The thirteenth World Conference for Person-Centred and Experiential Counselling and Psychotherapy took place at the beginning of July in Vienna. It coincided with the end of my MSc and fit neatly into the transition from student counsellor to professional Focusing Oriented Therapist and gave me an opportunity to meet this new community in the flesh. I attended the end of the pre-conference which was a multi-day encounter group and my first formal experience of encounter, though I came to realise that large groups in retreats I had attended in the past shared many of the same ways of working. I bravely seized the microphone and introduced myself as a new member of the community, hoping people would know I was there for the first time and come to speak to me in the breaks, which they did. The atmosphere was very welcoming and free and when a speaker cancelled people brought out the drums and we danced instead.
There was a group of focusing therapists and researchers who had travelled from Japan, amongst them Akira who has been on two of the online classes from the Focusing Institute, his student made an experiential presentation about using Focusing to work with dreams. I was relieved to hear that the Keynote speakers wanted to place the Person-Centred approach firmly in the contemporary social-political context rather than simply the individual experience and was impressed to see presentations from Argentian, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cuba, Nigeria and Kenya. The theme was ‘Hope’ and discussions arose around the difference between looking for hope and bringing a hopeful attitude, for many no matter how difficult a situation hope was very much connected to life and change. From a Focusing perspective, this is a very clear and useful way of seeing our work, to hold the space trusting that people will be able to connect with their hope when left undisturbed.
For me, this was also an excellent opportunity to connect with Keith Tudor and Brian Rogers from Auckland University of Technology who will be hosting the next conference in New Zealand in 2020 as I hope to be living in New Zealand a year from now and to be able to help them organise some aspects of the conference would help me to connect with people there. The theme is ‘Culture, contact, context’ which fits alongside my yearning to be in a land where indigenous people have a strong presence, to connect my work with an aboriginal, land-based approach.
On leaving I felt very inspired to meet this new community and to imagine completing my study and practice hours before slowly making my way to a new country.