ACBS World Conference 17 Reflections

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By ACBS Student Representative Varsha Eswara Murthy

It has been a full month since ACBS World Conference 17 wrapped up and I am still finding myself recollecting wonderful moments both professionally and personally from the conference. The conference took place on home ground for me in Dublin, Ireland and it was great to meet many new faces and show old friends around the city I call home. There were so many amazing pre-conference workshops to choose from that I found myself scratching my head and flipping back and forth for a full 2-months prior to the conference. I finally chose to attend Kelly Wilson’s workshop on focusing on the meaning and development of the therapeutic relationship. I learned so much about how to be in the therapy room or any room for that matter. What struck me was how persistent exposure to social toxins such as isolation can be a risk factor for the development and perpetuation of both mental and physical distress. This workshop was densely experiential and the deep immersion in ACT processes definitely improved my ability to connect with others in many arenas of my life. After the intense 2-day pre-con workshops, the chapter and SIG social was a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet new faces. The UK and Ireland chapter went all out with their fabulous costumes, tea, and scotch!

I always appreciate the opportunity to begin the conference with morning mindfulness practices that were led by Jan Martz, these slow reflective starts to the day were a perfect way to ground me and set intentions for the conference. Louise McHugh and David Gillanders kicked of the conference greeting everybody with a big céad míle fáilte (a hundred thousand welcomes in Irish) before handing the stage over to Frank Bond and Jonathan Dowling who gave us a new roadmap to being ALIVE (Actively Living as an Individual, Vitally Engaged-in relating in the World), I particularly enjoyed the emphasis on how philosophy combined with theory and data can help to evolve CBS.

There were many excellent plenaries at this year’s conference, but one that stood out to me was Janet Helms’ plenary on the power dynamics of white racial identity in social interactions. The plenary began with a very powerful exercise where Dr Helms invited individuals to imagine they were the only white person at a conference predominantly attended by other races. This exercise spoke to my experience of being the only coloured person in several environments and gave some of my colleagues and friends the opportunity to see what it might be like for myself and other minorities in predominantly white spaces. This was incredibly powerful and what followed was a great overview of how allies differ from collaborators and how we can all engage in ways to make ACBS a more inclusive space for minorities. A humorous take home was definitely the introduction of the term WHMP (pronounce wimp; White Heterosexual Male Privilege). Louise Hayes also gave an excellent insight into the future goals and states of ACBS by highlighting the ACBS strategic plan to reinvigorate our culture, centre science, and expand our presence globally.

As a researcher the highlight of the conference was the opportunity to attend many symposia on innovations in research with various populations and in different and novel contexts. Of particular interest to me was the great research being conducted with vulnerable and marginalised populations. It was great to see the rise of tech assisted research and therapy, from chatbots that assist in teaching clients defusion exercises to data collection that has been streamlined by the use of tech. Another interesting trend was the conversation about shifting away from group-based designs to methods and designs that can adequately address and acknowledge individuals’ complexity and change. This shift from nomothetic to ideographic investigations of human behaviour and change is a welcomed one and now starts the fun part, designing studies, methods and protocols.

Another important area of inquiry that was brought to the fore this conference, were issues surrounding climate change and global warming and how ACBS can leverage what we know about human behaviour, behaviour change and modification to meaningfully take part in conversations and actions locally and governmentally to address this important global issue. I also had the opportunity to attend many great workshops that allowed me to learn new techniques and how to adapt exercises to more adequately address the needs of differing populations, from gender and sexual minorities to high performing and busy people.

The conference offered many opportunities to connect with friends old and new at its many social events. The social in St. Patricks Cathedral provided a magnificent backdrop to hold a wonderful poster session. Saturday was when it all truly kicked off, beginning with the Follies and then ending with a great boogie. Sunday was filled with good-byes and exchanging of emails and phone numbers with new friends.

I learned many new things, ways of thinking and had my heart and mind stimulated throughout the conference. I am always particularly struck at how ACBS continues to strive to address issues surrounding inclusivity and diversity. Despite it’s ever growing membership ACBS continues to be welcoming and encouraging to many new researchers and practitioners globally. It was great to have the conference on home turf as it allowed myself and our lab to introduce many researchers and practitioners locally to a community and field that means so much to us personally and professionally. It has only been a month since the conference and already I can see the profound ways attending this year’s world conference has influenced my research and practice. I’m looking forward to seeing the conference’s impact unfold throughout the coming year. Roll on New Orleans!

Varsha Eswara Murthy is the Student Representative to the ACBS Board of Directors for 2019 – 2020. She is a doctoral research student at University College Dublin (Ireland).

"The Poster Session" photo by Courtney Zirkle.  All other photos by Patrick Zilliacus.