Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the 40th Psychotherapy Networker Symposium and what a powerful experience it was; I’d have to say transformative experience. It was the largest symposium for the Networker and the largest ever held at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington DC.
In large part, this was attributed to keynote speaker Brené Brown and boy oh boy, did she deliver. She began with her own fears of being vulnerable and facing her own feelings of unworthiness, then helped us realize that in one way or another, we all have that vulnerable place where we simply don’t want to go. Pretty soon we all knew that we all have our private shame, and it takes true courage to admit it, face it, and be vulnerable. The definition of courage was now turned inside out and we all felt empowered to be more authentic with each other and in our lives; all 4500 of us. Quite a bonding experience.
Brené also spoke to President Trump’s rise to power as a direct result of terrorism. That it has created a climate of fear in the country and fear is a painful vulnerable feeling. So people want to make that feeling go away and if someone has easy answers, and can find certain people to blame, then people can gain a false sense of security and run from their fears with hate and scapegoating.
The prolific professor, author, speaker, consultant and overall “mensch” William Doherty was the keynote speaker on Saturday and he continued on the theme of the divided country we are now living in and what to do about it. And if you don’t know the word “mensch”, look it up because Bill Doherty is the true embodiment of this powerful word.
He spoke to the importance of remembering that we all share the same goals of wanting a safer country and a safer world, we just have different ideas of how to get there. He’s bringing groups from both sides of the political divide together for weekend retreats to better understand each other and to heal our divided families and communities. He’s going around the country and creating this process of understanding and healing. He encouraged all therapists to acknowledge the pain about the state of our country that so many of our clients are feeling, and invite them to bring those feelings into the therapy room.
I spent a full day with Susan Johnson and Daniel Siegel. Susan Johnson developed the couple’s therapy model, Emotionally Focused Therapy, a model I hadn’t studied so read about on the 6-hour flight to DC. I was blown away to find that we shared the same family therapy roots with the work of Salvador Minuchin, and had both expanded on that model to bring emotional intimacy enhancing and bonding experiences into the therapy. Susan’s model is extremely well developed and I’m thrilled to be learning about and incorporating it in my work.
Dan Siegel is an amazing psychiatrist who has made the mysteries of human neurology understandable and immediately helpful to therapists and all people alike. In fact, I’ve referenced his work in my book, Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle. He’s authored many books, is an inspiring speaker, has developed his own couples’ therapy model and he discussed Susan’s work from the perspective of attachment and neuroscience. What an unbelievable day that was.
My second day was spent with Salvador Minuchin, now 95 years old and whom I refer to as my professional father. I studied with him in 1979 at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic, and attended many others of his trainings, read his books, studied his videos, and modeled my work after his teachings. While quite frail physically, he was able to talk about his work, present videos of his work and discuss his strategies from many perspectives and still answer audience questions sharply. That evening I attended the first ever Psychotherapy Networker Lifetime Achievement Award dinner in Sal Minuchin’s honor. I was able to connect with and share stories with many people whose understanding of psychotherapy and family systems was profoundly influenced by his work. I was able to give Sal a copy of my book with a note thanking him for all he’d done for me personally.
One last note on the Symposium; Richard Simon the originator and editor of the Psychotherapy Networker is an amazing human being. He was the glue for the event and as he introduced speakers and events, his thoughts put into words came out like poetry. Every thought, every fact, every event was presented in a context that made everything relate to everything else. At the end of the day, every therapist felt related to every other therapist and in spite of the fact that there were so many of us there and the hallways and events were so packed, we felt connected to each other and part of a mission vital to our communities.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that my visit to Washington DC started with a presentation at Longfellow Middle School in Falls Church Virginia, where my wonderful sister-in-law Carol Marren, is Chair of the Special Education Department.
Quite amazingly there were about 50 attendees who came out for my lunchtime presentation. They were a very enthusiastic audience and I felt very welcomed and enjoyed their many stimulating questions. Their feedback forms confirmed that we all spent valuable and enjoyable time together. Thank you Longfellow Middle School!
Neil D Brown, LCSW
Psychotherapist & Author