The keynote address on Thursday at the American Group Psychotherapy Association annual meeting was given by Jeremy Holmes of the University of Exeter, UK. Before he began to speak, there were the standard introductory remarks. Over 900 people are attending the conference, with attendees from many countries. People who helped facilitate the conference were thanked.
Dr. Holmes speech focused on attachment theory, a realm that I don't know a lot about, so it was very informative to me. He spoke about how infants and toddlers seek security, about mentalization as an effort to feel secure in an insecure world, and related it nicely to both experiences of groups, and experiences in the world.
He started off quoting Adrienne Rich's poem, "In Those Years". He provided the context for the poem and read a large section. What particularly jumped out at me was the line, "the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged" which he related to his description of "the self".
The self, he suggested, resides at the intersection of our internal neural networks and our external social networks. I loved this formulation, because I've often thought about our social networks and being metanetworks of all of our neural networks. I've thought that it would be fascinating to explore artificial neural network technology in terms of our social networks. Could I run a back propagation algorithm to refine the rankings of trust on my social networks? It is a tool I've long wanted to explore.
Dr. Holmes presented a lot of material very quickly. It seems as if his talk probably could be expanded into a fascinating semester long course. He spoke about Winnecott and Gergely and the idea of the mother's face as the mirror in which an infant first finds him or herself. He touched on Goal Corrected Empathetic Attunement. It may well be that all of this is old hat for those that are trained in attachment theory. For me, I couldn't keep up with the notes, and simply decided that I should explore this more later.
One phrase that particularly jumped out at me was 'Companionable exploration', and I believe the reference was to Hard and Lake. I have a vague idea about what was being talked about and need to explore this further as well. It caused me to stop and think about the exploration of Second Life that I have done with friends. Is there some way that Second Life can be used in terms of developing or enhancing companionable exploration?
He presented the idea of 'mentalising' as seeing ourselves internally as others see us, and illustrated the point by referring to the great Robert Burns poem about the louse, and what a gift it would be to see ourselves as others see us. I paused to wonder about the relationship between mentalizing and empathy.
In the end, he tied it all back to Rich's dark birds as presenting the traumatic penetration of the self. It provided a great starting point for the panel I attended next.
This morning, I arrived at the conference at about 7:15 to attend the large group. Like a typical large group, the chairs were arranged in a spiral. Felix de Mendelssohn, who was leading the large group sat at the middle of the spiral. Seated a little further out where Haim Weinberg and Martha Gilmore, who had run the small group in previous years. I saw a friend that I knew from the mailing list and talked about trying to determine what sort of role should I take. Should I be the detached reporter or observer? Should I be an active participant? My friend encouraged me to be an active participant and noted that the role of participant-observer is common in research.
Some people in the group have come to many large groups at AGPA in the past and knew many stories about past leaders of the large groups. Other people were new to AGPA and this was their first large group. For me, it was an interesting combination. I've attened large groups in the Tavistock or Group Relations tradition. I had heard stories of previous large groups through the mailing list, and was friends with a few participants, yet at the same time, it was my first time at AGPA or an AGPA large group.
I left my laptop in its case. There was no wifi and no power outlets. I felt that the laptop might be too obtrusive. So, my comments here are based on my recollections after the fact. I've always enjoyed large groups. From my outsider perspective, especially as I would describe to the uninitiated, the large group is a chance for everyone to sit around share random associations, and learn something from and about the group as a whole. In a session filled with experienced group psychotherapists, it seems like an opportunity for people to make short, witty comments, full of nuance and psychological overtones. Is there competition in the large group to be the wittiest, most profound, or get the most attention? It sure seems so.
This group started off with playful banter around the transition of leaders. Concerns were expressed about whether or not the new leader was selected appropriately. People drew in parallels to the U.S. political situation as we look at replacing your leader through the electoral process, as well as whether of not the votes had been properly counted in the past or would be in the future. We danced around issues of how we mourn the loss of one leader, and our hopes for a new leader.
I explored the issue of hope a little bit, in terms of the group process, our hopes for the leader of the large group and the role of hope in the U.S. elections. In doing so, I spoke about my role as a blogger, or member of the press. I have yet to see another press pass, and people seem very curious about me, as a member of the press.
