London, 10th July – the eve of my second Division of Counselling Psychology conference – my first as Dr Sue Whitcombe, no longer a trainee. The pre-conference hype promised much. A veritable feast of renowned keynote speakers, an enticing menu of topical research and some tasty workshops.
The buzz was already palpable in the balmy Summer evening. An informal get-together at Tate Britain followed by some food and drink in a local hostelry provided a great opportunity to both re-acquaint and meet new colleagues before the formal conference opening. Paul Gilbert’s keynote address was inspirational, striking a chord with my own personal philosophy. A compassion focus seems so natural, so innate to me, in enabling the people I work with to address their self-blame, their helplessness. Helping them to understand that much of what they think, do and feel is not their fault. Empowering them to take responsibility to “be the version of themself they want to be” is the essence of what it is to be a counselling psychologist. We see individuals, with a shared, evolved biology but with unique, subjective, contextualised experiences. The applause which filled the auditorium seemed to confirm that Paul’s insightful and amusing talk, similarly inspired the other delegates too.
With six parallel streams running this year, some difficult choices needed to be made. I heard plenty of good chit chat feedback about the pluralistic therapy for the treatment of depression symposium and the post-traumatic growth following bereavement paper, but my choice was mindfulness and parenting followed by Jason Robinson’s paper negotiating adult family estrangement through time. For me, Jason’s paper is indicative of the innovative work now being undertaken by some counselling psychologists and trainees. His grounded theory of the process of estrangement enabled us to begin to step into the shoes of those who become estranged. Similarly innovative work disseminated at the conference were Jill Mytton’s clinical perspectives on how cults can harm people; Claire Stubbs’ work on psychological therapies supporting young men to overcome adversity and develop resilience to reoffending and poster prize winner Anna Kaufman’s exploring the experience of treatment for female problem gamblers.
It is in areas such as these where our commitment to social justice, a theme which featured explicitly in this year’s conference, can have a great impact on clients who typically have not been able to access such expertise. Baroness Hollins spoke too of social justice, inclusion and empowerment in the field of learning disabilities, rightly raising the spectre of the golden ticket – that much sought after NHS post in complex mental health. Yet, how much more impact can we have in working in the community, whether with those with learning disabilities or populations which may not “qualify” for, or come to the attention of, traditional or statuory services?
Whilst not necessarily innovative, there were some welcome novel additions to this year’s conference including the Cafe Psychologique, where the place of spirituality and religiosity in
therapeutic practice was explored, the conference BBQ and salsa night, and the Pecha Kucha session. In the space of one hour, 8 presenters attempted to convey their diverse research findings to a packed conference room – each deploying just 20 powerpoint slides over a strict 6 minutes and 40 seconds. Moitree Banerjee showed everyone how it should be done as she expertly disseminated the findings of her meta-analysis on engagement in mindfulness-based interventions. My own attempt to convey the powerlessness experienced by parents who had been subjected to parental alienation could definitely be improved upon, and definitely will be following Moitree’s masterclass. I particularly enjoyed the Pecha Kucha experience and believe that it has the potential to have great impact, especially when used to disseminate to non-expert audiences; I hope it will be a feature of next year’s conference too.
My reflections on the conference would not be complete without reference to Tanya Byron’s rousing public lecture which encouraged us, in some part, to turn the clock back to the 1970s and give our children the childhood we had. On reflection, I think I did manage to partially accomplish this and I can at last acknowledge that my parenting was “good enough”.
Hand on heart, I can honestly say that I was inspired by this year’s conference. I will take away many of the innovative experiences as I embark on my new venture to make an impact on some of the social injustice that is evident in my research findings. A big pat on the back to the conference organisers 🙂