Around the Network: New Visions of Psychotherapy

By Wylie, Mary Sykes; Cooper, Garry | Family Therapy Networker, November/December 1995 | Go to article overview

Around the Network: New Visions of Psychotherapy


Wylie, Mary Sykes, Cooper, Garry, Family Therapy Networker


FOR ALMOST 20 YEARS, THE Family Therapy Network Symposium has been something like a state fair for therapists, a community festival and exhibition of therapeutic handiwork, complete with the mental health profession's equivalent of sheep-shearing, cider-making and hog-calling events. While the formal intention of the meeting has always been education to offer a look at some of the best, most innovative and promising work being done in the field the real draw for most attendees has probably been the intense three-day hit of fellowship and camaraderie they get with 2,500 of their closest friends and colleagues.

But in the last three or four years, professional meetings like the Symposium have begun to mean more to therapists than simply a chance to enjoy a few days of workshops, socializing and sightsee ing. Now, these gatherings look more like lifelines to clinicians, who find their previously established practices sinking fast in the rough waters of massive economic and social dislocation. The managed care revolution has, with what seems like warp speed, made the old certainties that nurtured a generation of clinicians about as useful as a blacksmith's iron in an aerospace plant. Increasingly scrutinized by corporate managers who want demonstrable evidence that what they do works and works fast, and widely censured by media critics, who blame therapists for undermining America's moral fiber, therapists are undergoing a collective identity crisis, seeking answers to questions about our life's work we never thought we would have to ask: Is private practice really dead? Is therapy dead? How are we going to make a living? Are there other ways of being a therapist besides the only way we've ever known? Will we be able to practice in the new world order with ethical integrity and still get paid? How much retooling and reinventing can the field sustain and still be identifiable as psychotherapy? What are the essential core values that define therapy regardless of changes in theory or practice? What is a psychotherapist these days, anyway?

These are questions that cannot be effectively addressed by therapists pondering alone in their offices. Today, practitioners are likely to come to professional conferences with a sense of urgency, seeking not only comfort and consolation from their peers, along with their continuing education credits, but some advice about bushwhacking their way through the increasingly alien and rugged terrain of professional survival. Who are likely to be better guides than the members of their own profession, which has a long history of blazing new trails through impenetrable human difficulties?

Psychotherapy has reinvented itself before to be in sync with a changing Zeitgeist (see page 20), and developed greater maturity and complexity in the process indeed, family therapy is perhaps the most striking example within the last 30 years of such a productive self-creation. And, there is strong, bracing evidence that after a period of inevitable confusion, anger and resistance to the changing tides of a new era, therapists are once again swinging into action, not only forming effective collective defenses to protect and strengthen the field, but rethinking the entire ethos and definition of psychotherapy, discovering that there are, in fact, new worlds barely dreamt of in the venerable old philosophy of conventional private practice.

This year's Symposium, "New Visions of Psychotherapy: Charting Your Course for the Practice of Tomorrow," on March 21-23, 1996, in Washington, D.C., will introduce attendees to some of the most important developments in psychotherapy today, highlighting not only fresh and original applications of traditional psy-chotherapeutic skills, but exploring the core values of the profession that transcend passing fashions and temporary social vicissitudes. Many of the more than 100 workshops will describe the growing interest in what were once peripheral therapeutic specialties health psychology, psychoeducation, organizational consulting, community development, among others along with inventive approaches to traditional modes of practice, and suggestions about how to thrive during the field's difficult transition with ethics and therapeutic intelligence fully intact. …

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