Given the confidentiality of therapeutic work, my presence provides more grist for the participants, not only myself as I try to navigate the boundary between participant and observer, and respect what should or shouldn't be said from or about the large group, but also for others as they think about their reactions and the possible observation and writing about them. Because of trying to respect some of this, this blog post may seem a bit bland compared to the actual event.
My arrival in Washington was uneventful. I checked in at the AGPA conference and picked up my press credentials. My credentials were the only ones in the folder when I arrived and there was not any sort of press packet. Somehow, I suspect that this isn't a heavily covered event. I soon met two friends from the Group Psychotherapy mailing list and we found a place to sit down and explore Second Life together.
I've always been interested in the group dynamics of online communities, and Second Life is no different. Are these dynamics suitable to doing some sort of e-therapy in Second Life? What about confidentiality issues? Pseudonymity? The different set of visual cues that you receive in Second Life than you would receive from a face to face session. We talked about these as we gathered around my laptop, explored some of Second Life and talked with a resident or two.
As we chatted other folks stopped by, friends of my friends, and people that I had met online. Besides Second Life, we talked about what I hoped to get out of the conference. I admitted that I did not know. I talked about how covering the AGPA annual meeting felt a little bit like covering the Libby trial. I could write like a typical journalist, covering the keynotes the way any keynote is covered. Yet that feels to much like heard journalism to me, so I will write things from my own unique perspective. Some how, that seems especially apropos, especially for a conference like this. We also touched upon what the AGPA might be looking for in the coverage of the event. I'm not sure I have a much better answer on that either, other than to observe that it would seem they would want modalities of group psychotherapy to get more and better coverage in the media.
We talked a little bit about how bloggers, perhaps, have become just another new herd. I joked again about rereading Yalom in preparation for the conference. Afterwards, I went to dinner with one of the attendees and we had a nice chat getting to know each other a little better. Now, it is time to throw myself into the fray, balance out how much of a detached observing journalist I will be and how much I'll be an active participant. It will be interesting. Unfortunately, the hotel's WiFi is not open and free, so while I payed for it last night, I may save most of my writing for when I am back at my friends house. With the heavy schedule and the dinner this evening, that might not be for a while.
In a few minutes, I will hop on a train and head down to Washington, DC for the American Group Psychotherapy Association’s annual meeting. In preparation, I thought I should quickly re-read Irvin Yalom’s The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy.
In it, he starts off by delineating the therapeutic experience into eleven primary factors. He spends a bit of time talking about how this is his way of organizing these factors, and how other people may have other approaches. Yet what jumped out at me were the first few factors.
- Installation of hope
- Imparting information
- and so on.
As I thought about this, I thought about my membership in a very large group, known as the U.S. population. What are the fears and anxieties that we as a large group face? How do we address these fears and anxieties? What are the group leaders doing to help us address these fears and anxieties?
It would seem as if what we need is a leader who encourages us to hope for all that is good, instead of fearing some external factors, a leader that helps us understand the universality of our condition, between fellow citizens, independent of political orientation, and between nations. Such a leader, would I believe impart important information to us, inspire us to altruism and so on. This puts the current U.S. Presidential race into a particularly interesting light.
So, this evening, I will hear Dr. Robert Michels talk about ‘Psychology and Politics’. I’m ready for that talk. So, I will depart shortly for what I hope will be a wonderful and enlightening experience. My friends on the Group Psychotherapy mailing list have certainly installed that hope in me and I look forward to the information that will be imparted, and whatever changes it may bring about in my own life.
As is often the case, some of the most interesting discussions at conferences and symposia take place away from the main panels, and for me, the same happened at
the Symposium on Reputation Economies in Cyberspace. During lunch I found about the Knight Foundation grant to Yale Law School to ‘Train the
Next Generation's Leading Legal Journalists’. While the grant was announced last May, this was the first I heard of it, and was pleased to get more details.
Some of the goals of the program are to study law and media, to promote interactions between lawyers and journalists, to provide opportunities for journalists to teach at Yale Law and to prepare law students for careers in media.