Impressions of the First World Congress for Existential Therapy in London, 14.-17.05.2015
ELITA KREISLERE (Latvia): On May 14-17, 2015, a historical event took place in London – the First World Congress for Existential Therapy, which gathered representatives of various branches of existential therapy from all continents, about 1000 people altogether.
The role of the hostess during the congress was actively and convincingly played by Prof. Emmy van Deurzen and her husband Prof. Digby Tantam. The event took place in the very heart of London, in the historical Church House Congress building. From an organisational and technical point of view, the congress was organized very well, with an army of volunteers ready to help out with every and any issue.
Other than the congress itself, the main event was the foundation meeting of the European Association for Existential Therapy that took place on May 15. It was attended by some 60 people from almost all European countries. The initiative to have such meeting during the congress came from Edgar Correia, Portugal. The meeting resulted in a work group that was created with the aim to develop a specific structure of the organisation and define its goals and tasks more precisely. One of the main tasks will be to represent existential therapy in EAP (European Association for Psychotherapy), as well as to unify existential therapists and promote distribution of quality information about the existential paradigm (especially at universities).
On May 16, another meeting took place, and its participants voted for the founding of World Confederation for Existential Therapy. Due to lack of time (one hour!), two decisions were made: about founding the entity with the aforementioned name, and about the next World Congress for Existential Therapy to be held in 2019, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Seen from the global perspective, the EEAET is one of the oldest and best-structured organizations for existential therapy, with its own teaching institution which will soon celebrate its 20th year, and biennial conferences that have been attended several times by many of the main guests of the World Congress. In connection to the World Congress, EEAET published a special edition of our journal Existentia: Psychology and Psychotherapy in English, which included the best published articles from the last 7 years, chosen through a process of voting. 300 copies were brought to London and distributed to interested participants.
GINTA RATNIECE (Latvia): The most powerful impression came from the first evening of the congress, when a documentary about Irvin Yalom was demonstrated, with him speaking about his life and his life choices. The most striking was the virtual interview with him broadcasting live from America. A moving moment was when he was given an honorary statuette – as a sign of gratitude for his life achievement in the development of existential psychotherapy.
The range of offered workshops, round tables and presentations was enormous. Yet it seemed somehow that working with the client was not a priority at this congress.
The most interesting part of the event was intercultural encounters. Warm and very personal meetings with old acquaintances – Simon du Plock, Mike Cooper and Chris Wurm – were a real source of joy.
There were also disappointments. Unfortunately, performance of all keynote speakers – Emmy van Deurzen, Kirk Schneider and Alfried Längle – made one to feel like a first year student who was being told the basics of the subject. I could not find in their presentations anything really new or personally important or enlightening.
To conclude, impressions of the congress were varied, but I dare to say that some of our conferences in Birštonas do surpass it in depth and quality…
BAIBA PURVLICE (Latvia): The schedule of the congress was packed – each day there was a keynote speaker and a chance to attend three workshops. Each time one had a choice of 10-11 workshops. The keynote speakers spoke more about general topics – freedom, the principles of Frankl or politics. In my opinion, they lacked new ideas and development in these topics, and connection to the practical work with clients.
What I missed most in this congress was reality – the practical work with clients, difficulties when working with clients, how we work, what we supervise in our practice and how.
RAIMONDA TOMKEVIČIENĖ (Lithuania): There is no doubt about the importance of this congress in the history of existential therapy – it is the first congress that has assembled many therapists from around the world.
The schedule of the congress was quite busy and intense – each time you had to choose seminars and discussions from 10-12 possibilities, and it was not easy to decide, as no specific information on them was provided.
Eric Craig’s seminar about the possibilities of dialogue between Dasein-analysis and existential therapy was very impressive. Of course, Alice Holzhey must be mentioned, as her presentation about ontical and ontological aspects in trauma, as well as comments in other seminars, brimful with sensitivity, pointedness and appreciation of human existence, touched me deeply, they are a real treasure. The seminar by Lucia Moja-Strasser was highly pleasant and truthful, and it focused on self-education of the therapist, especially on its spiritual aspect. Other seminars left no such bright impression, maybe even more of the opposite – they seemed to be rather unprepared, not seriously thought over, which sometimes contrasted with the proclaimed level of the congress.
I cannot refrain from being ironic, as the congress mostly reminded me of a meeting of celebrities, with some elements of a star show. Of course, the main tone of the event was set and actively maintained by Emmy van Deurzen, her husband Digby Tantam not falling far behind, but others simply politely agreed to her ever-present self-praising and to the fact that some people were always ready to bow to her.
It was worthwhile to participate in the congress, along with spending a considerable amount of money for the attendance and stay. The firsthand experience that existential therapy is alive, that its ideas are deeply rooted in the world, the possibility to see the bearers and practitioners of existential ideas in real life widened and enriched my point of view greatly. Truth be told, we have accumulated a lot of good in the space of our Association, therefore we can begin to prepare for the next congress in Buenos Aires, because we have a lot to share.
IRINA GLUKHOVA (Belarus): Some discoveries did happen. First of all, the representatives of modern American psychotherapy – Eric Craig and Robert Stolorow. Craig, for many years, develops a theory that connects Dasein-analysis, psychoanalysis and existential therapy, his books have become textbooks for many psychologists. Stolorow is one of the founders of modern inter-subjective psychoanalysis that is very close to existential therapy. Unfortunately, he could not attend the congress as he fell ill at the last moment, so he attended it only virtually. My second discovery in the congress was Lucia Moja-Strasser – an existential psychotherapist and consultant, born in Hungary, grew up in Romania, studied in France, lived in London for 30 years where she was the student, associate and colleague of Emmy van Deurzen. Her sophisticated workshop about phenomenology was, in my opinion, an example of how you can live in existential therapy, even if you only tell about it. I was also glad to meet Louis Hoffman, a member of the wonderful society of psychologists and psychotherapists at Saybrook University, California. In the congress, Hoffman gave a workshop titled “Existential Therapy, Poetry and Art” where he demonstrated a way of reading poetry therapeutically.
I can only add that the next, second congress will be held in four years, in 2019, in Buenos Aires. I truly hope that more of “our people” will be there. I would like the image of existential therapy in Eastern Europe to be based not only on the impression that was left – with all my respect – by countless Russian-speaking followers of Längle and Yeselson.