Integration in psychotherapy

Steve Heigham, incoming Chair of the British Psychological Society's Psychotherapy Section, reports from their Annual Conference.

Picture: The impact of austerity on Birmingham council estates was a topic at the conference.

Even though psychotherapy as an activity is 120 years old, there's always new stuff to learn… and old issues still to be resolved, as we all found at the annual conference of the Psychotherapy Section of the British Psychological Society, on 30 October.

Of great interest was a talk by Ciaran O'Connor on  'Managing the existential givens in a digital age', where he focused on 'problematic usage' of games and social media. He reminded us (probably particularly those over 45 in the audience) that it is easy to label intense use of phones and social media during social interactions by younger people as an addiction, when in fact it is fairly normal, e.g. checking one's phone 150 times a day, and responding quickly. He steered us towards a more certain definition of addiction and outlined how taking an existential therapeutic approach (similar to Irvin Yalom) has been useful for him in successfully working with clients' addictive tendencies towards a fairly addictictive-encouraging media technology.

Bringing us up to date on other initiatives in Psychology, we heard from our Society President, Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes. It turns out he has had a long and deep involvement with Psychotherapy, and he spoke of this movingly. His talk also very much fitted in with the theme of the conference – 'Integration in Psychotherapy' – in explaining the current moves within the BPS to get Divisions and Sections working more closely together – a theme to be carried forward by the section committee next year. 

In two other sessions of the day, the focus was more on socio/cultural aspects of therapeutic work: Carl Harris from Birmingham Community Psychology Services outlined his perceptions of the various psychological effects the past and current government austerity measures have had on three council estates in Birmingham. After analysing the affects of income inequality, he outlined solutions that have been tried, such as self help 'issue based' groups, often aimed at taking social actions within their communities as well as providing support.

After lunch and the AGM, Michelle Pritchard took up the theme of social action in her presentation about using positive psychology coaching groups with disadvantaged teenage girls, and the sometimes life changing effects that this has had.

The last session of the day was a plenary of the whole conference, with much active and sometimes contentious debate, particularly on time constraints and how this affects directiveness of the process by psychotherapists, and the potential pitfalls of gaining compliance rather than cure.

The organising committee for the conference wished to bring together disparate views of therapy on the thesis that discussion and debate are the best way for practitioners to get involved and 'integrate' new ideas into their current ways of working. All generally felt that this had been achieved on the day.

The section will be running a number of events over the next year, particularly aimed at collaboration and networking between practitioners from difference approaches, starting with an event in the Spring on ethics, following on from the special edition of Psychotherapy Section Review this winter, and the reaffirmation by the President and General Assembly of the need for ethics to be restated as our fundamental principles of practice.

We welcome seeing psychologists from all divisions and sections who have an interest in psychotherapy at some of these future events. Find out more

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