent but also in terms of my attitude. I feel I now relate more personally to my patients, more warmly, more informally, I am more relaxed and also more willing to self-disclose”. Arthur Bohart shared his view of therapy as ‘a fundamentally responsive process system where I am not the expert” while Marvin Goldfried highlighted his interest in research by querying process and what gets people to “come around”. Challenging us all to think about the change process Goldfried said “I think one of the issues over the simile of a model which is a good beginning is that it doesn’t really help in understanding the change process”. This seemed to almost stun us all into a silence of deep thought. Goldfried continued by highlighting the use of techniques because “they seem to work but we don’t know what the underlying process of change is”. Goldfried then wondered if we fit our original models of change to the client rather than getting a true picture of change. What struck me was how difficult it is to explain or describe that process and I found myself wondering how I might actually recognise or describe those moments of change in both myself and in clients. This gave me real food for thought, thoughts I have continued to entertain since the conference.
Storytelling was used at times to convey messages to the audience as each therapist shared a little of themselves. Cultural resources such as the Iguazu Falls in Buenos Aires took me on a moments flight of fancy as I registered a deep breath of fresh air combined with the thundering backdrop of the falls. The momentary ‘assault on the senses’ was most welcome.
The struggle between accepting self as a professional or an expert was acknowledged by the many heads nodding in the audience. Time and experience were talked about as impacting positively, shaping the therapist’s identity while on the journey of discovery. It would seem most therapists maintain a foothold in the particular tradition they originally train in as they tend to have a “continued great regard for that way”. As I sat listening to the discussions I was awe struck on being taken back to the early 60s on a voyage of discovery, learning and friendship; the type of learning I never quite seem to get from books. These clinicians were therapy in motion as they covered topics such as supervision, training, spirituality and research in response to questions from the floor.
How therapy has developed over the years is not least of all evident by the ever-growing presence of insurance providers. It was noted that in the US insurance providers will not reimburse a client whereas they will a patient. This was flagged as being likely related to which profession is considered appropriate to deal with people who have mental health problems and was too broad a topic to be further discussed. The meaning of the word client was however given by a member of the audience who told us “it comes from Latin, the Roman cliens; who is the dependent person, who is not entitled to defend his rights or cause or defence; it is really the opposite of the idea”.
What I particularly enjoyed about this breakout session was how the therapists used their home theories in conjunction with years of further professional development in a playful demonstration of therapy practice with each other, while intriguing the audience into a zone of great learning. Psychoanalysis, psychodynamics, Person-Centred, Bi-structural theory, Behaviour therapy, Assimilative Integration and CBT were all mentioned during exchanges which quickly refreshed my memory to various features of each. Experienced therapists are seen to have more hyperlinks which takes us back to how we use our experience in a situation. This resonated with me as I regularly see therapists reaching deep into their data base of knowledge to come up with the goods for ‘this particular case’. The idea of the client having more experience of therapy than the therapist brought a chuckle from the audience as they realised that the therapist is the one more likely to change in that instance. This got me thinking about the experience of students and the important learning supervision ought to provide alongside peer support in that context.
In conclusion I would say, I came out of this session feeling energised and excited. I am at a bit of a loss as to how to get my experience across to you other than to say, I was immersed in learning like I have rarely experienced. These therapists had no point to prove, there was no sense of any competitiveness or lack of respect for the others ideas. Rather there was an energy in the room which embraced the audience (which incidentally spilled out onto the corridor) in a profound experience of therapy education through storytelling, banter, sharing of knowledge and questioning.
As a first time attendee at the SEPI Conference which took place at Trinity College from 16th to 18th June, I was fortunate to experience an incredible variety of workshops, lectures, presentations and symposiums that were on offer from clinicians from more than thirty countries.
