A non-credit conference I attended recently featured a superb discussion. An experienced clinician gave a lengthy case presentation without offering his own theoretical formulation of the case. It was pretty much just the facts. His carefully prepared summary was far more detailed than the typical case conference presentation.
A copy of the case had been given to a panel of discussants prior to the presentation. Each panelist represented a different theoretical framework. A psychoanalyst discussed compromise formations, object relations and transference. Another panelist offered an analysis from a feminist perspective. Her focus was on power in the patient's relationships. A family systems theorist discussed dynamics of the family and work systems. A behaviorist approached the case from a cognitive-behavioral framework and a person-centered clinician discussed the material from his perspective.
This wasn't a band of eclectics trying on theoretical hats for demonstration purposes. Each of the discussants was a solid theorist, clinician and exponent of the perspective they represented. One by one, the panelists had an opportunity to question the case presenter who impressively put himself on the line by non-defensively exposing the reality of therapy, warts and all. He openly shared his own anxieties and insecurities with respect to the patient and the therapy situation.
The discussants didn't offer thorough case formulations. Rather, they asked questions, discussed aspects of the case that they considered worthy of greater investigation and they offered a range of tentative hypotheses. Treatment and intervention approaches were also considered. They didn't tell us what to think about the case. Each showed us how they think about a case from their own particular theoretical perspective.
All of the discussants are on the same university faculty and it was clear that they hold one another in high esteem. They regularly participate in multi-perspective case conferences in faculty meetings and they occasionally hold these presentations for invited guests.
After the panelists discussed the case, the floor was opened to audience participation. I was deeply impressed by the quality of the questions and observations. This was in no sense a competition or debate to determine the best model, framework or interventions. It was purely a comparative demonstration and everyone seemed to get it.
The presentation received rave reviews. As one colleague put it, the discussion was a breath of fresh air.
We did this kind of comparative work frequently in my own graduate program. I found it to be an excellent way to develop a deeper understanding of the major theoretical perspectives. Never did we debate the superiority of an approach. The emphasis was on understanding assumptions, methods and applications. It was left to us to choose the theoretical path we would follow, but, at least, our decisions would be well-informed.
As I moved toward an emphasis on psychoanalysis during my own education, I wrote up and presented comparative case formulations employing classical analysis, self psychology and the less well-known communicative or adaptive perspective. I've even presented formulations comparing the Kohutian and intersubjective perspectives within self psychology at psychoanalytic conferences. (One of the more famous comparative papers is Kohut's Two Analyzes of Mr. Z. We learned after his death that Kohut was himself Mr. Z.)
As an aside, I also credit my experience in comparative study with my allergy to rigid political ideology. The last thing hardcore ideologues want to do is dig deeply into their own hidden assumptions or make the strong case for the opposition. But this post isn't about politics; it's about continuing professional education. And I must say that I got more out of this free, noncredit case conference than I could get out of a dozen typical tuition-charging, CEU-awarding lectures.
If I'm invited to another of these conferences, I will be there with bells on.