Thursday, February 20, 2014

Psychotherapy with Heart and Love: Yep... a Kelly Wilson Workshop

        Call me a sucker for experiential workshops but I drove up with some colleagues to Montreal a few days ago to attend a two day Kelly Wilson, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) training. The training was being sponsored by the Contextual Psychology Institute, whom are offering a number of excellent functional contextual psychotherapy trainings. I recommend anyone who is interested in evidence-based psychotherapies or CBT to check out the institute as I've attended a number of trainings and have found them excellent. I digress, let's talk about Kelly's talk.

Let me be clear in saying, I'm a fan of Kelly Wilson. I saw Kelly give a workshop previously, at the ACT Bootcamp.  I read Mindfulness for Two (a book for clinicians, not about couples but instead about the therapist-client relationship) and found it really influential to me. In fact, it's one of my go-to books that I suggest to new therapists who ask me for text recommendations in beginning clinical work. For clients, I recommend Kelly's Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong a book more accessible for the general public as it's a self-help book rather than a clinical textbook.

Regardless of what you're reading by Kelly, you may get the sense that he's a bit different. I mean this in the most respectful and endearing way I can write it. At the risk of sounding hokey or cheesy, Kelly has a really special approach to this work and profession we call therapy — you can just tell that he values the therapeutic relationship, he embodies kindness and really appears to live the material he writes and talks about.

Benji Introducing Kelly for the ACT Montreal Training
        If you have ever been to a Kelly Wilson workshop, you should prepare yourself to see Kelly cry. Kelly invites his workshop participants (seasoned therapists and students alike) to come in contact with their own suffering and as he does so, Kelly also looks to be moved emotionally. In a whisper only audible thanks to the rooms amplification system, "I'm gonna invite you to suffer" says Kelly. He walks amongst the audience, leans in close to a participant as he talks and quietly guides us through a mindfulness exercise. During the exercise he says the following with an audible waver and crack in his voice:

"Can you see a future self, you're somehow free, you can do the things you can't do now. You're able to do the things you want to do with grace. And what does that you get to do that you long for? I want to invite you to see that this future you is standing right in front of you and that they could reach out and lay their hand gently on your cheek and look down into your eyes and say these simple words. . ."

With my eyes closed, I can hear Kelly's compassion and love in his voice, I inhale to notice that thought in my own head and exhale to return my focus.. I then notice the sound of sniffles in unison everywhere around me. That sense of sweetness, hope, loss, and struggle is embodied in the last few minutes of this exercise — I'm feeling it and everyone around me is in that space too. Kelly chimes his Tibetan bells, our eyes open, I see tissues dabbing eyes around me, the room is silent and we just sit with the experience, the gift of that very moment that Kelly helped us give to ourselves.

Benji, Kelly, and I
        So, at this point, you might be wondering, what the point is of all these experiential workshops. They are after all behaviourally focused but they are not at all mechanical or unsophisticated. My experience is that the strong message time and time again is that we're in this together (not a reference to Clinkle or Sam Roberts). We are products of our histories and environments together and there is something we can do to slow down, notice, and understand what it is that we can do to change for the better. This is a non-blaming, empowering, and kind therapeutic stance: empathy for our struggles and hope for the future, despite overwhelming histories, we can take action.

With love, care, and respect,

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