As a therapist, I am guided by the desire to always challenge myself to learn and grow not only as a professional but also an individual. While my education in graduate school and additional trainings has offered me a solid foundation of knowledge for marriage and family therapy, I left graduate school knowing my learning could not stop there. In fact, my learning as a professional and individual could never stop. If I assumed I know all I needed to ever know for therapy, because of theories learned, I would be doing a disservice to my clients.
The traditional theories I studied about offer me a base of information but there is not one theory that works for every client. The concept of "one size fits all" in the therapeutic world simply does not exist. I believe every day and each moment within the therapeutic space with my clients evolves and changes- with new meanings constantly being created through our conversations. So when I heard about an opportunity to participate in a collaborative learning experience in Mexico named the International Summer Institute (ISI), I was motivated for the professional challenge and the personal experience.
The concept of "one size fits all" in the therapeutic world simply does not exist.
The ISI is an annual collaborative learning experience lead by one of the founders of Collaborative Language Systems, Harlene Anderson, and a training institute for the Collaborative Language Systems theory, Groupo Campos Elíseos. With participants from all over the world, the summer institute is an enriching experience focused on conversation and dialog.
I was unsure what I would gain from the ISI. I knew we would explore the concepts of Collaborative Therapy, but I did not envision actually feeling the transformative effects of being a part of these conversations and dialogical spaces.
For almost a week I collaborated with people through language and translation. Several conversational partners did not speak English yet I still felt connected to these individuals based on our ability to communicate nonverbally and to work through translation. Friends I made in my conversational group were from Taiwan, Brazil, Canada, the United States, and Columbia. The stories of their experiences in their respective cultures and countries, in comparison to my own, left me creating new meaning in my own experience- professionally and personally.
Our conversations allow us to create new meanings, which then can create change in their lives.
The standard means for communication at the ISI is through constant translation. The translators would translate everything that was said in English to Spanish, and vice versa. It was interesting how translation slowed the conversation down, and because of this I individually experienced a greater understanding of the words being shared. I tend to be a fast paced individual, with words and thought, and the translation signified a lesson for me- to slow down. When I think about slowing down, I think about how this transfers into the therapy room for continued focus. Slow down to really listen. Slow down to really seek understanding. Slow down to really be curious about my clients' experience and not assume their experience is the same as another's. Being thoughtful about slowing down ensures I am not asserting myself as the expert in my clients' lives; rather I am a shared learner in their experience. Our conversations allow us to create new meanings, which then can create change in their lives.
One of the main collaborative therapy demonstrations at the ISI was called "a conversation in the middle of the room" with Harlene as the therapist. I was given the opportunity to participate in this conversation, and without much internal debate, I volunteered. I shared the conversational space with two other women and our translator. The three women (myself included) were sharing our own personal presenting problems with Harlene. During our conversation, it quickly escaped me that I was sharing some emotional personal details in front of a roomful of 80 people. It escaped me because of the pace of our conversation and the genuine curiosity from Harlene. She wanted to know me, she wanted to understand me, and she was not just seeking information to then prescribe a quick solution. Also, the other women's experiences impacted my own as I heard the two of them communicate their own struggles. The conversation alone allowed me to process my own experience in a new way and I left the "conversation in the middle of the room" feeling less anxious and clearer about my own dilemma.
In the therapeutic space my clients and I share, I will take lessons learned and reinforced from the ISI to continue to build my confidence in my approach to therapy. I want my clients to know how this collaborative experience will help me help them. Day by day, I am here to work towards understanding my clients' individual and relational experience. I am here to be present and a part of my clients' life altering conversations. I am always learning about my clients and I will continue to focus on being genuinely curious. This curiosity will help my clients and I engage in conversations that will continue to create new meaning in their lives and relationships. My greatest ambition is to continue to recognize how my clients are the experts in their lives and my role is to help their voices shine through.
For more information about Harlene Anderson and the International Summer Institute click here.