Learning from TED: Our New Sunday Program

Since 1984, at least 100 million people—either in person or online—have seen or heard a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talk. Through these 3-18 minute presentations by the world’s best thinkers, creators, and talents from every imaginable field, the TED conferences have pioneered a new way of disseminating cutting edge ideas around the planet.

The particularly thrilling power of the TED Talk format may be that its concentrated format requires speakers to compress a complex vision and a lifetime of thought and accomplishment into a few supersonically charged minutes. And as speakers follow each other in this challenging format, perspectives get juxtaposed in a way that forces the audience to make mental leaps they might not otherwise make. The result is often a dizzying, exhilarating ride that leads to the mind-opening experience of previously undiscovered connections and synchronicities.

Given that there are so many exciting and creative developments in the science, theory, and practice of psychotherapy today, we’ve decided to do our own, smaller version of the TED Talks at this year’s Networker Symposium. So, we will begin the conference’s last day with a special plenary session called “Future View,” with three leading figures in our field taking 18 minutes each to address a theme he or she thinks is critical to the future of therapeutic practice:

Gary Small: Therapy in the Age of iBrain

Our civilization is engaged in a massive and unprecedented experiment determining the impact of digital technology on our mental lives, emotions, and relationships. And yet, the mental health field by and large has not seriously explored this issue, with the striking exception of Gary Small. A renowned neuroscientist and practicing therapist, he is the coauthor with Gigi Vorgan of iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind and one of the foremost researchers on this topic. Named one of the world’s leading innovators in science and technology by the Scientific American, Gary will address fundamental questions that every therapist will have to think about sooner or later: Is the use of technology actually altering—in ways both good and bad—the evolution of the human brain? How should therapists think about these transformations and respond to them with their clients?

Susan Johnson: Harnessing the Power of Emotion

Our digital machines certainly can seem much smarter than we are, but that doesn’t erase the most striking difference between them and us: Only we have the capacity to feel emotion. Indeed, therapy is an increasingly critical oasis in the midst of our tech-dominated world, one of the few places where we are encouraged to experience and express emotion. And yet, therapists are often strangely queasy in the presence of strong emotion—worried things might get out of hand—even though it is from the cauldron of raw affect that resolution and healing typically come. Nobody in the field is better prepared to address this issue than Susan Johnson, one of the originators of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), a groundbreaking treatment approach rooted in Attachment Theory and the field’s most empirically validated approach to couples therapy. Sue will address one of the great challenges facing our profession: How, in an age that so privileges purely cognitive abilities and digitally-mediated communication, can therapists help clients discover and explore the primeval immediacy of emotional connection?

William Doherty: Therapy as a Conversational Craft

It has become increasing apparent that we do not achieve whatever impact we have in our therapeutic work primarily through prescriptions and procedures. No clinical method has more power than the everyday relationship tools of sensitive talking and deep listening—in other words, the fine craft of conversation. William Doherty—who has been regularly giving Symposium attendees the benefits of his broad-ranging interests, humor, common sense, and deep clinical wisdom for almost 30 years—will examine the proposition that our field’s next great advance may have less to do with theoretical or technical breakthroughs, and far more to do with discovering ways for practitioners to become more finely skilled conversational partners in the consulting room.

The common focus of all three talks and of this year’s Symposium—The Therapist’s Craft: Healing Connection in a Digital World—is how, in an increasingly detached and mechanistic culture, we as therapists can be practical activists in the vital work of keeping our species fully human. We hope you can join us for this inaugural Future View program and for the entire experience of this year’s Symposium.

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