Tuesday, June 27, 2017

SPR Moments: A Suite of Small Scientific Poems

(On the occasion of the 48th Annual International Conference of the Society for Psychotherapy Research)

1. Random Intercept and Slope

Each of us came here by a different route
And each of us has a different conference,
Paths winding through the program,
Highs and lows, fast and slow,
Pauses and pulses: Who can bear it all?

 2. On the SPR Presidential Address

There is the moment of meeting, the coming together
Of the different tribes, nations and languages.
Friends and competitors reconnect as we gather
For the rituals of welcome, reflection and celebration.

Some we recognize for their accomplishments or promise,
But one of us is made to put down their mark
In an unrecognized act of sacrifice:
Perhaps a tale full of twists and turns,
A labyrinthine journey, made more coherent
Than the bits of which it’s made.   Or perhaps
A bold proposal for future research,
Charting a course to tempt or inspire the rest of us,
But running the risk of crashing on the rocks. 

The truth is, all SPR presidential addresses
Are dangerous Cretan bull-jumping rituals.
We ask those we chose to grasp the branching horns
Of our most difficult research dilemmas,
And to somersault right over them, lifting us with them,
Making them bear the peril of fatal impalement.

3. Return to the Beginning

Logo for SPR 2000 Chicago
As in nature so at SPR conferences:
Researchers of like feather like to flock together,
Congregating like cranes with others of shared plumage,
Divided by the colours of our diverse theoretical orientations
Or the Darwinian beaks of our methodological bent:
Qualitative or psychodynamic; EFT or outcome monitoring.

But something in me sometimes wants to see
What I’ve been missing, what the other birds are up to,
And I pick a panel more or less at random.
The result is also random: maybe the same old story,
Or something that I find obscure or wrong-headed.
But sometimes I hit the jackpot: A useful,
Lovely new research tool or approach,
A brilliant presenter, an old friend in the audience.

This time it was an old, lost research love:
Significant events, those rare moments
Of transformational magic when something shifts.
In a panel on Saturday morning. this transported me
Forty years to the 1977 Wisconsin meeting
And a long talk with Les that changed my direction.
Now, in 2017, I realized I’d arrived
At the perfect convergence, the auspicious moment
I’d been waiting for without knowing it,
My beginning looping around
Like the snake that eats its tail.

4. Last Day in Toronto

Every year we come to the same, recognizable
Reaction point at the last session of the conference:
Exhausted, elated, we try to soak up
One last inspiration to take home.

As the conference ends, two dear friends
Each part of my SPR experience from the start,
Tell me, “This is my last SPR.”
With regret they say, “It’s just too much:
Too many papers, the topics too obscure,
The young ones who talk too fast,
The banquet noisy, the travel difficult.

Wistfully shaking their heads, they say
But gently, to soften the blow:
“I don’t think I’ll be coming back again.”

I find myself fighting this, in my own way:
One, I follow after, eking out one last
SPR walk, not to dissuade, but to delay
The moment of a parting that I can hardly bear.
With the other, I arrange an oral history project,
And another friend conveys them away.

While one part of me understands and blesses them on their way,
Another part selfishly protests this parting:
“I’m not ready for you to leave”,
Like a child demanding one more story,
Or the dancers at the very end of this year’s banquet,
Chanting, “One more, one more, one more dance.”

                                            -Robert Elliott, 27 June 2017