by Brían Howlett
Looking again after the event at the title – Creative Horizons: Contemporary Practice – of ICP’s 2nd National Conference which I attended last January in Dublin Castle, I was struck by how fitting a title it was. Contemporary issues in society abounded among the themes addressed by practising psychotherapists – issues such as our response as practitioners to the climate crisis and ecosystemic collapse, restorative possibilities for sexual offenders, addressing suicide and self-harm in our society, the relationship between psychotherapy, mindfulness and spirituality, online services for clients, and the psychodynamic bases of obesity. Equally catching my attention were the creative approaches to our work that were on offer: the place of images and the implicit in psychotherapy, ‘from judo to tango’ – a fascinatingly creative approach, I am told, by a colleague who attended this lecture on the therapeutic relationship in the care of eating disorders, and an imaginative use of story-making (‘Charlotte, Batman and the two policemen’) in supporting a bereaved child to find words.
Of special interest, to me, in terms of their capacity to widen creatively the horizons of our profession, were two particular sessions I attended. The first was an address entitled ‘Down but not Out’ given us by the well-known actress (her word!), Mary McEvoy. While it was billed as an address, Mary chose to use a question-and-answer format to let us in, so to speak, to the inner world of her experience of depression and of the various forms of psychotherapy and psychiatry she has been through. As a method actor might do, she was able to inhabit fully the skin of her personal self as she experienced herself living through the various moods her depression imposed on her and to convey to us, so tellingly each of those incarnations. For me, it was a moving and heartening presentation, done with such thoughtful self-tenderness. The second ground-breaking speaker I listened to was Renos Papadoupolos, a Jungian therapist who has developed a brave and unconventional approach to helping, with extremely limited access to them, people who have been tortured or who have suffered political violence of other disasters. What his brief contact with such sufferers’ aims to build on is that part of the range of responses which gets ignored or overlooked in the prevailing trauma discourse. He sees those neglected responses as two-fold: the existing positive qualities and characteristics (Resilience) that a severely traumatised person still retains, as well as the new positive responses that a person develops and activates by their very exposure to extreme adversity. Coming from a University teacher and supervisor of trainee psychoanalysts, this was a refreshing departure from some of our professional orthodoxies.
One of the highlights of this Conference was the inspiring address given us by President Michael D Higgins when he opened the Conference. Given the tensions that have been experienced within ICP itself and between it and some of its sections, I found it timely and salutary that in his address the President challenged our profession to lay aside ideological differences and boundaries and to give way instead to the ‘healing and belonging we need in our broken times’. Probably my most abiding memory of the whole event is the pleasant awareness I had that I was among friends and colleagues with a deep and shared common interest in the world of psychotherapy, no matter what ‘modality’ of practice we belonged to.
I think great credit is due to Maria McCarron and her organising team for the excellent job they did in making the Conference such a successful and enjoyable event.