Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tenth World PCE Conference in Antwerp

Entry for 16 July 2012:

I’d not been back in Scotland for more than 10 days before I was off again, this time to the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy.  First I went to Veldhoven for another EFT Level 3 supervision day, then it was back to Antwerp for the Tenth Conference of the World Association for Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapy and Counselling.  This was like a return to the beginning, because the very first of the these conferences was also in Belgium (1988, Leuven), and many of the same players were present: Among them were: Greet Vanaerschot (who gave the plenary lecture on the first night), Mia Leijssen (who made several brief appearances), Germain Lietaer (who was in charge of the first conference), Paul Dierick (a PhD student at the time) among others.

My keynote address was at midday the next day.  I had found myself unable to work on it while I was in California helping care for my mother, so I didn’t start working on my slides until I returned to Scotland.  I finished it two days before we left, but started coming down with a cold after I arrived in Belgium and was not feeling too well by the time I gave it.  We spent the two hours before my talk fighting with the equipment, so I was quite nervous by the time I started.  I’d never been a World PCE conference keynote speaker before, and these talks are often of historical importance, or controversial, or both.  And of course I had way too much material and didn’t have a clear strategy for dealing with this.  I’d also been struggling with the need to somehow integrate what I’d been through with my mother for 7 weeks with my work as a researcher and therapist.  So the night before I added sections of the Conversations Journal Poem Sequence to the beginning and end of my talk.  In the event this was both personally satisfying and also fit well with my talk, underscoring the fundamentally Person-centred nature of the work I do as an EFT therapist.  The abstract for my talk is given at the end of this entry, and I’ll soon do an entry here on the Conversations piece.

Then Brian Rodgers and I did a thematically-linked panel of outcome results and case studies in the late afternoon on the same day as my keynote.  After that, first thing the next morning Graham Westwell, Beth Friere and I did a panel on our person-centred-experiential therapy competence scale, which turned out to be a lot of fun. 

By this time, however, I was pretty wiped out from my cold and lack of sleep.   I dragged myself through the rest of the conference.  I had to miss the last half day of the conference of the final plenary panel in order to fly to Italy to make up training I’d had to cancel last May in Florence and Rome.  However, I did catch interesting and stimulating EFT presentations by Jeanne Watson, Rhonda Goldman, and Laco Timulak, including Jeanne and Laco’s new work developing EFT for Generalised Anxiety Difficulties, which I found very promising.  And Rhonda reported further details on the Self-soothing task. 

The conference banquet was one of the best I’ve even attended, in “Horta House”, an art noveaux event space near Rubens’ House in Antwerp.  I let myself relax in the company of Germain and Greet sitting on either side of me, while the jazz washed over us as we talked and ate an excellent conference meal.  For the occasion, Nele Stinckins wrote a song parody of Funicula, Funiculi, satirising the keynote speeches (including mine) and minor conference glitches; this was performed by a chorus of conference organisers, while Nele and some of the other Belgian women did the can-can.  Amazing!

Here is the Abstract of my keynote talk: Working with anxiety difficulties in Person-Centered-Experiential psychotherapies: Theory, research and practice

Anxiety difficulties are common in clinical and nonclinical populations and are a clinically and theoretically important recent focus for Person-Centered-Experiential (PCE) psychotherapies.  In this presentation I summarize current and emerging theory, research and practice with clinical anxiety, focusing particularly on social anxiety and emotion-focused therapy (EFT, also known as process-experiential therapy).

First, I summarize three current theories of anxiety: (a) person-centered, which emphasizes conditions of worth and incongruence; (b) focusing-oriented, which points to difficulties accessing immediate experiencing and maintaining working distance; and (c) EFT, which locates the source of anxiety difficulties in early experiences of rejection, neglect, abuse or bullying by significant others, resulting in a harsh internal critic.  This generates primary maladaptive shame and fear, which turn motivates behavioral and emotional avoidance or self-interruption. 

Second, I report the results of a meta-analysis of 19 outcome studies of PCE therapies for range of anxiety difficulties, most commonly supportive or person-centered therapies carried out by CBT researchers.  Results indicate large amounts of pre-post change (d = .94), medium-sized controlled effects (d = .5), but a medium-sized negative comparative effect vs. CBT (d = -.39).  I then summarize highly promising results from an ongoing study of PCE for social anxiety, which points to the possibility of developing more effective PCE approaches for anxiety.

Finally, using the results of this study, I describe a general therapeutic approach for working with this client group, including: (a) establishing a genuine, empathic, caring relationship; (b) explicating anxiety-generating processing by careful unfolding or re-experiencing of anxiety-provoking situations coupled with work on the client’s internal critic and self-interruption processes; (c) focusing, empathic affirmation and emotion regulation work to strengthen the sense of self; (d) work to transform core emotions that generate anxiety into new, more adaptive emotional responses; and (e) consolidation of client change.

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