I was inspired by the many presentations that were available from luminaries such as Stanley Messer, (Dean of the Graduate School of Applied Professional Psychology at Rutgers University), Art Bohart, (Emeritus Professor at California State University), John McLeod, (Emeritus Professor of Counselling at the University of Abertay Dundee, Visiting Professor to the University of Oslo and The Institute of Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy, Dublin), Mick Cooper, (Professor of Counselling Psychology, University of Roehampton) Marvin Goldfried, (Distinguished Professor of Clinical Psychology at Stony Brook University, New York), and John Norcross, (Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Scranton), to mention just a few!
The Conference had me totally captivated and absorbed and was transformational insofar as it has given me a new direction for future learning and reassured me that my training thus far is at the edge of what’s happening worldwide. Furthermore, the general networking and experience sharing that the Conference provided was invaluable in developing new insights and opening up new doors both personally and professionally. I would like to thank Marcella Finnerty and all the wonderful teachers, mentors and staff at IICP for hosting this wonderful conference and for continuing to provide leadership in the counselling and psychotherapy field.
Marie McGreal, BA (Hons) Student July 2016,
Institute of Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy (IICP)
A Personal reflection of SEPI Dublin 2016 by Andrew Maher
After a long intense year of study, combining the Masters in Pluralistic Counselling with the Certificate in Child and Adolescent Counselling, while simultaneously endeavouring to maintain some sort of reasonable work-life balance, obviously, my initial thought on attending a 3 day International Psychotherapy Conference was that it would be a madness of sorts and the idea didn’t illuminate my world (Especially since the Conference was wedged in between the European championships). While friends were packing their bags and heading off to Bordeaux, Lille, and Paris, I faced the dilemma of deciding between some much-needed downtime versus three days at SEPI. Through some resourceful and competent self-talk, a solution to the dilemma was found. Emerging through an inner dialogue between these two separate and valid parts, I engaged in what could be described as my own internal personal version of “two chair work”. Subsequently, the formation and shaping of a new belief evolved which became instrumental to my attendance at the conference. In simplistic terms, the belief that the conference would no doubt be of some benefit to me on my journey to become a research informed practitioner.
Right from the opening plenary the sense of occasion grabbed me; the realization struck me that, encapsulated within this auditorium were some of the greatest thinkers, researchers and practitioners in the field of Counselling and Psychotherapy. Over the next three days, they were there to share their wealth of knowledge. It felt like a warm, open-armed, community ready to embrace a collective of willing learners and teachers seamlessly, interweaving symbiotically and valuing the experience of the other. It felt as if I was submerged, momentarily, into some sort of Buber like “I-thou” collective utopia. The stage was set by Marcella Finnerty, her opening address succinctly acknowledged the cultural context that formed the back drop to the conference. One of the main themes encompassed a reference to Ireland’s own archaic heritage, signposting the current celebrations of our independence a century on. This for me was only the appetiser, my palate desired more and I was not disappointed. The main course was served up with a multitude of flavours, similar to sampling a selection of tapas – on their own not filling or sufficient but when savoured together, they created a unique dish that was superior to the sum of the parts. This, I personally feel, is what John McLeod offered: a range of ideas and metaphors, steeped in reflexivity for us all to share, sample, taste and swallow as we desired.
Again from a personal standpoint, I found John’s opening reflexive offerings refreshing and not at all what I expected to hear. His three personalised concepts in relation to what therapy is, and how he sees it unfolding, all resonated strongly with me. I felt as if I was extended the unique dualism of a window to look through and a mirror to seek my reflection. John suggested that a therapist could be viewed as a craftsman, a designer or an artist. When portraying the therapist as a craftsman who works with an apprentice, John nourished this concept through an explanation that an apprentice needs to show they can make a specific object under the guidance of the more experienced craftsman. Alternatively, another concept offered was that of the therapist as a designer. The view was that the therapist responds to a design brief, articulated and specified in conjunction or collaboration with the client. Finally, the therapeutic relationship for McLeod embodies that of an artist who helps to create something special – an expression of what it means to be human within particular cultural contexts. Considering myself to be Pluralistic, I would embrace pieces of all three of these approaches, with any given client, within any particular session. This should be cultivated via collaboration, enveloping what might be most helpful and supportive for the client. Ideally, this will not solely be limited to a holding support role, aligned in the here-and-now experience, but simultaneously may be more sustaining going forward. Overall it is McLeod’s view of the artist that I am drawn closest to, not just because it offers a more romantic viewpoint, but because of its existential overtones with regards to meaning and purpose in life. Even the Closing Plenary was an intriguing and interesting event with a discussion led by Bruce Wampold. These luminaries collectively ignited the spark and the conference flame was truly alight and burning bright.
