Around the Network: The Marvel of Human Complexity

By Cooper, Garry | Family Therapy Networker, November/December 1996 | Go to article overview

Around the Network: The Marvel of Human Complexity


Cooper, Garry, Family Therapy Networker


PSYCHOTHERAPY HAS NEVER been simple or straightforward, as tangled history of its theories and methods demonstrates. Certainly the continuous exploration of mental and emotional life from psychoanalysis to solution-focused and narrative therapy has vitally enhanced our understanding of why we behave as we do. But with every advance in knowledge every thrilling experience of eureka! human beings, in all our complexity, keep upping the ante. Our suffering and the multiple ways we experience it somehow continues to slide just beyond the reach of the last, best word in psychological theory and practice.

The beginning of both wisdom and joy in the work of the therapist is recognizing that complete understanding, let alone control, of human behavior will forever remain elusive and that simple truths about human suffering are too limited. Therapists who continue to practice with zest remain enthralled by the new mysteries emerging from every unfolding discovery, the challenge of not knowing it all and the realization that they never will.

These days, therapists are bombarded on all sides by developments that force us to rethink basic assumption and beliefs research findings in neurobiology, evolutionary psychology, pyschopharmacology and genetics that suggest a pendulum swing toward biology in the old nature-nurture debate; accumulating evidence that the "public" world of social, cultural and economic forces shapes our experience even within the intimate domain of our "private" lives; the sobering recognition that the field of psychotherapy itself is transforming at such a furious rate that there are no reliable role models to guide our professional evolution.

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, The Family Therapy Network Symposium will devote this year's meeting, to be held March 20-23, 1997, in Washington, D.C., to exploring "The Marvel of Human Complexity: New Horizons in Systems Practice." The Symposium will provide a much-needed trail map to the knowledge and skills a therapist should have in his or her repertoire in this time of professional metamorphosis. To create the richest possible cross-fertilization of perspectives on the practice of the future, this year's faculty is grounded in a broad range of therapeutic traditions. It includes such prominent non-family therapists as Thomas Szasz, Lawrence LeShan, Erving and Miriam Polster, Ilana Rubenfeld, Ernest Rossi and Eugene Gendlin. As usual, the Symposium will offer attendees an opportunity for close-up evaluation of the latest clinical methods that are creating a stir within the field, with special attention this year to mind-body approaches. Among the provocative issues considered at the conference will be the implications of genetic and biological research for clinical practice; how to maintain clinical integrity in the face of marketplace demands; and how to integrate social and cultural issues into clinical work without blurring the line between therapy and politics. Participants will also learn about new professional opportunities for systemically trained therapists in relatively new areas, such as career counseling, mediation, organizational consulting and health care delivery, as well as how to provide a growing range of psychological services to what knowledgeable observers of the therapy scene expect to be an upsurge in private-pay clients.

At a conference where human complexity is the theme, it is fitting that the keynote speaker on Friday morning will be Cornel West, who figures among America's most eloquent intellectuals and is one of the most eminent authorities on race relations and multicultural issues in the country. Professor of the philosophy of religion and Afro-American studies at Harvard University, West has authored the best-selling book Race Matters, as well as Jews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin. He has also written Keeping the Faith and the recent The Future of the Race, coauthored with Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

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