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|The Best of Times|
The Best of Times
A record crowd gathers at Symposium 2009
By Richard Handler
By now, we're used to huge numbers being thrown around in Washington, but, in the midst of today's Great Financial Meltdown, to get 3,600 therapists to take their credit cards out of cold storage and troop to D.C. to attend a professional conference is no mean feat. Yet with therapy conference attendance around the country down from 30 to 50 percent and clinicians everywhere complaining of declining caseloads and cutbacks in public agency budgets, this year's Psychotherapy Networker Symposium, held March 26-29 in Washington, D.C., not only set a new attendance record, but seemed to generate a communal electricity that one attendee described as a "jolt of joy."
Of course, conferences are often little more than occasions to get CE credits and listen dutifully to the latest research findings recited from behind podiums as job hunters anxiously try to sniff out new positions and wide-eyed neophytes try to figure out where they fit in the professional pecking order. But after 32 years, the Symposium has established its own distinctive following with nearly 80 percent of its attendees returning year after year, some having attended regularly for more than two decades. As Networker editor Rich Simon observed in his opening address, "Many of you have been coming for so many years that, if you're like me, you've begun to feel that you're probably related to most everyone here. Somehow, somewhere back in time, our family trees all conjoined in a vast underground tangle of interlocking roots, juicy family gossip, and colorfully eccentric relatives." He concluded, "So, in addition to everything else, the Symposium has come to feel like the world's most overpopulated family reunion."
As usual, the conference emphasized the value of cultivating clinical curiosity and an openness to new perspectives, while avoiding clinicians' worst occupational hazard—becoming the kind of pompous, know-it-all talking head so often parodied in the movies and literature. In order to shake its audience up and engage them in the now-ness of the Symposium's carnival spirit, the conference has in recent years launched itself with a musical production number. As befitting an event devoted to "Seizing the Day: Therapy and the Art of Engagement," the opening ceremony featured editor Simon, backed up by the 20 members of the Symposium Tabernacle Choir and Marching Band recruited from participants in the Symposium's initial Creativity Day. In this rousing number, he unveiled his best Mick Jagger strut to get the entire audience up on its feet to sing and dance along with a raucous rock tune called "You Got the Music in You" that climaxed in a tumultuous standing ovation.