Around the Network: New Visions of Psychotherapy

By Cooper, Garry | Family Therapy Networker, May/June 1996 | Go to article overview

Around the Network: New Visions of Psychotherapy


Cooper, Garry, Family Therapy Networker


FACED WITH THE CORPORATE restructuring of their field, many therapists today wonder if they are to become nothing more than patch-'em-up functionaries of managed care. With the old vision of their role dying, and nothing satisfactory to take its place, clinicians sometimes feel at a loss to explain (even to themselves) the value of this almost medieval practice of shutting the door, sitting face-to-face, talking and listening.

Psychotherapists have struggled over the past few years to articulate their grief and their grievances over this loss of security and identity. But at the 19th Annual Family Therapy Network Symposium, held in Washington, D.C., on March 21-23, something new began to coalesce. Like a photograph slowly developing in a photographer's tray, a new vision of the clinician's role began to emerge less grandiose in its view of what psychotherapy alone can accomplish, humbler and more connected to a larger world.

That larger world, as former New York governor Mario Cuomo made clear in a moving keynote address, is in trouble: time and money are scarce, families and community life are fragmenting and the political forces he characterized as "the New Harshness" encourage us to abandon our felt attachments to one another, especially the vulnerable or poor. "We are all interconnected, all interdependent," Cuomo said. "A little girl having her second child is my daughter, not by blood but still my daughter. And that gives me a sense of commitment to something larger than myself." The task before us, Cuomo said, invoking the Talmudic phrase tikkun olam, is "to repair the universe, to heal the world."

Cuomo's evocative vision was cultured in the peculiar Petri dish that is the Symposium a floating, swirling community seemingly created out of thin air by the 2,500 therapists who temporarily encamp each year in the ballrooms of Washington's Omni Shoreham Hotel. Every day, thousands of microconnections were formed between people as they shared personal, ethical and professional dilemmas at informal discussion groups known as Networker Forums or developed new skills at more than 100 professional workshops exploring everything from narrative approaches to professional burnout to community responses to domestic violence. When the sun went down, the process continued as people danced to the Symposium's favorite dance band the Mambo Combo went to AA meetings or attended a candle-lit Shabbat service.

Things got started on Thursday, when 900 therapists renewed body and soul at more than 25 day-long workshops in meditation, T'ai Chi, mind-body awareness, shamanism, creativity and the expressive arts. Whether people drummed together, painted together, wrote about their fathers together or sang Gospel music together, many took new risks, formed deep connections and contacted rich realms of creative and personal possibility. The day embodied a vision of therapists "not as isolated individuals sitting in a room and doing their practice, but as members of a larger community," as artist Rebecca Rice, one of the day's organizers put it. "We need creativity to keep reigniting hope. Engaging in the arts immediately connects you with others."

If Cuomo's address outlined the need for community and Creativity Day planted the seeds, discussions at Networker Forums watered them all weekend, giving participants a taste of what goes on regularly at hundreds of Forum discussion groups established across the country. But it was during the plenary session on Saturday morning, when family therapists Frank Pittman, Betty Carter and Ken Hardy spoke about the enduring values that lie behind their work, that a sense of common vision took hold.

Pittman, an Atlanta, Georgia, family therapist in private practice and the Networker's film critic for the past 13 years, began by asking the audience to consider therapists' contribution to the breakdown of families and communities over the past decade. "We've been encouraging people to do what, in the short or the long run, makes them feel self-actualized. …

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