Conference Review: Society for the Exploration of Psychotherapy Integration (SEPI) Conference, Amsterdam, June 24-27, 2004

by Catherine Dowling

SEPI is an international body dedicated to the exploration of psychotherapy integration and holds its annual conference in a different country each year.  The twentieth conference began on the evening of the 24th with Dinner for Out of Towners hosted by the Dutch psychotherapy association.  That was followed by three days packed with symposia and workshops on a wide range of topics related to psychotherapy integration.

Much of the conference was research based with several studies measuring effectiveness in relation to theoretical orientation as well as the relevance of academic research to clinical practice.  One pretty extensive study of Belgian and Dutch psychotherapists revealed some interesting findings about the difference between theory and practice.   Most of the 1,794 therapists surveyed described themselves as eclectic rather than integrative.Yet in practice, the majority reported using a wide range of interventions taken from approaches other than their own.  Behavioural therapists are most in favour of protocols and 70% of them found the DSM to be meaningful for them. This is in contrast to the 10% of psychoanalytic therapists who found the DSM useful.  Non-behavioural therapists thought that protocols and manuals force clients into boxes.  The end result was that the majority favoured facilitative interventions and once again it’s the relationship that counts.  Up to 45% of respondents believed that integration is the way of the future in psychotherapy.

There were symposia every day covering topics such as  “Working with Severely Troubled Children and Families”, “Empathy, Engagement and Relating” and “Relational Psychoanalysis as a Foundation for Psychotherapy Integration”.  These brought together therapists from around the world giving the benefit of their experience and research.  One that was of particular relevance to European therapists at the moment was “Integrative Treatment Approaches for Refugees and Immigrant Women”.

Panel discussions took the form of 3 to 5 speakers on a topic followed by a discussion that included audience as well as speakers.  New this year to the SEPI conference were panels on breathwork and on shamanism.  Both panels attracted large audiences who were receptive to looking at the integration of these modalities into their practice.

Workshops took place on a range of topics.  The Breathwork workshop presented by myself and Dr. Wilfried Ehrmann from Vienna, offered the opportunity to experience various methods of breathing and look at how they can be used in therapy.  Other workshops included a very effective training session on Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy and a very interesting variation on cognitive therapy called Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy.

Overall the conference was very well organised with a packed schedule.  This schedule made it impossible for one person to attend all the events that were of interest to them.  Presenters were accessible and very enthusiastic about their profession.  The form of presentation dictated by the programme made for a very cerebral experience with little opportunity for experiential learning.  However the range of material on offer made it a worthwhile experience.  Many of the papers are posted on the SEPI website:  www.cyberpsych.org.

Catherine Dowling is a fully accredited member of the Rebirthing Psychotherapy Association, a pre-accredited member of IAHIP, a therapist and trainer in private practice and the author of Rebirthing and Breathwork:  A Powerful Technique for Personal Transformation (2000) U.K.:Piatkus)