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Monday, May 6, 2013

Notes on Humanistic Psychology Today by Candice Hershman, M.A., LMFT

At APA Division 32: Society for Humanistic Psychology Annual Conference 2013

Highlight at DIV32 2013
 Orah Krug's interview with
  Irv Yalom 

I have come to believe that the success and fruition of every movement is more reliant on a sense of community than initially recognized. However, in a world of increasing technological advancement and globalization, our sense of community has shifted. The positive aspect of this is more rapid connection & sharing of ideas, as well as awareness of our distant & even overseas brothers & sisters. The negative aspect is disembodied contact & loss of the kind of power & agency derived from a close knit, grass-roots community.

Although my love of Existential-Humanistic Psychology is definitely grounded in my genuine belief in the guiding principles (mainly, that the direct experience of people and relationship is more valuable than paradigms of experience and relationships), it is duly my direct experience of the people in the EH Community that has brought vitality to my interests. I somehow imagine that if not for the mentorship and proximal peer learning, Existential Humanistic Psychology would add up to a mere collection of books on my shelf, at best resulting in greater insight. It was the actual people - their energy, vibrancy, integrity, and accessibility that made me want to make a career and life for myself in Existential Humanistic Psychology. Attending the Society for Humanistic Psychology Annual Conference in Santa Barbara amplified that sense of passion for me.

Division 32 of APA, or rather, the Society for Humanistic Psychology has a pretty active Facebook community. I’ve been a member of the Division for about 7 years now, have heard about the conferences, and have made online connections with many of the Division’s members online. For years, I’ve never even met several of the members. I would watch friends of mine get very involved in the online community, and I would recoil a little bit at the thought of investing so much time in online academia.

Regardless, I attended the conference for the first time this year and met not only at least a half dozen people I’d only known online, but dozens of amazing people who I immediately felt strongly akin to. This was the same feeling I had ten years ago when I first became involved in the Learning Community meetings run by Art Warmoth and Pat Hansen at Sonoma State University. This was the warm, truly *person centered* atmosphere that made me feel at home. Most importantly, these were not dry academic personalities that waxed philosophical and wrapped every discussion up with a clinical analysis. These were people who connected beyond the stereotypical, dry and critical anhedonia that has usurped the true value of what it means to heal. Rather, this community is full of juicy, dynamic, expressive, and just damn fun people. These are people who don’t just talk about living. They live.

Additionally, our profession has recently lost many esteemed mentors such as Jim Bugental and Eugene Taylor. One of the most common fears I’ve heard from colleagues is that our breed is dying out. Who will carry the torch? Who will care about existential humanistic psychology? Indeed, we do have contemporary leaders like our own EHI board members, Orah Krug, Kirk Schneider, and Nader Shabahangi. Still, every time there is a loss, the concern about who will fill some very big shoes is amplified. For me, when I gather in a community of such hardy colleagues, my fear is quelled. I know that there are many fresh faces who not only have the brains, but the heart that is necessary to keep a community thriving. For instance, I was greatly impressed with the leadership of Div. 32 President, Dr. Louis Hoffman. He demonstrated the humility, sensitivity, and accessibility that is rare in esteemed positions. Another great example would be Div. 32 Secretary, Dr. Richard Bargdill, and his robust, authentic, and warm personal engagement with not only colleagues, but students just getting involved. This is the attitude that not only creates community involvement, but makes it sustainable. Without the qualities of these two leaders, movements tend to eat themselves alive.

The result of meeting these fabulous folks? The online community is terribly appealing now, being that all of these wonderful people who gathered in Santa Barbara are dispersed all over the country, from Pittsburgh, to Richmond, to Seattle, and so on. And we don’t just talk shop. I just had an online conversation with President Elect Brent Dean Robbins about whether or not a butterscotch flavored ice cream is in existence. He’s a brilliant guy, but I think that conversation has raised my esteem for him exponentially. I like real people who can shoot the breeze about ice cream.

I want to add that many of our own EHI board represented at the conference. Kirk Schneider & Orah Krug presented with Rob Stolorow (Justin Underwood represented David Elkins) on "The Renewal of Humanism in Psychotherapy: Strategies for Transforming Our Field." Kirk’s activist conviction; Orah’s heartfelt representation of the EH-Certification students & their growth as clinicians; Rob’s joining in with the intersubjective, &; Elkin’s representation of evidence based research & its reinforcement of relationship & context factors as key elements of therapeutic efficacy all illustrated different aspects of Humanistic values and the vital role they play in shaping good therapy.

I co-presented along with Louis Hoffman & Michael Moats "The Use of Poetry to Enhance Psychotherapy," covering theories and models of consciousness that support expansive use of language, as well as personal and clinical examples and experiential exercises for the audience. Kirk Schneider again presented Awe, Wisdom and Well-Being: Latest Findings. A grand finale of the conference was Orah Krug’s interview of Irvin Yalom.

In addition to our own board member’s presentations, there were incredible presentations from multicultural perspectives to ethics grounded in love to embodied psychology.

The content was cutting edge, and yet I still want to end on one very central note: It is the steadfast and joyous rhythm of the collective beating heart of Humanistic Psychology that stood out and reminded me of why I have always wanted to be an existential psychotherapist. I don’t just want to talk about living: I want to truly live among others who live and love each other well. I look forward to a continued partnership between EHI and the Society for Humanistic Psychology. Our cutting edge insights may be what bring us validity, but it is our team spirit that will sustain us as more than a group of professionals: we are kin of a movement that continues to grow.


Candice Hershman, M.A., LMFT is a EHI Board Member and current Doctoral student studying at Saybrook Graduate School. Candice currently sees individual and family clients privately in Sausalito, CA specializing in treatment of people with acute/chronic mental health challenges, adults and children who have experienced situational and developmental trauma, and adoption/foster care issues. Candice also provides in-home family therapy to people with small children. In addition, Candice provides mental health consultation to local preschools. Prior to entering the mental health profession, Candice worked for 15 years in Early Childhood Education as both a teacher, director of programs, and county mentor.

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