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Alumni News

Light Refreshments and Deep Conversations

Fika and Fellowship at the Psy.D. Conference

February 7, 2024

The Clinical Psychology program at CIIS is committed to depth psychology and is founded on three pillars – social justice, the psychoanalytic, and the transpersonal-spiritual. Commitment to those core values is a source of inspiration and contentment, but given the current state of the field, it can sometimes be lonely, too. That’s why Professors Margaret Boucher and David Cushman created the first-ever Psy.D. International Alumni Conference this past November.

“We're a depth-oriented program, and there's such a pressure in the field for short term behavioral approaches. A larger commitment that our program is making is to push back on those ways of working,” said Margaret. That larger commitment led her and David to develop a slate of programming to dig deep into the value of depth-oriented approaches and highlight the many successful careers open to those who pursue depth work.

Sessions included talks from Prof. Willow Pearson Trimbach, who spoke to the transpersonal and spiritual dimensions of practice, and Prof. Stephanie Chen, who offered an intersectional examination of how identity, privilege, and power impact views and experiences of labor. Prof. Lani Chow also spoke as part of a group presentation on decentering existing power structures for the betterment of all. Intermixed with the presentations were several panel discussions on the state of the field and options for degree-holders. The conference culminated in a keynote presentation on the intersection of psychedelics and psychoanalytic work from noted researcher and alumnus Dr. Evan Sola.

More than 60 alumni, current students, and prospective students attended in person, with even more attendees showing up in the zoom room, which had a steady 30-50 participants throughout the day. This included international participants, with virtual and in-person attendees flying or phoning in from as far away as Italy, Mexico, and Hawaii (to name a few) to reconnect with their fellow alumni and to give presentations on their current work and research.  

“Our faculty and students and alums are all doing amazing stuff,” enthused David. He celebrated staff wisdom as well: program manager Brian Lieske introduced the department to the Swedish concept of fika, a communal afternoon break complete with coffee and snacks. Inspired by his suggestion, the event featured two separate breaks for fika, which were a huge hit. “I spoke to a participant, and he was telling me, yes, the content is great, but the best part is seeing everyone and connecting and feeling a part of the community,” Margaret shared. In fact, the fika sessions were so popular that Margaret and David had to shepherd the enthusiastic crowds back into sessions.

“We had to bring everyone back,” Margaret laughed. “I think people finally felt a part of something bigger, and that's such an antidote to the experience during COVID.”

Returning was certainly a through line for the conference, with a huge turnout from alumni eager to reconnect with former professors and with one another. Some participated in a panel discussion on how to use the degree, and even more shared their own journeys over coffee. Many spoke about their community-minded work, including doing training at schools and working in harm reduction with those with substance use disorders. Therapists and practitioners mingled with alums whose careers took them into different areas, like Dr. Amber Trotter, who just published a book on psychoanalysis as subversion.

This sense of possibility was thrilling for professors, who got to learn about their students’ many achievements, and also for the prospective students who attended. Yes, students who have not even applied to CIIS yet were invited too. “Folks who are going through the process right now, who we're interviewing and who may be deciding whether or not to come to that, gave us the chance to say, hey, come join us, meet our faculty. See what we're doing. We want to support them in that process of decision making,” said David.

That welcoming attitude has already prompted applications. “We have had some applicants reference the conference as a reason why they applied,” David mentioned.

Uniting the past, present, and future of the Psy.D. program all in one conference wasn’t easy, but Margaret and David are already looking forward to planning the next iteration of this conference, and maybe making it an official annual event. They are encouraged by the support they’ve received from the whole University, from Admissions to the Provost to President Brock himself.  

“People really want to think about depth-oriented psychology. People want a therapeutic process that really meets the person holistically,” David observed. Margaret agreed that the conference was—and will be—a great way for the community to come together to examine depth-based approaches. “There’s this deep desire to engage thoughtfully and critically together. That was very exciting.”

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