Reflections on the RANZCP 2017 Uluru Psychotherapy Conference – The Heart of the Matter: Deep Listening, Dreaming and Joining in the Dance
By Pamela Nathan
CASSE was very privileged to be among those invited to present, share and talk about our work at the Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ (RANZCP) 2017 Psychotherapy Conference, which was hosted at Uluru from the 15th to the 17th of September.
A communal, deeply moving and transforming experience was emergent. A journey of heartfelt stories, of the hurting hearts, led us on a journey of reconciliation and to a community of the heart, opening hearts and to a rising spirit. We share with you a “Pledge” written by Ken Lechleitner Pangarta that he shared on the last morning and “Reflections on Emerging from the ‘Heart of the Matter”: my ‘Buddy Moment” written Dr George Halasz, some of which he shared on the last morning but which he has since developed. They are both so very poignant and profound.
Our CASSE work was presented in the spirit of Makarrata. We were deeply honoured to be standing on the ground where First Nation people from all over Australia gathered to dialogue and where the Uluru Statement from the Heart was declared. The Rock stood still and majestic, a holding Rock and place nearby.
The conference was in the spirit of truth-telling and finding voices.
As the Uluru guide book states: When learning about Tjukurrrpa, Anangu ask visitors to listen. Let the knowledge you hear come through your ears, into your mind and then settle in your heart.
One thing I wanted to say is that Aboriginal people many years ago accepted me unconditionally – a healing experience. We, non-Aboriginal, can do the same in turn for Aboriginal people.
It was a great privilege to work along-side Ken, an Anmatjere man, the son of the father, kwemenje Lechleitner Japanangka (who felt very present) I worked with long ago – a strong, inspirational man who fought for his people and for “no more empty promises”. And I was moved by the efforts of the men from the west, the Men’s Tjilirra Movement: Jamie Millier Tjupurrula, Nathan Brown, Martin Jugadai and his brother Walter, who travelled so long and far to be with us. They are all the rising spirits.
I thank the RANZCP for the extraordinarily alive, rich few days together.
CASSE encourages all who were at the conference to join our CASSE community (and you can receive our emails, newsletters and dialogue) and hope we can continue working together in different ways, buddying up, dialoguing, mentoring, consulting, training and helping to link you in and ripple out on the journey begun at Uluru. If you have Reflections on the conference please email them to us to share.
By Ken Lechleitner Pangarta
We acknowledge the Original people of this Country.
We also acknowledge our dual responsibility towards each other, in shaping our future of this Country together.
Together we are now on our new spiritual journey, towards building our Nation on this Country.
We pledge to each other as the people of this Country, with dual heritage, and dual responsibility, now and into the future.
May the Spirit of this country help us all.
By Dr George Halasz
Photo of ‘Breathe’ by Tanya Taylor, Wellness Retreat at Desert Gardens,
Photo of Ken and George by Judy Smyth
What makes an indelible mark on listeners at a Conference and transforms the ordinary to an unforgettable moment differs for each of us. For some it is the lecturer’s flash of insight – the AHAH! moment; or a timely PowerPoint overhead that captures a vague image to suddenly illuminate a picture of clarity; or simply the energy in a breath, sigh or glance that in that fraction of second precisely meets the audience’s previously unknown need.
I experienced many such memorable moments during the extraordinary encounters we experienced between presenters and participants during our three deeply engaging days, 15-17 September 2017, at the RANZCP Faculty of Psychotherapy’s Conference, Uluru.
Fittingly titled ‘Heart of the Matter, Deep Listening, Dreaming, and Joining the Dance’, so deep were our engagements with the presentations that at times I struggled to retain my attention and awareness. On more than one occasion I lost consciousness. On awakening, I checked-in on myself to find possible reasons for my apparent ‘exhausted’ state: fatigue, boredom, the extra glass of wine the night before …all possible, but on reflection they all missed the mark. It was only on the last day that I regained enough clarity and insight to self-diagnose my condition as vicarious trauma.
I decided that I become acutely dissociated during some of the presentations as they touched on the themes of trauma that triggered my own family history of intergenerational trauma transmission, leading to my dissociated states, even as the analysing was unfolding.