The structure of the conference offered multiple lectures, from symposiums to panel discussion and mini-workshops. I attended and participated in many over the course of the conference. Personally, one of the most informative surfaced in the form of a workshop entitled ‘Helping patients to quit suicidal thoughts: a practical approach to overcoming resistance’. A main point in the workshop centred on how to illicit the client’s own reasons for living. The simplistic vehicle was used to illicit the emotional power of the word “because”, while also introducing the concept of blocking, through a solution focused approach. We engaged in practical experiential role plays which were very useful and informative. This kind of learning style suits me best as I believe that some theory followed up by relevant practical and experiential role plays best facilitates integration. With this in mind, however, the best workshop of my weekend came in the form of the Cooper and Norcross workshop on client preferences. It was full of Charisma, energy, passion and knowledge, with both Cooper and Norcross delivering their presentations into a seamlessly interwoven experiential piece surrounding client preferences. The overarching gem or nugget I absorbed was that clients tend to do better in therapy when they get what they want especially in regards to what Norcross referred to as clients’ strong preferences. Here the word strong is key – the idea being that if we can work collaboratively with the client’s strong preferences, therapy is more likely to produce a better outcome.
I later attended a symposium on Pluralistic counselling, with two outstanding lectures, both presented with their own individualistic expression of what embodies Pluralistic Counselling. Again for me, Cooper excelled, however, the poise, elegance, and refinement of Professor Michael O’Rourke’s delivery and opening references to counselling as a deeply spiritual quest and a creative act, kindled my inner psyche. These gifts were more than just an astute informative snapshot and historical journey exploring the origins of Psychotherapy from Freud to Cooper and McLeod. The voyage navigated beyond multiple points of contact, including Frankl, Jung, May, Yalom. Instead, there appeared to be something else at play in this presentation; history was enmeshed in personal insight and meaning, transcending an information based history lesson, but rather exploring the past to give insight into exactly what had happened.
So, though I didn’t get to share the glorious unforgettable moments of a Wes Houlihan or Robbie Brady goal penetrating the back of a net in France, I hold some very good memories of my own in relation to experiencing this innovative conference in Trinity. Rolf Sundet’s concise pragmatic and even humorous discussion and comments in relation to McLeod’s Cultural Capital and Lumsden’s mystical experience presentations were among the highlights. The final hidden gem in the conference was a theoretical presentation by Ladislav Timulak. His topic, Emotion-focused therapy for generalized anxiety disorder, offered a structured theoretical framework on which to hang anxiety. Timulak injected life and expression to his work by introducing the audience to an audio-visual recording of a therapy session. The session consisted of some two-chair work, where one chair was the worry chair and the other the experiencer chair. He unpicked the differences between emotional and behavioural avoidance. He also introduced me to a new concept he called adaptive sadness, which refers to a sadness in relation to what could have been but wasn’t. Overall the conference was a unique once-in-a-lifetime experience in my hometown of Dublin not far from Temple bar and multiple late night venues I had managed over the years. Yet here I am, only a few years later, writing some new chapters in my own book of life. It truly highlights an authentic metamorphosis in personal development, which brings to mind a poignant quote by Thomas Merton (1956) on which to finish: “Perhaps the book of life, in the end, is the book one has lived, if one has lived nothing, one is not in the book of life”.