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Steve, Mary and I just returned from the Evolution of Psychotherapy conference in Anaheim, CA and have so much to report. We attended presentations by Judith Beck, John and Julie Gottman, Harville Hendrix, Helen LaKelly Hunt, Sue Johnson, Otto Kernberg, Harriet Lerner, Peter Levine, Cloe Madanes, Scott Miller, Ernest Rossi, Robert Sapolsky, Daniel Siegel, Bessel van der Kolk, Michele Weiner-Davis, and Jeffery Zeig. Topics ranged from narcissistic personality to primate psychology to emotion focused therapy and everything in between. Oh, and we also saw Star Wars.

One of the major highlights of the conference, besides seeing Star Wars, was hearing Otto Kernberg discuss the development of personality disorder and, more specifically, narcissistic personality disorder. Dr. Kernberg is currently 89 years-old and his contribution to the field is paramount to understanding and treating personality disorders. Sharing his vast experience working with this unique and challenging set of disorders was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I can’t begin to describe how fascinating it was to be able to hear from one of the leaders in the field about transference/counter-transference and the difficulties of working with this disorder. He also lightened the mood a little with a story of a patient who would stand outside his office and yell as he was leaving work, “Otto you shithead! Where are you going?” Nothing quite like seeing an 89-year old Austrian shouting “Otto you shithead!” to a group of attentive therapists.

In addition to Kernberg, I was also thrilled with the work that Bessel van der Kolk is doing with psychodrama in treating trauma. He presented a video of a group therapy workshop that was incredibly moving and effective. Other notable presentations were Robert Sapolsky’s talk about his work with primates and stress, Harriet Lerner’s discussion about apologizing and forgiveness, and Jeffrey Zeig’s talk and live demonstration of evocative therapy.

In general, the conference left us with a lot of things to think about, discuss, process and integrate. It also left me with the feeling that four days of non-stop presentations is exhausting. I, for one, am glad to be home, excited, and energized to figure out new ways to use the wealth of knowledge presented. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll be the one standing up there presenting an effective integrated method to treat personality disorders.

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