This reality, this real reason for my dissociated state become self-evident and obvious in the memorable moments following the Pamela Nathan’s profoundly moving Keynote address ‘Hurting Hearts, Spirits Rising – the Epicentre of Central Australia.’
In retrospect, I realised that I was totally unprepared for the deep listening that was demanded by Pamela’s penetrating analysis of the complex generational traumas and dissociations endured by the Central Australian Aboriginal population.
At the end of Pamela’s presentation, as I was slowly regaining my consciousness, Ken Lechleitner, part of the research team for Central Australian Aboriginal Congress (CAAC) and Creating a Safe Supportive Environment (CASSE) took the microphone and my ears heard a booming, warm voice who beckoned us to take three urgently needed breaths. He beckoned, we followed his lead, ‘breathe in, breathe out; breathe in, breathe out; breathe in breathe out’.
Those moments of prescribed breathing became my ‘buddy moment’.
One of the first rules in scuba-diving is the obvious – the need to breathe regularly under water. But an equally important rule is to always dive in pairs – ‘buddy diving’. The self-evident reasons becomes clear to those who experience breathing problems underwater, any diver learns and knows that their life in such moments of crisis is totally dependent on their ability to share the precious air, via a single mouthpiece, passing it back and forth, a technique known as ‘buddy breathing’, as the pair ascend to the surface.
Ken’s beckoning for us to ‘breathe’ felt like he became my buddy as is the case in scuba diving, he was reminding me to pay attention to my critical state and my need to breathe.
Clearly, under the spell of the profound trauma being shared in the lecture, I had forgotten the first rule of deep psychotherapy, that such deep listening to trauma creates waves of dissociation in the witnesses. Attuned as I was to the devastating material being presented, I could not sustain my deep listening engagement, I succumbed to my ‘bottom-line-defence’, as dissociation is commonly known.
My protective dissociation kicked in, known as dissociative attunement, to the speaker’s narrative analysing the suffering endured during generational trauma transmission.
On the last day’s summing-up panel session, as we sat three-deep in concentric circles, we shared some of our personal experiences, presenters and participants alike.
A free-flowing enlivening discussion highlighted many valuable lessons that we had learnt; offered creative ideas for improving the next scheduled conferences; and shared moving moments and surprising insights.
I explained how my lessons from scuba-diving might also offer us ways to think about our self-care as we gradually emerge from the depth of the last three days – the depth of deep listening, dreaming and joining the dance.
I suggested that just as with the case with deep diving, great care must be exercised in the ascent to the surface after deep listening, lest like the naive diver who rushes to the surface suffers the risk of injury, or worse, by succumbing to the condition know as the ‘bends’, so we should take care even as the Conference was about to finish.
Even as we are seeing the light above, surfacing, we should remain mindful of the profound emotional and traumatised depths that we had experienced, depths that would leave us vulnerable for days, weeks or months after. This risk parallels the risk after diving, where one is prohibited from flying for at least 24 hours after the dive, lest the pressure changes in the air create further health problems.
In the spirit of workplace ‘safety and self-care’, as psychotherapists who are treating survivors of massive individual, collective or cultural generational trauma, I suggested that we need to be aware of the profound depths of the human condition we engage with, as we plummet to those sub-verbal depths we translate into words during lectures, we tend to mask the power of the relational trauma and dissociations that we endure. We overlook this power at our peril.
I wish to conclude my reflections with a reminder to us all, that in order to practice ethical psychotherapy – first, to do no harm – we need to ensure that we do no harm to ourselves during deep psychotherapy as the prerequisite to delivering safe, supportive and facilitating environments, within and beyond our consulting rooms, for our traumatised and dissociated patients and their families.
As I concluded by reflection in the summing-up panel session, Ken’s warm, gentle booming voice insisted that we need to share an all-embracing hug, immediately…
Photo by Judy Smyth
Please feel free to share your reflections!
CASSE encourages you all to join our CASSE community (and you can receive our emails, newsletters and dialogue) and hope we can continue working together, buddying up, dialoguing, mentoring, consulting, training and help to link you in and ripple out on the journey begun at Uluru.
The Northern Territory's numbers in youth detention are soaring - ABC News. As more Aboriginal youth enter detention, CASSE’s cultural healing camp at Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre is an essential program that brings culture and Country into custody. pic.twitter.com/mWxZIPyRXl