The following brief conference report appeared originally in the discussion group for members of 'The Relational School' (www.therelationalschool.com). The Relational School is a growing forum of individuals in the UK who are interested in developing theoretical and practical understanding of relational psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.
The title, of course indicates why such a conference would have been interesting to members of this list. Perhaps many people who are not "body psychotherapists" may have assumed that this conference was not for them. I was operating under that assumption myself at first, but found the conference to be excellent, engaging, and energising. In fact, for me at least, the conference exploded many myths I had about body psychotherapy -- and probably for others, about the nature of relational psychoanalysis.
The opening plenary was in integrating endeavour in itself with Michael Soth and Joseph Schwartz each giving a talk on "The routes towards the relational paradigm shift" followed by a moderated discussion between the two of them,and a question and answer session. It did much to demonstrate both difference and similarity in traditions, and probably did a great deal to deconstruct notions of practice and theory between relational psychoanalysts and body psychotherapists. This was followed by a multitude of workshops on a variety of subjects, followed by evening sessions on body-work.
Saturday's plenary consisted of two engaging papers given by Barbara Pizer and Shoshi Asheri called "Negotiating a sense of aliveness in the therapeutic relationship: an embodied intersubjective experience". These papers discussed the risks and possibilities of relational work while at the same time addressing the parallel process that occurred in the collaborative process between Shoshi and Barbara in creating the joint venture. This was also followed by lively discussion in both large and small groups. The evening session was entitled "Making it up as we go along: improvising as an intrinsic relational capacity from birth and in therapy", given by Colwyn Trevarthen and Roz Carroll. Trevarthen covered some fascinating material from contemporary infant research, the conclusions of which were relevant to relational work with adults; and Carroll, spoke of how clinical improvisation can help facilitate attunement and relating.
The last day consisted of a new and dynamic fish-bowl exercise facilitated by Andrew Samuels, where one role-playing client encountered three very different therapists. The audience, divided into sections, was then able to comment on several levels: what they experienced in their bodies; their fantasies about what was going on in the dyad; theoretical implications of the work; and parallel process. This rather experimental approach was very engaging and brought up a great deal of discussion among participants. It was truly an experiential learning experience.
Kudos to the organisers for having created such a great experience for us all. Commendations too to the delegates; rarely have I attended a conference where delegates where so prepared to muck in and participate so energetically in both small and large group activities. It seems like the relational perspective is certainly alive and well in body psychotherapy. I look forward to seeing more of this kind ofactivity developing in the UK.