Tuesday, November 27, 2007

COSCA Research Conference as Little Island

Entry for 26 November 2006:

After my arrival in Scotland last year, my first conference experience was at the annual research conference (or “dialogue”) of the Scottish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, known as COSCA. On that occasion, I was a keynote speaker, but I enjoyed it and felt it was a good opportunity to network. This year, I returned as an ordinary citizen, and found myself up to my ears in presentations, making for an intense but satisfying day.

The plenary sessions this year consisted of a careful selection of talks on key issues on counselling competencies and regulation, including presentations by Alex McMahon from NHS Education Scotland (about the status of the CBT-focused Improving Access to Psychological Therapies initiative here in Scotland), and Marc Lyall from Skills for Health, the people who are spearheading the writing of competencies for regulating counselling and psychotherapy, a process which is constantly threatening to write Person-Centred/Experiential (PCE) counselling/ psychotherapy out of the picture. Finally, Kay Kennedy, a lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University, provided a realistic ground-level view of what regulation was likely to look like, by taking us through concrete examples of competency documents for Art Therapy and Occupation Health. It is important to be on top of these various political processes, so these updates were quite valuable for orienting us to the wide world of health care all around us.

As I said, I turned out to be quite busy at the conference, going into a version of my SPR overkill mode and presenting throughout the day:

First, the Social Anxiety team had decided to present our heuristic study of our own social anxiety experiences, so Gary Mooney summarized the results of the emotion scheme analysis, while Rebecca Black and Grahame Jack together presented analyses of the sources of social anxiety, together with peoples’ experiences of helpful and unhelpful processes in recovery from social anxiety. Time was short, but I thought they handled it well, and it was good to see this coming out of the work of the social anxiety team. Then, I briefly described the Social Anxiety study research protocol, and we concluded the session with a useful discussion.

After lunch, I presented, with help from Beth, the latest version of the Person-Centred/ Experiential (PCE) therapy meta-analysis, now featuring 36 new studies (up from 29 studies 10 days ago). We are continuing to refine this presentation, but the new studies are predominantly anti-PCE, resulting in a small but statistically significant overall unweighted comparative effect size of -.17 against PCE (and in favour of CBT). While this is totally consistent with the previous analyses of the large 2004 data set, it does make explaining the results more complicated. And, although I succeeded last week in successfully explaining standard deviations to the fulltime diploma course students, I did not totally succeed today. I really need to develop some cute slides explaining this concept in lay language! In end, though, I think we got our main points across that: (a) the facts are (generally) friendly and worth knowing about; and (b) practitioner research is important and can make a difference.

But that wasn’t all: Tracey and Beth were scheduled to present our very early work on the Therapeutic Relationship Scale, a new measure of Person-Centred concepts of relationship. Unfortunately, Tracey had to go out of town on urgent personal business, which left Beth and I to cover the session. We managed, however, first summarizing the measure development process and the rationale for the new instrument. We then handed out the draft version of the instrument for people to fill out and give us feedback on, which the audience set to with serious intent and which provided a nice change from the earlier, more didactic presentations.

After it was all over, Wendy Traynor, Pete Sanders, Mick and I hung around for awhile talking about research and book projects, before we walked Mick down to the train station. Then, Pete, Wendy and I went out for a delicious meal of Chinese vegetarian dishes, providing a welcome antidote for recent Thanksgiving-related carnivorous excesses. The full moon shone bright over Dunblane as I left them to catch my train back to Glasgow.

I like these little conferences, full of intense bursts of information and experience and leaving me with a deeper and richer sense of context. I end up feeling like the cat in my favorite picture book from my childhood, The Little Island, by Margaret Wise Brown: An island unto myself but still connected under the sea to the whole wide world.

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