Monday, September 14, 2009

BAPCA Conference in Reading

Entry for 13 September 2009:

In 2007, not long after I arrived in Glasgow, the British Association for the Person-Centred Approach, or BAPCA, generously gave Beth Freire and I a grant to enable us to update my long-running meta-analysis of Person-Centred-Experiential therapy outcome research. This money paid for part of Beth’s salary for over a year, as we waded our way through an astounding 82 new studies and reviewed the previous analyses. BAPCA’s conference is held only every 2 years, so when the 2009 conference rolled around, they invited Beth and I down to Reading to present the fruits our labour and their investment. (A summary of our analyses was published last Autumn in the BAPCA journal, Person-Centred Quarterly.)

I spent this past Thursday and Friday teaching on our MSc course, so I missed the first two days of the conference. I took the Caledonian Sleeper down to London on Friday night, then caught an early morning train to Reading, arriving at the University of Reading Saturday morning in time for breakfast.

I found BAPCA in the midst of an organizational crisis: Its old steering committee had been in so much strife that no one would agree to serve on it, forcing an ad hoc interim group to limp along until this meeting. Without a steering committee to serve as a board of trustees, it could not function as a charity and would collapse, with various further negative consequences. Saturday afternoon would therefore be devoted to an EGM. What’s an EGM?, I asked. “An extraordinary general meeting”, I was told. Although I’m not yet a BAPCA member, I was asked to attend as an observer. (For reasons somewhat obscure to me, I have yet to join any professional organizations in the UK. I think it’s because I already belong to and maintain membership in 5 or 6 such organizations in the US and can’t get my head around joining another batch here.)

And so through the afternoon I watched as the organization tried to save itself. Actually, I suspect that many organizations could benefit from such a crisis. Death, as it is said, concentrates the mind wonderfully. (The Society for Psychotherapy Research looked into the Abyss at this 1999 Santa Barbara meeting, when it faced a potentially disastrous financial situation because of carelessly overbooked rooms. Those of us who there are deeply grateful for Larry Beutler for bailing us out.)

The relational conflict that had precipitated the crisis keep breaking out in the large group, threatening to derail the process of finding a way to a solution, and had to be contained again and again. Fortunately, it became clear early on that was a substantial number of people ready to step in, if such conflicts could be avoided and if the workload could be maintained at a reasonable level. A key piece of this centered around the definition and mission of BAPCA, that is, what its coordinating group members were being asked to represent. And this came down whether BAPCA is going to be defined in terms of a “classical” nondirective interpretation of the Rogers’ six facilitative conditions or whether a broader, more inclusive definition of person-centredness is going to be applied, thus letting in people like me. They’d done a survey of their members, which turned out to be helplful, because from the survey data, it does appear that about a quarter of BAPCA’s membership favours a narrow nondirective definition, while around a half favours a “large tent” of folks, as long as they subscribe to the Six Conditions. (To borrow from William West’s keynote address earlier in the day, Rogers’ Six Conditions function analogously to the Nicene Creed.)

However, it’s also clear that BAPCA members are not ready to follow the example of the World Association for Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapy and Counselling (WAPCEPC) and explicitly add “experiential” to its name, partly out of respect for the vocal quarter who oppose this and partly because of the ugliness of the resulting acronym. (Who can blame them?) Nevertheless, the definition of exactly what is meant by “Person-centred” remains the subject of disagreement and sometimes controversy, and it was proposed that there should be a day-meeting devoted specifically to this issue.

After a break to clear our heads and stoke up on caffeine. After that, the people who heard been listening to me muttering at the back of the room urged me to say something, so I stood up and said my piece:

“I’m an outsider here, but my dream for BAPCA is that Beth [Freire] here [gesturing to her], and I would both be equally welcome in BAPCA and be seen as equally person-centred. Beth and I are colleagues and we have often listened to recordings of each other’s therapeutic work. We admire each other’s work as a therapist, even though what we do is clearly different. So I suggest that when you meet to discuss the meaning of person-centredness you spend time playing recordings, looking at what people are actually doing in therapy, because then the discussion will be grounded in concrete practice, rather than getting stuck going around in circles at the level of ideology.”

Then I sat down, feeling rather nervous, fearing that I had overstepped my role as observer.

I won’t say this little speech of mine turned things around, which would have made a nice narrative. However, it did seem to be part of a larger process of reflection and redirection in which there followed, in succession, a show of hands strongly affirming a “broad church” interpretation of Person-centredness; a proposal (from Beth) that a large body of volunteers be created to support the board; some guidance on what was expected of the board; a collection of nominees who agreed to stand for election to the board; and as people filed out of the room just before the janitors closed the building, a vote for the board.

There then followed the conference dinner, with both long talks and dancing. Tiane persuaded the DJ to put on a set of Brazilian music, and Beth, Tiane and one of their friends got out there and really danced, along with Suzanne, Janet, and many others. Afterwards, I was so tired I could barely stagger back to my room.

Beth stayed up very late revising our presentation and the next morning we went over it, revising it until we looked up and saw 10 people waiting for us to stop fiddling with the slides and tell them about them instead. It was a very enjoyable session, with Beth and I sharing the presentation and lots of lively discussion with the audience.

For the last plenary Maureen O’Hara did an inspiring presentation on the global crisis, suggesting that we had really better stop fighting with each other and devote ourselves to the multiple crises facing everyone. As soon as she was finished, Sue Wiggin and I hurried downstairs to catch the bus back to the train station and home. Along the way, we managed to get ourselves on an earlier train back up north and spent the time to Preston reviewing the outline for her PhD dissertation and the plan for the remaining studies that will make it up. I finished copy-editing the manuscript we’re trying to tie up, but in the process she ended up running more analyses and adding more bits to it. She left the train at Preston, while I continued up the West Coast Line. As I walked up the hill from the station, the last sun was lighting up the red brick chimneys of Hyndland, making them glow. It had been a short but intense weekend and I was good to be home again.


Isabel Gibbard said...

Hi Robert,
I couldn`t cope with the conference, but am sorry to have missed your presentation. Did only ten people attend? That`s sad! I read the summary in PCQ, but would be very interested to read the details. have you published it yet?

Isabel Gibbard

Robert Elliott said...

Actually, Isabel, there were more than 10 people there; many others filtered in a bit later, as typically happens in conference presentations. It's just that we were startled to realize that there were already 10 people in the room, watching us make last minute adjustments to our presentation.

Robert Elliott said...

And to answer your question, Isabel, Beth and I both have a lot of different writing projects on our plates, so unfortunately we haven't yet gotten around to writing up the full meta-analysis for publication beyond the short summary in Person-Centred Quarterly. I'm happpy to send folks the Powerpoint slides from BAPCA, though.