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European positive psychology conference in Amsterdam: workshops on supervision and on relationships (1st post)

The 7th biennial European Conference on Positive Psychology (ECPP) began here in Amsterdam yesterday.  Four years ago, I went to the 5th European Conference in Copenhagen.  It was pretty special and I wrote extensively about it in this blog - see, for example "European positive psychology conference in Copenhagen: arriving, opening speeches & reception".  

As so often happens with big conferences, there were a number of initial pre-conference workshops available.  I went to a couple of three hour events - Fredrike Bannink on "Positive supervision" and Sue Roffey on "Positive relationships".  Fredrike's workshop was fast-paced, highly experiential, great fun and, for me, dramatically lacking in any serious attempt to back up her claims with any hard data. It reminded me of the old chestnut “It’s important to keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.”   As far as I could pick up, the only research study she mentioned to support the workshop’s relentless focus on building on successes rather than problem-solving failures was a 2009 study by Histed et al – "Learning substrates in the primate prefrontal cortex and striatum: sustained activity related to successful actions" – interesting but surely not an adequate justification for a whole workshop.

I don't want to be too mean here.  I think Fredrike is an inspiring presenter - warm, brave, caring, fun.  In some ways though, this makes the workshop even more "dangerous".  Supervision as an exercise is not well supported by extensive research data.  It's quite a strong statement to argue additionally that we should be trying "positive supervision" characterised by focusing on what our supervisees seem to be doing well in their work rather than exploring where they seem to be stuck.  Fine to make strong statements, but surely the next step is to try to see whether our hypothesis is or is not supported by results?  Let's not argue from learning data in primates when there is actually much better evidence available - see, for example, the three posts on this blog beginning with "New research suggests CBT depression treatment is more effective if we focus on strengths rather than weaknesses".  But if one was going to try to build "positive supervision" from this "positive psychotherapy" foundation, then I wouldn't have run the workshop in this way.  Fredrike also introduced the potential use of feedback from our supervisees elicited using the "Session rating scale" (SRS).  Mm ... this scale quite specifically asks about "failures" (where things went wrong, not where they went right) and actually the SRS and related ORS scales are being used for very interesting innovations in supervision, but not in the way that Fredrike suggests.  Scott Miller very carefully sifts supervisees' results to look for and learn from failures, not successes.  If you'd like to know more, follow some of the links in the post "Client-directed, outcome-informed therapy: a workshop with Scott Miller".  So for me this initial workshop was lots of fun, but not really a good use of time.

I then went on to three hours or so on "Positive relationships" with Sue Roffey.  Sue is the editor of a recent, interesting, multi-authored book "Positive relationships: evidence based practice across the world" and she stated that the workshop would be based on "commonalities across 17 chapters - connection, ecology, constructing culture, strengths and solutions, emotional and social literacy and learning, and social capital".  This workshop seemed to be a better mix of experiential exercises, research data, theory and explanation.  It was a bit school-focused rather than therapy-focused for me, but education is Sue's world and the work she knows.  What did I take away?  Well there were some fun tips for running workshops.  One was the way she provided fairly large sticky address labels and marker pens at the start.  She asked us all to write our first name on a label and then stick it on ourselves so other could it easily.  At one stage, later on, she also introduced a delightful "laughing together" exercise involving saying "toothlessly" to the next person in the circle "Have you seen Mrs Mumbles?".  The next person then replies "toothlessly" "No I haven't but I'll ask my neighbour" ... and so on round the group (possibly in both directions).  Nice ... light-hearted ...

What about the more academically "chewy" stuff?  Sue talked a good deal about raising kids.  She spoke about parenting styles - specifically facilitative/authoritative rather than authoritarian, indulgent or neglectful.  She showed us a recently produced one minute video called "Children see Children do" .  It's special and made me cry (and still does!) ... do watch it here on YouTube.  Sue spoke about her moving work with the "Aboriginal girls circle", triggered me to look again at Wilkinson & Pickett's fine book "The spirit level: why equality is better for everyone", mentioned Putnam's "bonding and bridging social capital" (I like the "150 things you can do to build social capital" listed on the Putnam-linked website "Better together"), appreciated Shelly Gable's work on active, constructive responding (see, for example, Gable's classic paper "Will you be there for me when things go right?"), and introduced ideas from John Gottman's work on marriage ... to mention just some of the areas we touched on.  Good stuff ... and I loved being reminded of the Margaret Mead quote - "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it's the only thing that ever has."  Wonderful!

In tomorrow's post I describe the start of the conference proper. 

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