I had the honor of attending and volunteering at the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference in Anaheim, California with 2 classmates. This is the story of Days 6 , 7, and 8 the final entry. You can find Day 5 here: https://scrapsofmadness.wordpress.com/2013/12/26/evolution-of-psychotherapy-2013-day-5-a-legend-at-breakfast-dr-linehan-in-action-opening-cans-of-worms-with-dr-sue-revelations-in-writing-and-the-spiritual-power-of-the-sea/
Friday had been busy. The whole damn week had been busy. Late nights and early mornings the whole way. Saturday was no different. Chris and I had to be at a conference room in the Hilton at 8am to work the door for Conversation Hour with Dr. Otto Kernberg.
Once that was done, we went downstairs and bought our Disneyland tickets. We planned to go Sunday evening. We were leaving to fly out Monday and Disneyland seemed like the perfect way to end this epic week.
Next, I attended a brilliant presentation by Dr. Donald Meichenbaum called The Treatment of a Suicidal Patient with a History of Victimization: A Constructive Narrative Perspective. Dr. Meichenbaum showed us a video of an actual session with a real client. It was incredible. This poor woman had been through the worst things you could imagine and had attempted suicide 7 times. Yet, Dr. Meichenbaum was able to find the positives in her story and highlight her resilience. It was powerful.
The next presentation I went to was by Dr. Claudia Black who is well known in the field of addictions. I am very interested in addictions and I’ve come across her research in the past. I was thrilled to get to see her in person. She gave a fascinating presentation on the intertwining influences of family and addictions.
I had other presentations I wanted to see, but I was exhausted. And there was a late night ahead, because this was the night we would see a huge hero in the field present. Dr. Irvin Yalom was speaking with a book signing to follow. I decided to rest and rebuild some energy.
Prior to the big Yalom presentation, Chris and I had to volunteer at one called Trauma, Spirituality, and Recovery. It was by Dr. Donald Meichenbaum and Dr. Erving Polster. A Jewish man and an atheist. This was powerful. After the spiritual experience by the ocean the night before, I had many thoughts on this subject still swimming around in my mind. They played a clip from the documentary “Where was God on 9/11?” A man in that documentary talked about his raw anger at God. This hit home. In April of 2013, I lost my lifelong best friend. I was fighting tears throughout this presentation. It was beautiful, powerful, and eye-opening in ways I did not expect.
An hour and fifteen minutes prior to the big presentation of the evening, we plopped our butts down in 5 rows from the stage. It was the closest we could get. We were going to see Yalom up close and personal. The arena got packed really fast. We sat anxious and cramped, waiting to catch the first glimpse of a living legend.
Teaching Psychotherapy Through Narrative. That was the title of the presentation. Dr. Yalom is a well-known writer. He has written not only books related to therapy, but novels. He actually read us excerpts from a book he has not yet published. We sat there, jam-packed in uncomfortable seats, completely absorbed in every word. I remember the exhaustion of the week really hitting me. To listen to the soothing sound of his reading was hypnotic. I felt like I was fighting sleep. I felt like I was lost in a dream.
After the presentation, was Yalom’s book signing. We came prepared with various copies of his works. My book was The Gift of Therapy. I already owned Love’s Executioner, but in Kindle format. But instead of rushing to get in line, we had already resigned ourselves to inevitable hours standing and waiting. We took a chance. While everyone else was rushing out of the arena, we rushed up toward the front of the room. And there, we approached Dr. Judith Beck. I mentioned her in a previous post. She and Yalom were probably my two top heroes who were present and presenting.
She greeted us with a smile and once again I was certain I was dreaming. We introduced ourselves as graduate students and she seemed genuinely thrilled to meet us. I wish I could remember more of the words. I know she invited us to apply to attend one of her workshops for graduate students this summer. I know she was polite, sweet, and more than happy to allow us to take pictures with her. But I can’t remember dialogue. I can’t remember specifics. It was too mind-blowing.
As if that wasn’t enough excitement, the line for Yalom’s signing was long but moved faster than we expected. There was a system in place. Get your book signed, then move to the side for a picture while the line continued. We all three made sure we got pictures of each other. I’ll never forget walking up to the table, again convinced this had to be a dream. I was going to wake up any second. He asked me my name. I gave it. I showed him where to sign. He signed. He touched my hand, looked me in the eye, and said “Good luck. I hope you enjoy the book.”
We got our pictures.
Then we walked outside into the chilly night, exhausted and light-headed. We talked about how surreal it all seemed. How we felt like weeping from the magnitude of it all. How this trip had been worth every damn penny. We had just met and interacted with two of our greatest heroes. The colorful lights in the fountains and on the Convention Center walkway and the palm tree leaves swaying in the breeze seemed appropriately magical.
We were starved and delirious. We walked to our room, put our stuff away, and walked to the Denny’s next to the hotel. We sat around the table laughing and anything and everything. The food was the most delicious ever. Probably because we were so damned hungry. We were all lost in a dream together. And it was beautiful.
