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Congress in Berlin (20-25 July 2008)…impressions and reflections

Monday, July 28th, 2008 @ 12:31 pm
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Posted in  Training/CPD

I spent one week in Berlin/Germany attending and presenting at the International Congress of Psychology. This is not a conference i would usually go to, as its content does not usually match with the counselling field and its philosophy and approaches to research but it was a good experience to fing myself in an environment like that to actually see the huge contrast of ‘cultures’ that exists within the so called helping or therapy professions. This event lasted 5 full days and there was massive attendance, i figured out that there were more than 10.000 delegates from all over the world, with about 4.400 oral presentations besides the symposia, posters etc etc. The website of the Congress with more details can be found by clicking here.

I had prepared a presentation about Counselling in the Greek culture, resulting from a joint study we conducted together with Maria from the University of Athens, in which I used data from the Greek sample i include in my PhD study. It all went well, although we didnt have a very big audience (about 12-15 people i would say) but overall, there are several things i wish to record in here that i gained through attending this conference and they inform my thinking in relation to my own research.The congress programme was full of presentations mostly related to neuroscience, cognition and such fields in psychology. However, i browsed carefully the booklet distributed to us and chose to attend few sessions related to culture, something that also gave me the opportunity to meet with interesting people that do research in similar areas and have dialogue with them. Justo to organise my thinking in here, i will write some notes about what i did each day at the conference:

1. Monday 21 July 2008

It took me a while to register and find my way in the huge building (ICC) where the congress was taking place, i spend most of the day wandering around and finding some people i knew already ( i found a greek colleague from Athens who was presenting a poster) and he introduced me to an Indian psychologist with whom i exchanged some interesting ideas about my experience at the conference in India last January and some of my reflections around the Indian approach to healing. 

Especially when am exposed in such multicultural settings, away from either my original or my host cultyre, i find myself reflecting on the fact that i often see the therapist in me being more ‘english’ although my pershonhood being a mixture of my Greekness and the influences of my immersion (also in psychological terms) in the host british culture.

Later in the day, i also had the chance and delight to meet with Maria and catch up together after a good few months and talk about our presentation the following day (we agreed that she would speak on one presentation in the morning and i would present the one in the late afternoon)

2. Tuesday 22 July 2008

This was a full day. I went to a symposium titled Towards defining counselling psychology in the global context . Maria did the first presentation titled Current situations and future directions for counselling psychology in Greece, where she presented a historical overview of the development of the field in our country and drew attention to the future challenges. It generated interesting discussion in the audience later, where i participated actively and focused especially on the issue around how cultural values of a certain country and values of therapy (mainly developed or understood from a western/north american perspective) are interacting with each other and the effects of that. This was followed by presentations about what is happening in terms of counselling in France and in China by other presenters, where what was obvious is that there is a lack of clarity and identity around counselling in various countries. An interesting presentation was given by Ada Sinacore (an american of Jewish background working in Canada) who talked about Social Justice: a modern for International counselling psychology – she emphasised the fact that it is usually the voice of marginalised groups (like gay people for example, not just ethnic minorities) that are usually silenced and need more space for their voice to be heard. Richard Young (canada) also presented The contribution of action theory to defining counselling psychology in the global context

I then attended the Invited Address by Chi Yue Chiu (USA) about the cultural psychology of globalisation. His presentation was showing interesting ways that one culture adopts cultural inputs from another (like for example having McDonald’s in China with chinese recipees adapted or other such brands ‘dressed’ in ways that matches with the adopting culture etc)

I later on presented our joing study with Maria: Counselling in the Greek culture. what was mostly interesting was that there were various Indian people in the audience as well as in the presentations that followed and we both acknowledged that there seem to be many similarities between the Indian and the Greek attitudes towards helps seeking, although they seem very different cultures from the outside. This reinforced my belief that Greece is maybe a particular case study with that question (this is a topic for POST DOC for me!) given its threshold position, between east and west, drawing from both but also holding a strong heritage of its own, presenting as such very confusing as well as interesting dynamics in terms of its cultural narrative and its relationship to the froms of development in counselling in such a context etc etc…….I definitelly have loads more to write on that and publish together with Maria, this is material that needs further examination, understanding, dissemination…my mind is in such speed about that, i am also aware of the possible dynamics (related to power) that such material may generate amongst greek colleagues…..but, my compass is to do what is for the good and contribution to knowledge therefore i am not afraid of challenging some ideas that are unhelpful or non-grounded and bringing some new directions that represent a more congruent and ethical way of training and practising in contexts like the Greek one, this can be an example for other cultures that are also in a quest around defining and seeking a culturally sensitive identity in terms of therapy practice

