The following are blogs from our Student Scholarship recipients, detailing their experiences on Days 1 and 2 of the 2015 Psychotherapy Networker Symposium, held in March.
I found Deany Laliotis’s “Mastering the Craft of Trauma Treatment” workshop very helpful and informative. We learned about the four core clinical skills needed to work with clients who experience developmental trauma. These skills are: tracking the client’s experience in a moment-to-moment way, effectively negotiating with different parts of yourself to facilitate change, relating to a profound sense of aloneness that lies at a trauma’s core, and accessing and developing a client’s strengths and resiliency.
Out of these four skills, I believe the most difficult skill to learn is relating to the client’s profound sense of aloneness. It is also one of the most important ones, as our clients’ desires to be heard and understood are of utmost importance in life and in therapy. Out clients need interpersonal attunement in order to generate intrapersonal attunement. However, we cannot attune with our clients if we are lost in our own thoughts or therapeutic agendas.
The Keynote speaker, Jon Kabat-Zinn, seemed to highlight the importance of staying attuned to the client’s needs in therapy with his message of Mindfulness. Cultivating mindfulness, he said, enables the therapist to be more fully present with the client and enhance empathy, while still allowing us to be focused on the larger goal of strengthening the therapeutic alliance.
I had an absolutely wonderful time in the “Joy of Singing” workshop led by Ysaye Barnwell on Thursday’s Creativity Day. I used to do a lot of choir singing when I was in high school, but more recently, I haven’t had the opportunity to indulge myself on this kind of level. Singing is something I’ve truly missed, and it made me so happy to spend time with so many other talented and passionate people making music together. We sang a lot of music that had African roots and chronicled a vast array of African songs sung throughout the continent’s history. There was no sheet music, yet the pieces we sang were simple enough for us to learn and remember quickly.
Ysaye was a patient teacher, and I loved how she wove so much history into the workshop. I walked away with a deeper understanding of African heritage and the evolution of music. She eloquently worked this in throughout in a way that was engaging and had me interested in learning more. I think the workshop title is extremely accurate: being able to spend my time singing with a group again brought me such joy. I sincerely hope Ysaye will be a fixture at the Symposium in future years.
As a newcomer to the Networker Symposium, I love the way the conference has so many different topics and specialties under one theme. How creative! Often, conferences force everyone to go to the same one or two seminars. But the Networker Symposium provided many options for everyone and even open sessions for those who were undecided.
The Symposium started off with a pre-conference Creativity Day, keeping the momentum going by kicking things off with dancing and singing. Then, things settled down with the conference’s Keynote speaker, Jon Kabat-Zinn, where we learned to be “in the moment” with Mindfulness training. Kabat-Zinn was really able to combine the power of Mindfulness with a new and exciting attitude. I’m certain now that Mindfulness is a valuable therapeutic resource.
The other speakers I saw offered us tools to take care of both ourselves and our clients. I spent yesterday learning about compassion fatigue and how to minimize its impact. Today I learned techniques to help clients learn to let go of self-destructive behaviors. We even learned some artistic techniques that can help our clients get “unstuck.” While I’m certainly benefitting from my time here, my I know clients will too. In only two days, I’ve spent time with some of the best researchers and therapists in our field, and have learned so much from their years of experience. I have shared information, networked, and learned about resources in my community that I never knew were there. I am so impressed with the amount of knowledge I have gained in such a short time and cannot wait to get back to the office to share what I’ve learned.
John Kabat-Zinn sparked my interest when he recounted the time Oprah asked him, “Is there life after death?” His reply to her: “Oprah, I’m interested in the question, ‘Is there life before death?'” Living fully is dependent on our capacity to practice mindfulness, as this incredible speaker has for decades. The video of him using Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) with patients suffering from chronic pain was moving and the evidence to support it impressive. The idea that acknowledging a feeling, even acknowledging pain, can reduce suffering is so powerful. And it seems like one key element of this Mindfulness is relationality. In the past, I associated mindfulness and meditation as a relatively solo endeavor. Over time, I have realized what John Kabat-Zinn illustrated so beautifully this morning. In many cultures, the word for mindfulness is the same as the word for heart. Mindfulness does not occur in a vacuum or within a single individual. It’s realized in a world full of human beings, people waiting to be seen and heard, and in search of ways to live more joyfully and with less suffering. We therapists have the privilege of being present for people who are doing just that. In this moment, I feel gratitude.