About Dr. David Songco

Dr. David Songco is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology as well as a clinician in private practice located in Milwaukee, WI. Connect with Dr. David Songco by tweeting him @drdavidsongco or visit his blog http://www.newinsightsllc.com/current-insights

On Loneliness

lonelinessI don’t want to be a downer after reading about all of the exciting and innovative presentations but I cannot help the pull to highlight a session I attended on loneliness. I think that part of my draw, as well as my conflict, is that loneliness is such a universal experience.

Dr. Rebecca Curtis started the panel discussion by sharing a couple of case examples that highlighted the struggle with loneliness when there is a conflict between seeking others out and avoiding them. Dr. Curtis described characteristics of this type of loneliness as being related to perfectionism — that an individual desires being in relation with another yet simultaneously devalues others by having high standards for the relationship.

Dr. Rebecca Curtis

Dr. Rebecca Curtis

In helping to further expand the concept of loneliness, Dr. Ben Mijuskovic added:

The fear of loneliness is the ultimate universal drive in human beings, in all we feel, think, say and do … loneliness is the prime motivator in all our passions, thoughts and actions. The opposite of loneliness is intimacy, a desire for empathic unity with another self-conscious being, whether divine, human or sentient.

Dr. Mijuskovic went on to criticize behaviorism’s view that loneliness is passively caused by external conditions — environmental, cultural, situational and even chemical imbalances in the brain, in which he argues that the DSM is compatible with this approach since all of these external conditions are transient and avoidable.

On loneliness and the DSM, Dr. Mijuskkovic added:

The DSM analytically dissects, classifies, reduces and vivisects the emotions into separate “diagnoses” and thus fails to “see” the whole interplay of the emotions and its concomitant developing dynamic. Therefore, the DSM fails to include the “diagnosis” of loneliness because it has misunderstood the dynamic presence and force of loneliness by tearing it into lifeless pieces; it has separated the original constitutive members and transformed them into dead parts.

Dr. Ben Mijuskovic

Dr. Ben Mijuskovic

So much of this talk and presentation resonated to the core with my understanding of loneliness in my clinical work. After reflecting on the talk for a bit, I cannot help but see many of the parallels with a larger process of our work as psychologists, and also why the room for this talk was quite full. Each year, thousands of us gather at an annual convention with like-minded individuals in a way to avoid our experience of loneliness in our work, and increase our intimacy and connections with those who we truly believe have the capacity to understand what it is that each of us does. While loneliness can stem from the urge for perfection, I would also argue that loneliness, especially for psychologists doing the work, can also arise from personal insight and self-awareness. Perhaps it is because we are reflective clinicians and have a harder time connecting with those we encounter in everyday life outside of the office, in particular, those who struggle with self-awareness and do not value interpersonal connection.

While this talk focused on understanding loneliness in clinical work with patients/clients, I would be curious to hear your thoughts on the loneliness and isolation of our work as clinicians. If you are willing, please share your experiences in the comments.

Going to Mars

DSC_0028What amazes me the most about this convention is the diversity of how psychology is applied across disciplines, fields and careers. The panel discussion and presentation titled “How Psychologists Can Help Create Healthy Workplaces” examined the role of psychologists in shaping organizations to promote overall employee health.

Dr. Eduardo Salas of the University of Central Florida shared his experience as a psychologist in working with NASA astronauts to help design and organize a team for a landing mission to Mars. “From the research, there are five characteristics that this team must demonstrate in order to achieve mission success,” Salas said. He described healthy team resilience as incorporating the following:

  • adaptability and the ability to tolerate stress through self regulating
  • the ability to manage conflict within the team through mutual trust
  • mutual support and backup behavior
  • a strong “team coach” who promotes others, develops the team and creates incentives for success
  • organizational conditions that align with the team and the mission, which includes the policies, procedures and senior leadership to promote change

Nasa-MarsAs I reflected on Dr. Salas’ work, I started to think about his role with NASA and team training and considered all of the factors that the general public may discount in the process of selecting and training a team for a mission to Mars. Dr. Salas emphasized the concept of stress inoculation training — cognitive training to help individuals cope with stressors – to help train astronauts how to respond effectively and efficiently in extremely stressful conditions, in particular those conditions that would be unique to a mission to Mars.

