|The Tribe Gathers|
The Tribe Gathers
Symposium 2010 Starts a New Kind of Conversation
by Garry Cooper
By now, more than three decades since it began, the Networker Symposium has become an annual rite of spring for the several thousand therapists who regularly attend it—a combination overpopulated family reunion, Mardi Gras, and four-day cram course in psychotherapy's latest developments. Like any annual event, it's also become an occasion to mark time's passage, an opportunity for therapists to reflect on the shifting tides in their profession, the ripple effects from the wider world on our field, and—for those who keep being drawn back year after year—the twists and turns in the smaller-scale sagas of their own lives.
The last time the Symposium convened—in spring 2009, a few months after Barack Obama's inauguration—a mood of unqualified euphoria prevailed among attendees, unquestionably a core Obama constituency—perhaps one of the last surviving groups of unreconstructed, old-fashioned liberals left in the electorate. Many therapists saw Obama not only as a new president, but as a professional role model: a kind of psychotherapist-in-chief, a true grown-up, a wise, compassionate, reflective man comfortable with the feel-good therapeutic language of "hope" and "change." Even if therapists around the country weren't sure exactly what supersized interventions the new president might use, many of them dared to believe that he had both the political flair and the clinical savvy to save us from ourselves.
The prolonged economic downturn and the legislative turmoil of the last year, along with the steady litany of grim news spiced with unanticipated catastrophes feverishly reported by the 24/7 media, has certainly shifted the hopeful mood of a year ago, even among the most ardent Obama supporters. We've had to face the sobering reality that there is no leader, no matter how visionary and heroic we imagine him to be, who has all the answers to the seemingly endless cascade of monumentally complex issues we face. It was this changed mood that Networker Editor Rich Simon acknowledged in his welcoming talk at this year's Symposium, mixing acerbic political commentary with dollops of stand-up comedy and even a stab at channeling an aging rock star.
Paraphrasing a question much beloved of candidates hoping to displace a current office holder, he asked, "How many of you are more optimistic, more certain about progress and improved prospects for the economy, for world peace, for the environment, for the human race—not to mention the future of our noble, if beleaguered, profession—than you were a year ago?" Trying to sum up what had happened in the interval of fading euphoria since last year, Simon appeared to voice the thoughts of many in the audience when he continued, "Are you as astonished as I am by just how weird the world has gotten these days? It isn't only that our elected leader so often doesn't seem particularly in charge, it turns out nobody seems to be in charge—at least no grown-ups. Again and again, our elected representatives have resembled 5-year-olds with Oppositional Defiant Disorder . . . actually make that 5-year-olds with ODD, having a food fight!"