by Marion Moran
A motley crew of IAHIP colleagues, we set off to the 15th Congress and this year’s annual conference of the European Association for Psychotherapy, last June. We were drawn to the magic of its location, Florence, Italy, the intrigue of its title, HUMOUR AND OTHER STRATEGIES TO SURVIVE EMOTIONAL CRISIS, and the promise of warm, fun filled meetings with our international colleagues, our experience in Cambridge, England last year. After 3 days as tourists acclimatising ourselves to the history, architecture and cuisine of Tuscany, we made our way to the PALAZZO DEI CONGRESSI for the Opening Ceremony.
The packed auditorium comprised of some 350 psychotherapists and over 600 Italian students of psychotherapy, mostly female, presided over by the top table of 11 men, all presidents of something or other!!! The contrast was striking as was the atmosphere which lacked the intimacy we had enjoyed the previous year. There followed 3 days of an impressive selection of presentations, discussions and workshops, a real pick ‘n mix of either Italian or English and in a range of rooms over the campus including the lovely Limonaia, in the garden. And there followed 3 nights of sharing of experiences at our selected choices, of lively discussion, humorous anecdotes and passionate exchange of views over tables of fine food and finer wine.
Some of the highlights were:
The amusing presentation of G. Gulotta, an Italian Criminal Lawyer and Psychologist who left us with ‘life is a sexually transmitted disease with 100% mortality rate’ and ‘what is the difference between the neurotic, the psychotic and the psychotherapist? The neurotic builds castles in the air, the psychotic lives in them and the psychotherapist collects the rent.’ Elizabeth Jupiter, a psychotherapist from Vienna, brought the concept of humour into the therapy session with these thoughts: ‘your favourite joke is your favourite anxiety,’ ‘laughter is the shortest distance between 2 persons,’ and reminded us of the quote from Albert Ellis, ‘split their shit with wit’.
An introduction to Positive Psychotherapy grabbed attention with the opening ‘what happens when you get hit by a brick’ to make the point, ‘things are not always as you suppose them to be’, the reframing of what seems to be resistance as survival tools from the past, and learning to be a friend to your client. J.S. Bergman, a New York analyst, riveted his audience by his direct, avant-garde use of humour in the therapy room with a unique style of boundary. He uses metaphor presented to him by the client, often non-verbally, and through humorous interpretation will cut through to the heart of the matter. Through the use of video, he invited the audience to look at the process in action and whilst provocative, it highlighted the effectiveness of humour in the therapy. Annette Kreuz Smolinski, a family systems therapist, described her work as ‘trying to get the fly out of the bottle’. The keynote speaker to the conference, Patch Adams, described himself as ‘clowning over 40 years, bringing love, joy and humour to people’, sees his purpose as ‘to end violence and injustice all over the world,’ beguiled us all with his love for mankind, his boundless energy, colourful presence, and his belief that ‘life is a performance of loving’. He challenged with the notion, ‘being mentally healthy, why is this not promoted?’ He sees humour as a powerful tool to diminish hierarchy and uses his prop of ‘the world’s largest underpants’ to prove the point. (The fantasy of a few of our ‘world leaders’ in this set piece….)
While the conference did not lend itself to a sense of a collective gathering, nor to an atmosphere of extending beyond our own boundaries (the Irish contingent), it gave us great scope for new thinking and debate and enriched us through our own experience of colleagueship.
Marion Moran BA MIAHIP ECP, is a psychotherapist and supervisor working in private practice in Dublin. She also teaches on the BA programme in Counselling and Psychotherapy at Dublin Business School as a group supervisor.