3. Wednesday 23 July 2008

I wondered around today in various rooms at the conference, without something attracting much of my attention……so i found the opportunity to leave and join my friends in sightseeing! this was also very interesting, more ‘ethnographic’ mode of being, if you like, as i found myself wandering around in a city (capital of Germany) with all the signs of its ‘divided’ recent history (the wall, East and West, the graffitis etc etc). Also, i could see so evident all the hellenistic influences in terms of the architecture of the buildings and so many Greek treasures of ancient times displayes in the museums (feelings of sadness and anger immersed here). I was laughing (ironically and astonished) when on a couple of occasions that i got lost on my way and asked for directions by a stranger on the street, it happened that i bumped on a Turkish person! (see my Cypriot background, the history of my own divided island…………how synchronous really, if not spooky? or is it the law of attraction? don’t we bring our way what we are contemplating on????????? interesting stuff)

4. Thursday 24 July 2008

Today it was another full day at the conference. In the morning i attended  a symposium, chaired by Ingrid Lunt (UK), titled Internationalising qualifications in psychology: challnenges and opportunities, where various people talked about the EuroPsy qualification. I was listening as one who has a lot of experience counselling clients (without holding a psychology degree but having been trained and extensively supervised about all that happens in the counselling room!) and was struck (for one more time) by the whole debate around the fact that psychology graduates are not having the skills to do therapy but are given licensure and permission to have private offices or work in such posts when they graduate………..how dangerous really! i stood up at some point and drew attention to the need of interdisciplinary training approaches and dialogue around practice….the chair responsed to me by saying ‘this is a discussion for a whole new symposium’, marking what a huge matter it really is with many hidden politics woven through. what was interesting was that a few recent young psychology graduates approached me after the session ended to tell me that they feel anxious being given the power to do therapy when they dont know HOW and they thanked me for raising the matter in front of the ‘Big ones’ (authority figures, in position) cause there is a lot of theory in psychology but not much skills input that is the CORE of that type of work……..we cant send a doctor do surgery following instructions or theories in a book, can we? Somebody in the audience stood rightly to say that there is a Western dominance in the psychology field that has a system of evaluation that focuses on theory and methodology……..but the ‘making of a therapist needs a lot more’!

I then attended a very, very interesting invited address by Dr Marwan Dwairy (Israel, Oranim Academic College) titled: From psycho-analysis to culture-analysis: a culturally sensitive revision of psychology . This presentation included a lot of things i knew but was explained in a very informative way. The presenter was arguing around the shifts that need take place in the practice of therapy due to the fact that psychology is a biproduct of individualism and as such cannot be applied succesfuly in any context without careful consideration. In his conclusion slide, he suggested that:

  • psychology should be culturaly sensitive
  • it is supposed to conceptualise people’s experiences within their culture rather than individuals detached from their culture
  • it is supposed to utilise culture to help people feel better, rather than pushing them to confront their culture

He mentioned various examples from his practice that remined of my own past clients from diverse cultural groups. i also talked to him at the end of the presentation and he also revealed some of the challenges he faced, simialr to mine, as a practitioner who moved between cultures. He told me that there is a lot of ingorance amongst therapists about these dimensions due to the invisibility of culture and some unconscious processes that go on when one is blending cultural values together, possiblyhaving to do with wider transgenerational feelings  that are inherited with historical and political dynamics attached to them. this really fits with what i often feel about tapping into the collective unconscious when one is questioning and examining the dynamic of own and host culture within and outside in relationships and in therapy
In the early evening, i attended a paper session that addressed issues around bilingualism and culture. it was very interesting to see some facts from neuroscience about how bilingualism works and understand how the two languages (Greek and English) may be operating within me (and many of my clients) as a person, a counsellor and a researcher/writer. The relevant research drew from psycholinguistic, neurolinguistic, psychological and psychoanalytic approaches. there was even a presentation about dreams of korean students in the USA and how the language of dream is related to acculturation process in a host culture (like i dream in english in the uk)

5. Friday, 25 July 2008

I have reached a stage that i started feeling tired by the full schedule of conference, sight seeing and meeting new people, i felt i needed the time to rest and digest. I did go to the conference today though, just for the morning and attended a symposium titled Personality and Culture . Some useful insights from these presentations are that a. definitions of personality disorders may vary significantly between cultures b. the structure of personality appears similar in people of different cultures but it is rather the expression of traits that vary c. one could seek understanding by examining ‘tight’ vs ‘loose’ cultures in terms of social norms etc

I found myself thinking a lot about my Phd during this conference, maybe  more around the vastness of the issues related to my topic and facing the challenge again, to draw a line and see what are the limitations of my study and what are the emerging suggestions for further research, if it is to cover a wider area of what i am touching upon. I guess, i do not forget that i need to have a focus for a PhD and that research does not end here………BUT………what maybe happens is that the more i get to know the phenomenon, the more i realise its dimensions and the more i am struggling with making it one PIECE, one angle that will do the PhD….this is the challenge i face ahead of me this year and i think that the boundary i need will be more and more definable as I write and re-wrire and make choices about what to include along the way…time for some rest now!

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