Monday, October 30, 2006

North American SPR-Burr Oak 2006

Entry for 26-28 October, 2006:

1. Return. The main excuse for our trip back to Ohio was the conference of the North American Society for Psychotherapy Research (NASPR) in Burr Oak. Burr Oak is a State Park with lodge/conference center in southern Ohio, nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians. I was third president of this regional chapter of SPR and have fond memories in particular of the first NASPR conference, which I helped organize in 1992. Because Tim Anderson was the local organizer for the meeting, it inherited some of the traditions of the Ohio Local group of SPR, including the after-dinner speech (Jeremy Safran provided the entertainment this year in a talk on mindfulness and emotion regulation) and poetry reading.

2. Memorial for Hans Strupp. A high point this year was the memorial session for Hans Strupp, who died just a few weeks ago. Irene Elkin, David Orlinsky and Marv Goldfried, our three elder statespersons, led this, but others including Tim Anderson and Mike Lambert contributed also. I found this to be quite moving, particularly as an evocation of Hans’ unique mix of creativity, ambition, scientific integrity, warmth, and formality. (My experience of Hans can be found in the poem I had written for him, which follows as a separate entry to this blog.)

3. Cross-linking at SPR. My favorite thing about SPR is the opportunity it provides to cross-linking with different groups of researchers. This time, I was able to make a very interesting connection with Jeremy Safran, whose team is studying things like “intersubjectivity” in therapy, defined as “moments of meeting” in which both client and therapist are able to recognize and appreciate each other’s subjectivity, creating a metaphorical “third space.” This sounded so much like Relational Depth, that I finally button-holed Jeremy in a hallway and belaboured him with a proposal that we initiate a dialogue among his group, Mick Cooper and his team here at Strathclyde and members of the KU Leuven group in Belgium. In other words, I began to see the possibility of creating a connection between the interpersonal-psychodynamic folks that Jeremy is part of us and the emerging interpersonal wing of the Person-Centred-Experiential approach.

4. Once more into the breach. I was fairly apprehensive about my own scientific presentation, for multiple reasons. First, I’ve been so busy for the past year that it’s been really diffcult progressing my core scientific work, so I had to pull a set of data out the hat (i.e., the recently-closed CSEP-2 research protocol data set). Second, two of the 3 members of the panel I was moderating pulled out at the last minute, leaving my somewhat in the lurch. (Emily B. from Toledo was overwhelmed with internship applications, and the other presenter didn’t show because she had failed to obtain permission from her ethics review panel before collecting her data.) In order to fend off disaster, I managed to lay my hands on enough bits to be able to cobble together a presentation of Emily’s material on the Narrative Retelling task in Process-Experiential therapy. I stayed up far into the night finishing my own presentation on the Therapist Experiential Session Form- 2nd version. I was afraid (or perhaps hoping) that only Diane would show up, but instead there were 14 people there, and it went off better than I had hoped, with the audience being very interested, appreciative and asking really good questions.

5. Poetry Reading; Honorary Lifetime Membership in NASPR. Saturday night’s activity was the poetry reading event that has become a fixture of the Ohio SPR meetings. Jeff Hayes asked me to lead it off. I had already read my poem for Hans Strupp a couple of hours earlier, so there was a danger of folks getting an overdose of my heavy poetry. Fortunately, Diane intervened and persuaded me to read only 2 of the 5 poems that I had picked up. (It is such a gift to have someone to rein me in when I threat to go overboard!) Jeff Hayes stunned me by presenting me with a plaque honoring me for my contributions to the North American SPR and bestowing me with an “Honorary Lifetime Membership in the North American Chapter”; he asked Diane to come up also, and the audience gave us a standing ovation.

I explained how I accidentally started the Ohio SPR tradition of poetry reading as my way of dealing with the dilemma of how to make the after-dinner speech entertaining, and how the response of my OSPR colleagues had inspired me to write more poetry over the past 3 years. I recalled how Laura Rice had helped me to see that there is a role for poetry in psychotherapy through her work on evocative empathy.

Diane had advised me to stick with my retirement poem, “On leaving the Shire” and my starting work poem (see Blog entry for 1 October), as a way of taking the audience through my current transition. I had written the Shire poem very specifically for my students and colleagues at the University of Toledo. However, as I read it and reflected afterwards on the audience response to this poem, it is clear that they heard the poem as my saying goodbye to them also, thus lending it an added poignancy.

I’m always afraid that my heavy poems will intimidate people; however, on this occasion I was very pleased with the mix of original and interpreted poems that followed. In the end, even as I was saying goodbye to the close relationship I’ve had with my North American psychotherapy research fellow-travelers, I felt more at home and appreciated than ever. The nice thing about SPR is that there is always next year’s international meeting (Madison in June 2007).

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