ACBS World Conference 16: Recap

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ACBS Student Representative Sonia Singh here! It’s the end of August and I am still riding the natural research, clinical, and community high of the 16th annual Association of Contextual Behavioral Science World Conference. This year the conference occurred in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and there was so much to do in and around the conference. After the 2 day pre-conference workshops, the conference poster session and the chapter/special interest group social on Wednesday evening was a wonderful, low pressure social environment to see old friends and meet new people. It was just the speed I needed heading into Thursday. Another thing that was just the speed of many people there was starting the day with Mindful-Yoga Based ACT with Tim Gordon and Dr. Jessica Borushok. Many people gathered to start their day with some gentle exercise integrating yoga and ACT. These casual and gentle starts to the conference helped people feel centered as we roared forward towards a jam-packed few days!

One of my favorite things about ACBS this year was the opening and closing ceremonies led by Elder, Otsi’tsaken:ra from the Kanien’keha:ka Community of Kahnawake. I felt so appreciative of ACBS for acknowledging that (As president Dr. Nanni Presti said during the opening ceremony) “This land is not ours.” I also appreciated the urging of one of my peers, Leah Bogusch, to acknowledge that ACBS was occurring this year on the traditional and ancestral lands of the Haudenosaunee and Abenaki nations. I made sure to begin all the presentations I was a part of with this information and noticed others doing so as well.

Thursday was a packed, whirlwind day starting with Dr. Lisa Coyne’s plenary, “On Fear and Wonder: The Varieties of the Psychological Experience.” Although I enjoyed all of the plenaries, I found this one to be the most moving. Dr. Coyne described her experience directing the child and adolescent OCD program at McClean Hospital. She discussed how she and the children on the OCD unit have learned to walk with fear. She discussed how fear and wonder go hand and hand. I remember vivid quotes from her presentation, “Wonder marvels at the unknown, fear shuts us down.” She encouraged us to acknowledge the world around us and acknowledge the stories we tell ourselves about our own “smallness.” She inspired us to recognize these as “just stories,” and to go beyond into discomfort to be true to our values. I have thought of this plenary often after Montreal and thought of how I want to continue to work through my own discomfort towards my values in my immediate and global community.

As a budding researcher, being able to see several different symposia was a highlight of the ACBS World Conference for me. I attended several talks focused on the use of contextual behavioral therapies for several different disorders (i.e., OCD, PTSD) and in several different settings. I also observed great talks on how to use contextual behavioral science to target microaggressions and racism. I felt intellectually enriched by the variety of empirical research being presented at ACBS this year. In addition to the great research, there were several great workshops. I attended lore m. dickey’s workshop on “Clinical Engagement with Gender Diverse Clients across the Gender Spectrum”. It was pointed out that this was the first time a person who identified as transgender was an invited speaker at ACBS. I appreciated ACBS taking initiative and foster inclusivity, and I hope continuing to reach across all areas of diversity is something ACBS continues to do.

In addition to the great learning experiences, the conference was also filled with some incredible light moments! Dr. Sue Johnson presented on emotion-focused therapy for couples. Upon hearing the term, “hexaflex,” her response was “I don’t know what a hexaflex is. It sounds like a furry animal and I want one.” To me, this may be the best response to the term “hexaflex” I have ever heard. Also, the levity continued with the follies on Saturday night. I have never attended another conference where so many people I admire are also extremely talented and funny. David Gillanders kicked things off with a parody of the Farrell Williams’ song “Happy” instead with the lyrics “Because I’m FAPpy.” It started things off with a bang and follies continued with laughs and great talent from there! Finally, I felt some personal success in being able to get a picture with Milky the cow.

Although I detailed the things I viewed and learned during my time at the conference, I do not think I can ever accurately detail the emotions and connection I feel at ACBS. This was my third ACBS World Conference and I continue to be impressed how an organization that is almost 8,000 strong can still feel like a close-knit community. There are people I always look forward to seeing each year, and I look forward to meeting and reaching out to new friends. I typically identify as a shy, introverted person, but the context of ACBS World Conference helps me feel brave, proud, and able to reach out and connect with other like-minded people. This year I was able to share this with my labmates and peers at Bowling Green State University. This was very meaningful and special to me because it felt like I was able to introduce people to this community that I care for so much. Although learning new clinical skills and hearing about new research is exciting and thrilling, the most important aspect of the conference and ACBS to me is the community. This conference feels like home.

Sonia Singh is the Student Representative to the ACBS Board of Directors for 2018 – 2019. She is a fourth-year doctoral candidate at Bowling Green State University in Ohio (USA).

Photos by Tim Gordon, the Zen Social Worker.