“Communication to and from the International Space Station is about one second,” said Salas. “Communication to and from Mars would be 20 minutes in each direction, which can result in a multitude of issues.” He continued to describe many of the likely and possible stressors that these astronauts would encounter, including not being able to see Earth from Mars and living with seven individuals in an enclosed space for a prolonged period. I continued to think of simply how much the field of psychology can be applied to so many different situations. I’m recognizing more and more, despite of how obvious it is, that wherever there are people involved, psychology will always play a role.

Lunch with the Masters

Dr. David Songco and Dr. John Norcross

Dr. David Songco (right) and Dr. John Norcross

Many of my fellow convention bloggers have posted their reasons why the APA convention is the best convention to attend. While I do not have a list of reasons, I do have one experience that I believe will inspire any graduate student or early career psychologist (ECP) to attend.

APA’s Division 29 — Division of Psychotherapy — hosted its annual “Lunch with the Masters.” It was an incredible opportunity for graduate students and early career psychologists to engage in an informal dialogue with leading experts and role models in the field. Notable guests included Pamela Hays (author of Creating Well-being and Connecting Across Cultures), Joseph White (“godfather” of black psychology), Raymond DiGiuseppe (author of A Practitioner’s Guide to Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy) and John Norcross (author of Changeology – 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions) among many others.

Lunch with the Masters

Lunch with the Masters

During this “Lunch with the Masters,” graduate students and ECPs had the opportunity to take a break and have an informal conversation about their career aspirations, and also ask the “masters” about their career development, personal passions in the field of psychology and their professional journey.

As an added perk, Division 29 and many of the masters provided their books to be raffled to all the students and ECPs in attendance. I walked away with John Norcross’ book, which he was more than happy to sign.DSC_0026

As an early career psychologist, I found it a wonderful opportunity to network and be surrounded by so many like-minded individuals. Each of the masters was willing to listen, encourage and ask about our personal desires and passions. The ability to connect with successful psychologists in such a personal way has been one of the most beneficial experiences that I have had here at the APA convention.

Have you had any pivotal interactions or moments during this conference? Please share them in the comments below.

Connection, Authenticity and Mutuality in Clinical Supervision

“We are relational beings,” said Dr. Pam Niesluchowski at a roundtable discussion I attended during the convention. “We strive to be in relation with and long for connection. But we keep parts of ourselves out of relationships in order to be in them.” She called that “the core relationship paradox.”

This is one of the main tenets of relational cultural theory (RCT), a feminist-based approach originally developed to focus on women and their relational experiences.

While this approach is effective for understanding therapy relationships, what does this have to do with clinical supervision? “Everything,” said Dr. Meghan Hanlon, former supervisee of Niesluchowski. “In growth-fostering relationships, RCT describes the ‘five good things’ that those involved in the relationship experience.”

Those five things — an increase sense of worth, a sense of zest or energy, an increased knowledge of the self and the other in the relationship, a desire to take action both inside and outside the relationship, and a desire for more relationships because of the feeling of the current relationship — are extremely applicable to providing competent and effective supervision.

Watching Drs. Hanlon and Niesluchowski interact and reflect on their supervision experience had a profound impact on me, as I could experience their deep sense of understanding and connection. As I stood witness to their supervision relationship, I could not help but reflect on what the quality of supervision would look like if supervisors emphasized the core relational factors that an RCT therapist would recognize in psychotherapy:

  1. Power — acknowledging and addressing power in the supervisory relationship while working toward collaboration mutuality (not necessarily an egalitarian approach and denying the inherent power and responsibility of a supervisor).
  2. Space for relational images — providing space to explore a supervisee’s relational images that they bring to the supervisory relationship, welcoming what might have been previously denied in order to have a growth-fostering relationship.
  3. Mutuality and authenticity — the ability of the supervisor to be authentically affected by the supervisee, and for the supervisee to know that she or he had that impact.