The next day held the promise of seeing the 91 year old legendary Dr. Aaron Beck present through Skype, interviewed by his daughter Dr. Judith Beck. Dr. Aaron Beck is probably my biggest living hero in the field. I was exhausted. And damned determined not to have to be somewhere by 8am. So I slept in.
We got to the arena early. Dr. Beck was to be on at 11:30. We caught part of the prior presentation by Dr.’s John and Julia Gottman. It was called Group Treatment of Situational Domestic Violence for Lower-Income Couples. Brilliance. Pure awesome brilliance. The video clips were amazing. It was great to see the Gottmans in action.
This time, we sat in the higher levels of the arena, but had a good view. The seating was more comfortable. We had already seen and met Dr. Judith Beck. Dr. Aaron Beck was on Skype, so we saw no need to make special effort to be near the stage. Dr. Aaron Beck came online and brilliance filled the room. I cannot emphasize how much of an impact this man has had on the field as we know it. This would have been the equivalent of seeing Freud speak back in his heyday. This man is one of my biggest personal heroes ever and so is his daughter. To see them both present, to hear the brilliant responses Dr. Aaron Beck gave to her and the questions from the audience members…it was incredible. Mind-blowing.
And in the middle of this bucket-list topping moment of overwhelming brilliance…my allergies gave me a sudden sneezing fit. The absurdity of the moment, of having a sneezing fit at this of all times, promptly sent me into giggles. Chris and Lauren had to help get me under control. A nice, understanding lady in front of us gave me a tissue. And all was well.
At the end of the presentation, we stood in the crowd, our individual claps part of a standing ovation. This 91 year old god of psychology, this creator of cognitive behavior therapy, watched as the camera revealed to him the praising crowd. Visibly taken aback, tears glistening in his eyes, he gave a quiet hoarse whisper, “Thank you.” And the call ended.
It was an honor to be a part of the applause.
That was the end of our Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference experience. And it was a beautiful one.
Next, we grabbed some fast food and then went to Disneyland. I wish I had more to say about that experience, but the truth is I was so exhausted at this point I was not able to fully enjoy it. I did go on Space Mountain and then the Star Tours ride. Star Tours is the Star Wars ride. You’re in a 3D flight simulator. C3PO and R2D2 are piloting it. As you start flying, an imperial droid finds you and says there is a rebel spy aboard. It scans the craft and picks a random picture of the people inside. It picked me. I was the rebel spy.
After that, we walked around a bit and I simply could not take it anymore. My entire body was exhausted. My brain was exhausted. I am an introvert and I had been around large crowds almost continuously all week long. I simply could not handle anymore and the crowd was getting so thick at Disneyland that I could not turn around without bumping into anyone. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. And the exhaustion was all the way into my bones.
So I left early. Chris and Lauren managed to stay until the park closed and I have no idea how they did it. I went back to the hotel only to discover that I had bought too much stuff to fit in my carry on. I was forced to make a late night run to Target and drop 70 bucks on a new bag. I texted Chris and Lauren saying “Buy more shit. I bought a bag.” We had been concerned about how we would get everything home. Once back at the room, I got all packed for the morning flight. It was nice to have some time alone to relax. A few hours later, Chris and Lauren made it in to tell me about all the awesome cool stuff I had missed. I hate that I missed out, but I had been way too tired and grumpy to enjoy it. I did get the Disneyworld experience as a kid, so I’m not completely deprived.
It was time to pass out. Once again, we would not get enough sleep before having to get up. It had been an amazing week, but I was ready to be home. And I was not looking forward to an entire day of flying.
The trip home was exhausting in and of itself, but it went smoothly. Taking off from the Orange County airport was a nerve-wracking experience (see the first entry where I mention the steep take-offs and landings due to a noise ordinance in Newport Beach). We had a few hours of layover in Houston. Our flight got delayed. The good news was, Lauren, who had been on a later flight out of Orange County, was able to catch up and switch to our flight back to Shreveport. The three of us were able to wait and ride home together.
Finally, it was time to board the puddle jumper back to Shreveport. I was not thrilled about being on a small plane again, but I was ready to be home and I knew it’d only be a 45 or so minute flight. Flying at night was a new experience. I enjoyed seeing the lights out the window. I reflected on how incredible the entire week had been. How I had never expected the level of personal, professional, and spiritual development I had gotten. I still had no idea how to make sense of it and process it.
Before long, we were landing in Shreveport. I had a smile on my face. It was so good to be home. I will never forget the view from the air of the moon over Cross Lake and the lights surrounding it. A beautiful sight that somehow felt like an appropriate conclusion. It meant home. Through a dazzling new perspective.
Dr. Erving Polster (left) and Dr. Donald Meichenbaum (right, and telling a joke lol)
Dr. Irvin Yalom
Dr. Aaron Beck on Skype. Dr. Judith Beck on stage.