For four-plus decades now, the Networker Symposium has been the hands-down highlight of my professional year. Even if I’d been attending as a participant, I suspect it would’ve topped my list of preferred psychotherapy gatherings. (No bias acknowledged.) But as the host of the conference, it holds a special thrill for me. Like everyone, I’m energized by the fresh ideas of keynoters and workshop leaders. But the conference is also an extraordinary personal reunion. Practically everybody who matters to me—family members, friends, writers, colleagues—shows up. Everywhere I turn, there’s somebody to greet, hug, schmooze with. For me, life doesn’t get much better than that.
So, not surprisingly, canceling the in-person Symposium due to COVID-19 was a punch in the gut. We were on the cusp of holding a four-day, 4,000-person conference that the entire Networker staff had toiled to create for the better part of a year. Still, we didn’t mope for long. With apologies to Irving Berlin, our guiding principle became, “Let’s go on with the show!”
We recast the conference as a Virtual Symposium, with presenters addressing us from cozy home offices instead of a glittering hotel ballroom. These presentations, which are featured in this issue, are notable not only for their therapeutic wisdom, but also for their authors’ capacity to connect with us in a time of unprecedented crisis. At warp speed, our keynoters rewrote their talks to speak directly to our anxiety, grief, and bafflement as we found ourselves—it’s still barely believable—in the grip of a pandemic.
In these pages, Buddhist teacher and clinical psychologist Tara Brach speaks of the power of fear to shrink our worlds and close our hearts—or to unlock them. Peter Levine, this year’s recipient of the Networker Lifetime Achievement Award, explores how physical movement can calm one’s overwrought nervous system and “open the windows of your soul.” And Esther Perel meditates on the unexpected mingling of loss with opportunity that attends this crisis for couples. These and other master therapists speak to us with an immediacy and vitality that allows us to directly experience our interconnectedness: speaker to listener, writer to reader, reader to reader.
As for me, I’m at home in front of my computer, aware of the difficulty of speaking with confidence about . . . well, about much of anything. We’re grappling with an emergency, at once global and personal, the likes of which we’ve never seen in our lifetimes. And it shapeshifts by the week. We can stock up on all the toilet paper and Lysol we want, but we can’t predict what will come to pass two weeks, or even two days, from now. Yet, as the Virtual Symposium brought home so memorably, the essence of psychotherapy is the understanding that, however great the challenge, we do have each moment and what we decide to make of it.
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Charles Simpkinson, the man who founded what today we know as the Psychotherapy Networker and the Networker Symposium, died of complications from the coronavirus in early April. Chuck was a generous, playful, high-spirited man, who delighted in dreaming up ways of bringing people together. One of his ideas was starting a nonacademic publication that focused on the nitty-gritty of the therapy experience. He first called it The Family Shtick, which is about as nonacademic as you can get and was the harbinger of the magazine you’re reading right now. Had he been able to participate in it, he would’ve felt great pride and satisfaction at how the Virtual Symposium carried forward his vision of the power of community.- Rich Simon, Editor