After participating in this roundtable discussion, I very much want RCT to be further integrated into all supervisory relationships. I walk away from this discussion offering a series of challenges: For institutions — how might you integrate the RCT framework in teaching supervision models? For clinical supervisors — does your current practice of supervision incorporate any or all of the tenets of RCT as a way to further enhance the quality of your supervision? For supervisees — continue to ask yourself if you feel safe to be vulnerable in your work with your supervisor and if you are able to be your “authentic self” in supervision.

Got Conference Brain?

strong BrainHundreds of presentations, panels and symposiums were offered each day and as I attended a fairly full schedule of my own, I could not help but to reminisce about how similar this was to high school. Here we are “attending classes” for an hour or two at a time, having 10 minutes to get to our next “class” while trying to catch up with all of our friends and colleagues, and repeating until the end of the day. It can be difficult to absorb all of this important information and, if you are like me, you might experience “conference brain” – that slight feeling of being disoriented, enlightened, excited and exhausted.

From previous conference experiences, I’ve adapted a couple methods to help me stay present and excited throughout a long day:

  1. Pace Yourself – While there are so many great workshops and presentations to go to, don’t forget to schedule appropriate breaks. Allow and plan for time to digest a presentation, discuss it with colleagues, and take notes before moving on to the next session.
  2. Fresh Air – Air conditioning can feel nice, especially on a warm D.C. summer day. However, dark or dimly lit presentation or workshop rooms can bring a sense of sleepiness, especially if it is your fifth workshop of the day. Try to take some time to walk outside and get some sunlight, breathe some fresh air and take in the sites that D.C. has to offer.
  3. Acceptance and Non-Judgment – When I was a graduate student attending conferences, I always felt the need to attend every session every hour that I was at the conference to ensure that made the most of my time and money. The truth is, I cannot remember half of those sessions and that was likely attributed to attending with conference brain. Notice that if there is self-judgment — i.e., “I should go” — and try to practice self-care and self-compassion. You can allow this convention to be both educational and enjoyable.

If you have additional tips or tricks that you’d like to share on how to reduce conference brain, I’d love to hear about it in a comment or in a tweet with #APA2014.

High Energy at APA 2014 Kick Off

APA Convention 2014

APA Convention 2014

As a first-time convention attendee, I honestly did not know what to expect. But this morning as I walked through the convention doors, I immediately felt the energy, excitement and brilliance surrounding me — and also the slight feeling of being overwhelmed! All of these feelings at 7:30am on a Thursday meant that this was going to be a great day.

I took the advice of many of my colleagues who told me to “definitely download the App” to help organize my plan for balancing networking, learning and simply being around other like-minded individuals. The APA Convention App has been fantastic in helping me find the sessions that I’m interested in.

Through the app I found one of the best sessions of the day — a presentation from those at the Center for Multicultural Training in Psychology at Boston Medical Center.

(From left to right) Avy Skolnik, Vasudev Dixit, Dr. Kermit Crawford, Maria Espinola, & Kip Thompson

(From left to right) Avy Skolnik, Vasudev Dixit, Dr. Kermit Crawford, Maria Espinola, & Kip Thompson

In a session chaired by Dr. Kermit Crawford, four speakers delivered multiple perspectives on the role of resilience in surviving systemic oppression and trauma in marginalized communities. These soon-to-be doctors absolutely blew me away with their research, which highlighted topics on ethnic identity among Asian Indians in the United States, culturally informed responses to sexual trauma, stereotype threats, and the interdependence of risk and protective factors. They advocated for assessing and emphasizing factors that promote resilience, rather than simply assessing stressors associated with being a member of a marginalized community. Their presentation was beneficial to any practicing psychologist working with minority populations.

These first few hours at APA 2014 have been exhilarating. I hope all of my fellow first-time attendees are getting as much out of this experience as I am.