Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Happy Thanatologist

I just returned from the Association of Death Education and Counseling Conference in Portland, Oregon. Some people who love me fear that my choice of profession at this stage in my life is based on an unwillingness to let go of the trauma of death or, at the very least, it is probably really depressing.  I have to tell you that neither of these suppositions is true!

Delving deep into how people cope with death and loss and how they come out the other side is actually inspiring. Attending lectures by passionate researchers, psychologists and counselors and listening to others who are supporting people of all ages, in all kinds of grief, is enlivening. I paired this educational experience with a visit to my oldest daughter to see her new home and a visit with some dear old friends so my 10-day trip was fun as well as educational.

I had never been to Oregon before and it is quite beautiful, although a little wet. My dear friend took me to the Columbia Gorge and we saw the amazing Multnomah Falls which splashed on our faces. We started talking in the car at the airport and did not stop until she dropped me off at the hotel for the conference. I love it when you haven’t seen friends in a long time and it is just a matter of catching up on the interval with stories. I am very grateful to her and her husband for being so welcoming, especially since I invited myself over!

Once ensconced in my hotel room with a view of the Willamette River, my conference experience began in earnest with a meet and greet. Many old colleagues were there including a woman from my first year cohort in my Master’s program. And I began to meet new colleagues, accept dinner invitations and share information and ways to practice. The keynote speakers were stimulating, especially Okello Kelo Sam, a former child soldier from Uganda who drummed and sang while telling us about the orphanage and school he has started for children who have suffered as he did.

Thursday afternoon, I presented my talk on using expressive therapies in grief counseling sessions. This is what I am passionate about because I believe that pairing non-verbal modalities with talk therapy can be very beneficial. And while I know that developing evidence based research in thanatology is important, apparently many attendees were hungry for some ideas that were both practical and different. I expected to have perhaps 20 people at my experiential workshop; instead over 80 people came. They were sitting on the floor and crowded in the doorway! The interaction was great and people continued to comment that they had enjoyed the talk.

Since I’ve been on stage since I was little, my inner performer came out to play. I enjoyed speaking without a script and I particularly enjoyed helping people to see that expressive modes can really help people when they are grieving.

I hope the many people I connected with keep in touch!

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