Interesting Ideas from Recent Conferences

In years past, I have shared valuable ideas I’ve heard while attending major conferences, either as a speaker or guest. With so many virtual meetings taking place over the past several months, I’ve had the chance to gather many useful thoughts from a wide range of presenters. I hope these short summaries capture your interest and even stimulate your thinking as they did for me.

From attorney and social justice advocate Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy

Stevenson’s talk to therapists was designed to stimulate action. He stressed how in the United States, we continue to accept the unacceptable. We must push back against the narratives of fear and anger that surround race relations in the U.S.

The opposite of poverty is justice. We’ve made the mistake of criminalizing addiction, leading us to offer punishment instead of healing. This reality is intertwined with issues of racial injustice.

We can fight for justice by: 

  • Getting proximate. Don’t hide in an Ivory Tower. Go to Montgomery and tour the sites of the civil rights movement. Visit the Legacy Museum. Go to Washington, D.C. and tour the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Learn directly about the experiences and issues of Black people. 
  • Telling the truth. Don’t gloss over the trauma of racism. (Germany is still struggling to deal with the truth of the Holocaust. It’s a long game, but it begins with honesty.) 
  • Staying hopeful. Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. Embrace the spirit of hope and reconciliation. 
  • Being uncomfortable and doing difficult, inconvenient, yet essential things.
  • Continuing to beat the drum for justice and change. Let’s not keep executing broken people. Let’s offer them treatment and support. 

Taraji P. Henson, award-winning actress and mental health advocate

Henson is working hard to de-stigmatize mental health problems. She encourages clients, lay people, and therapists to encourage people to come out of the shadows of stigma and fear.

We need to recognize the mental health impact of collective trauma and intergenerational trauma. She said, “This is something I understand as a mother and the daughter of a man who struggled with his own mental health – the namesake of my mental health organization, theBoris Lawrence Henson Foundation.”

Vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness – yet for some, therapy poses a threat. This is especially true for many men, who feel it diminishes their masculinity. We need to reshape these beliefs so that everyone can get the care they need. 

One in five Americans lives with mental illness, so it’s time to break the cycle of shame. Our country needs more culturally competent therapists who can treat people of color with sensitivity and compassion. 

From Deb Dana, trauma expert and author of The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy

Trauma sidetracks the development of autonomic regulation. It replaces patterns of connection with patterns of protection. When survival is the individual’s only goal, growth stalls. It is not a cognitive choice; it is a biological choice.

For someone who has experienced trauma, reaching out can feel dangerous. Healing can only take place in a very safe environment. 

In therapy, we therapists act as a container when possible. We titrate our interventions to keep the client’s emotions in a manageable range.  The client is neurologically receptive to our own state. It’s crucial to pay attention to the messages we may be sending out. 

Michael Pollan, professor, nutrition expert, and interested student of psychedelic drugs 

Author of How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence 

Omnivores – that’s us! – have a lot of anxiety about food. This makes sense, because food profoundly influences the way we function and feel. 

Pollan was a gardener who wondered where our food comes from. He traced a great deal of it back to the corn fields in Iowa, the source of so much of what we consume – from corn itself to high-fructose sweeteners to animals raised on feed corn. 

The human microbiome is crucial to mental health. We need to care for it by: 

  • Eating real food, including lots of fruits and vegetables
  • Drinking tea and coffee in moderation
  • Reducing the amount of beef we eat, because cattle production is bad for the planet and climate

Psychedelic drugs are still illegal, but data from studies is growing and underground training of guides is increasing. 

Indigenous people used peyote more than 6,000 years ago. 

A study of MDMA 3,4-Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine, commonly known as ecstasy or molly, given to PTSD sufferers, showed that it was effective at relieving symptoms for nearly ⅔ of study participants. In another study at Johns Hopkins, many participants facing terminal cancer lost their fear of death. 

Psychedelics are showing some promise with eating disorders, which is amazing news – since EDs are among the most lethal of all mental health issues. 

Within the next three to five years, there will be a need for 100,000 trained guides for psychedelic-assisted therapy. 

Contemplating New Ideas

All of these speakers stimulated my thinking. Some added to my existing knowledge, others startled me to attention or presented unconventional perspectives. I always encourage open minded consideration of new ideas. And as always, I welcome your comments in the commenting section below.

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Thanks Ellen

David Feinstein
David Feinstein

Very useful, Ellyn. Thank you!

Lynne Joachim, MFT
Lynne Joachim, MFT

Interesting summaries. Thank you!

Barbara Harris
Barbara Harris

Thank you for the summaries as it is difficult to keep up with all the excellent workshops.

Andrea Tang
Andrea Tang

Thanks, Ellyn. Great summary- so interesting about the psychedelics. I’ve read about the use of ketamine for clients with anxiety and depressed mood related to trauma.

Dr. Ellyn Bader

Dr. Ellyn Bader is Co-Founder & Director of The Couples Institute and creator of The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy. Ellyn is widely recognized as an expert in couples therapy, and since 2006 she has led innovative online training programs for therapists. Professionals from around the world connect with her through internet, conference calls and blog discussions to study couples therapy. Ellyn’s first book, "In Quest of the Mythical Mate," won the Clark Vincent Award by the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists for its outstanding contribution to the field of marital therapy and is now in its 18th printing. She has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including "The Today Show" and "CBS Early Morning News," and she has been quoted in many publications including "The New York Times," "The Oprah Magazine" and "Cosmopolitan."

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