Sunday, October 17, 2010

31st Australian National Family Therapy Conference..2010.


It's been a couple of years now since I attended a Family Therapy Conference and after some reflection I'm beginning to know why. Essentially the only expectation I had which was met and fulfilled was that of meeting old friends and spending some valuable time with them. So thank you Paul, Ruby-Joh and Julia – you all made it worth it. Paul, you made the conference dinner bearable and very funny; and Anita, I know you're a new friend and not an old one but you also made the evening extremely bearable. Suzanne and Maijo, my apologies for being non-compesus mentus at the dinner and of course I remembered Hobart as soon as you reminded me. The shocking part was how far that memory went back and what a lovely bunch of young hopefuls we were too.

So without doing an exhaustive analysis of the conference (which would bore even me to tears) here is some of the feedback I gave directly to the conference. And of course it is extremely subjective and idiosyncratic:

Hard to put my finger on but I think the field seems to have suffered a kind of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Although my label is psychologist I used to look forward to the Fam Therapy Conferences because they had a certain life and vitality about them. Now certainly some of my colleagues have been alienated by Sophie's apparent desire to build her own little national empire – but it's got to be more than just the internal politics – the people I admire and respect are surely bigger than that and have far more robust views. However I did note the dwindling number of psychologists and psychiatrists in what used to be a very interesting and varied group. Anyway I've just spent 2 years essentially away from the Fam Therapists and in the company of Lacanian Analysts (now there's a group you could send up); impressive thinkers but far too intellectual to the exclusion of almost all else (too much in their heads), but the psychologists have depressingly seemed to have narrowed their focus like scared little Medicare driven Rabbits (or Lemmings) and CBT looks increasingly to me like psychology for kindergarten practitioners. Certainly the analytic field seems to best combine thinking and feeling and that seems to relate very directly to issues arising and being dealt with on a daily basis by Family Therapists (and developments in Neuropsychology seem both interesting and exciting – especially the developmental implications for children and adolescents – and in turn what that means for the understanding of parents and the context of family). So I was a bit shocked to find nothing of that sort represented here. Carmel Flaskas didn't even attend let alone present. Paul Gibney seemed to still have his feet on the ground and his language in the colloquial – and his practice wisdom were little gems as always. Ruby-Joh Hawkett gave a very impressive, professional and broad, encompassing presentation, probably one of the best at the Conference and her sources were wide, informed and relevant – incredibly useful in practice.

I'm afraid much of the conference did not live up to this level of presentation and much seemed more concerned with a precious kind of political correctness. Lost ya heart and Soul Family Therapy. My somewhat prescriptive recommendation would be to find your roots and get back to them.


Do you have any suggestions for future Keynote Speakers?

Les Murray (the Poet not the Football commentator); Carmel Flaskas; Adam Phillips; Geoff Boucher (Deakin) Justin Clements (Melbourne), Russell Grigg (Deakin), David Tacey (La Trobe), Mark Solms, Edelman & Tomoni; Antonio Damasio (University of Iowa) & Salk Institute , California. Daniel A. Hughes on Attachment Focused Parenting (private practice & consulting, Annville Pa.

What can we do better?

  1. Conference Venue seemed huge, alienating and dehumanising: Essentially entirely inappropriate for a Family Therapy Conference. Whoever contracted this is phenomenally out of touch with human beings connecting with other human beings in a warm and human way and not in some kind of money-is-everything, pseudo professional image kind of way.
  2. The lack of available coffee or tea when delegates arrived in the morning continued this theme of alienation, lack of understanding of the human need for nurturance, and someone's idea of sacrificing these elements because they wanted to give the impression of a moneyed organisation but didn't actually have the funds to carry it off. Believe me, I have been to conferences all over the world and far preferred those that were organized on a smaller more human scale than this over-the-top grandiose nonsense which sacrificed the notion that the attendees actually had a human need or a need for a feeling of place or need for connection and care.
  3. Shouldn't there have been provision for these comments closer to the questions they actually relate to?
  4. If you are presenting a theme or themes for a conference simply because you think you have to have one – forget it. Have a theme-free conference which emphasizes the concept of freedom of inquiry and imagination.


I used to recommend Fam Therapy Conferences as the one's worth going to in this country but now I guess I'd be sitting on my hands when these questions arose. Time for a big sigh and a long reassessment.



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