REFLECTIONS ON THE 20TH IAGP CONGRESS “THE RISING TIDES OF CHALLENGE AND HOPE: HEALING IDENTITY IN SOCIETY, GROUPS AND INDIVIDUALS”
(AUGUST 1-4, 2018, MALMÖ, SWEDEN)
By Esmina Avdibegović
Neuropsychiatrist, group analyst, training group analyst, member of IGA
The overall theme of the 20th Congress of The International Association for Group Psychotherapy and Group Processes (IAGP) reflected a series of social changes that the entire world is currently facing, and that includes European countries and the city where the Congress itself is held. Malmö, a seaside city in the south of Sweden, with its seaside smells, very warm summer days and pleasant nights, inevitably reminded me of the cities on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. The atmosphere in the squares of Malmö, especially in the Lilla Torg square, characterised by numerous small restaurants with dishes from all parts of the world and a mix of sounds from various languages, creates a strong feeling of connection with the surroundings. It is almost impossible to feel alone as a foreigner in Malmö since they claim to have citizens from around 170 countries. Fittingly, the topic of the 20th IAGP Congress was related to mass migration and other societal changes that are on the rise, i.e. the processes that carry many opportunities, but also a large potential for violent outbursts, as emphasised by Kate Bradshaw Tauvon, President of IAGP.
The activities of the congress were conceived in the usual manner. “Social dreaming” in the morning hours, a small and mid-size experiential group, a large group in the afternoon, plenary lectures in between, symposia, workshops, oral presentations and posters, as well as a new activity in the evening, started at the previous congress held in Rovinj – “groups in the city”. A series of pre-congress activities was organised and offered, just like in the case of earlier IAGP congresses. Online networking of congress participants was perhaps something of a novelty in comparison to earlier IAGP congresses, and something I had an opportunity to apply for. This made it easier for attendants to disseminate in- formation, receive answers to various questions and share impressions after the congress.
The content of the congress was conceived in four thematic parts. The challenges and changes in the world com- prised the topic of the first day of the congress, with an introductory lecture entitled “European anxieties: logics of affect and power” by Paul Mecheril, Professor for Migration and Education at the Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Germany. On the second day, Lene Auestad, a philosopher at the University of Oslo, presented a very interesting and intriguing lecture entitled “Re-membering and resisting in darkening times”, thereby announcing the topic of the second day, exploration of gender roles. The topic of the third day, race and racialisation, started with jazz music and a lecture entitled “A Black man’s experience with racism in America” by Rudy Lucas, a psychotherapist from Greenwich Village, New York. His lecture ignited a very lively discussion. It was interesting to hear reflections on trauma related to living in communities that view us as a problem just because we are different, of a different race or creed. And finally, on the last day of the congress, Camila Salazar Atías, a criminologist born in Chile who is the leading Swedish expert on gang crime, spoke about the structure of gangs, identity and inequality, and how we can all be a part of the solution to problems brought about by gangs. She shared her experiences in working with the youth who became members of various gangs. She spoke with a lot of zeal and empathy, offering and seeking the most constructive and positive solutions for children that were frightened, angry, sad, disappointed and marginalised, and whose aspirations and dreams had nothing to do with gang membership. The topic of this fourth day of the congress was trauma and its consequences.
The introductory lectures of this year’s IAGP congress reflected social problems that we are all facing today, ranging from inequalities to large migrations, terror- ism, racism and violence, which are all huge challenges for group therapists, both in terms of understanding the pro- cesses of societal changes and in terms of professional growth and empowerment when coping with the increasing challenges and establishing realistic expectations and hopes.
The program of the 20th IAGP congress was filled with workshops in psychodrama, group analysis, family therapy and trauma, with symposia on the topics of transculturality, research, social unconscious, family therapy, group analysis and trauma, as well as with oral and poster presentations. As with all large congresses, this one also made it difficult to keep track of various contents, but what impressed me most was working in a large group and the style of moderation and facilitating communication.
This large group was held from 5 to 6:30 PM with a combined way of facilitation, which I found quite confusing in the beginning. It took me some time to understand what was going on, when the group was “entered“ using the microphone, when it was without a micro- phone, when I was supposed to take over a role, get up or raise my hand, or say something in my mother tongue, as well as to understand the setting in the centre of the large group, which from time to time had an appearance of a theatre.
But, in the end, this combined sort of psychodynamic, group-analytic and systemic facilitation turned out to be very inspiring and inviting. This was a very useful play in which the actors of various real or fictional identities changed took turns, in which various conflicts were re-enacted and resolved, prejudices set and dissolved, e.g. about women wearing hijab. In ninety minutes, it was fascinating to witness the dynamics of movement and transformation of this group from an unstructured and, in certain moments, very aggressive and rebellious group, towards a group of very obedient and playful children. This was an extraordinary experience. I tried to make space for all these various sounds and languages, for different perspectives and approaches. The linguistic barrier was often quite frustrating. In this sort of constellation of a large group I managed to learn something about myself, I recognised ways in which I can feel well in a large group, when I am flooded by feelings of discomfort, how I can connect and communicate in spite of all barriers and cultural differences. I recognised some of my own stereotypes, distances, and fears. This was a group in which I could feel how connections are made through the joint experiences of loss, fear, rage and rejection even though there are many cultural differences and differences in approaches to group therapy. And through the processes of sharing, Over four days, I could feel myself developing the sense of belonging to a large community of group therapists, all the while maintaining my own identity of a group analyst. Just like cultural and all other stereotypes are inseparable parts of our own identities, so are profession- al stereotypes an inseparable part of our professional identity, which is being realised, as Lacan says, in the context of the Other as a sort of a mirror image.
The 20th IAGP Congress was held in the congress centre of an impressive Clarion hotel. The social program was very pleasant and relaxed. The transcultural section of IAGP organised a very interesting artistic space in the congress hall by allowing all participants of the congress to share their feelings and impressions through expressive techniques.
In the end, this congress, which consisted of many presented papers and discussions, showed how group therapy and group work, with all their modalities and innovations, still have an important role in social processes and a wide range of applications.
Link to the text in Croatian and in English https://hrcak.srce.hr/en/clanak/316127