Conference reflections

The author provides a reflection on the fifth Annual Div. 32 Conference from the perspective of the conference co-chair

By Robert McInerney, PhD

"The soul of hermeneutics consists in recognizing that perhaps the other is right."
−Hans-Georg Gadamer

It has been weeks now after our conference and I’ve finally recovered from it! In fact, it was both exciting and exhausting. I can say that one misses out on a lot when chairing the conference (as Rich Bargdill might say, I experienced very little “Pop!”). But, I got the chance to meet and work with great people (especially students) and this makes up for missing some lectures and events.

On a long drive together to the Division 32 Chicago conference and on the way to APA, Washington, D.C., Brent and I imagined the conference at Point Park University and began to create the theme. With this particular conference we consciously created a community that both reflected Point Park University’s values regarding civic responsibility as well as our society’s ongoing interest in better welcoming people and ideas that challenge and potentially ameliorate our values and practices.

If there was a first about this conference I think it is that it has been the most scrutinized and critiqued. In Colorado, I feel we began to wake up to our need for and potential welcoming of more diversity (broadly conceived). This was certainly on our minds when Brent and I discussed the 5th annual conference. But, our conference also came on the heels of our very successful 4th annual Chicago conference where we made a turn toward more student involvement and in general, captured a sense of a welcoming community.

The focus on this past conference is a good thing certainly. It means that we can begin to come up with some preliminary templates (not manuals!) on what works best for as many attendees as possible. In essence, learning from one’s accomplishments and mistakes is an enaction of the hermeneutic circle. We cannot help but to bring to our next conference the pre-understandings of our experiences and these, in turn, help us to catch sight of and conceptualize our future desires.

And so from Thursday, March 29 - Sunday, April 1, 2012, we discussed issues of social justice, offered informed critiques of the DSM, erudite analyses of clinical practice and research, offered alternate ways in which to understand the brain and the world, ventured off to new fruitful associations with community psychology, indigenous, psychoanalytic and depth psychology, and reinvigorated associations with transpersonal, Laingian and existential-phenomenological psychology. Our conference explored liberation psychology, well-being, mindfulness and personalism. There were presentations on films, books and documentaries. There were presentations on personality disorders, religious and spiritual experiences, criminal behavior, caring for those who are medically ill, caring for each other in graduate school and on and on.

This, I think, was the real beauty of this conference — that we tried to do it all and in that sweeping attempt of a hermeneutics of love (and with our hearts open and in the right place), we discovered the tensions and possibilities that will be our precious burden.