In February, I attended the 2017 Miami International Child and Adolescent Mental Health Conference (MICAMH), which is a biennial conference for mental health professionals who serve children, adolescents, and their families. This is considered a leading interdisciplinary conference that focuses on evidence-based interventions for youth, incorporating both didactic lectures and hands-on experiential training for professionals.
I wanted to attend this conference to network with other professionals in my sub-specialty of child/adolescent clinical psychology, learn from the experts in the field, fine-tune my clinical skills, and refine my knowledge base for teaching. I have also been teaming with two child psychologist colleagues of mine for the past year or so to develop a group therapy curriculum specifically designed for Middle Eastern refugee youth. I was hoping that attending this conference would help confirm and refine our ideas for this project, and it definitely did.
The keynote presentations at this conference were truly excellent. One highlight that non-psychology faculty might appreciate was that, during a brilliant keynote address by Dr. Matthew Nock of Harvard University regarding the current state of the science for prediction of suicidal behavior, I got fixated on his name. “Matthew Nock… Matthew Nock… why do I know this name?” Well, I eventually remembered that I know this name because he is one of the authors of the textbook I use for Abnormal Psychology class here at Vanguard. He is literally the one who wrote the book (well, one of the ones who wrote the book). Students in the class enjoyed that particular highlight when I shared it with them.
Another keynote highlight was hearing from Dr. Anthony Mannarino, who was one of the co-developers of Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy, now considered among the “gold standard” interventions implemented nationwide (and, in some cases, internationally) for children and adolescents who have experienced traumas such as physical or sexual abuse, neglect, foster care placement, car accidents, natural disasters, etc. My own professional identity is shifting a bit from being a practitioner of interventions into being a practitioner who wants to develop an intervention approach, so it was inspiring and encouraging to hear from someone who has done the development piece extremely well.
There are many other keynote highlights I could write about, but the last one I’ll highlight was Dr. Yo Jackson’s address regarding resilience. Her research with foster care youth has helped the field understand what factors contribute to young people’s resilience over their long-term development. For example, social support is an important “protective factor” that can help youth be more resilient. However, more specifically, those supportive people need to increase a young person’s utilization of coping skills and decrease their exposure to stressors. Overall, hearing Dr. Jackson’s perspective on resilience validated a lot of the content we cover in my Child Psychology class and also helped refine some of the resilience-building ideas for the project with Middle Eastern refugee youth.
The workshops included in this conference were also truly excellent. A primary highlight was Dr. Guillermo Bernal’s workshop on cultural adaptation of evidence-based treatments for Latino adolescents. I took oodles of notes in this one. Dr. Bernal has been one of the pioneers in the field who has recognized that our mental health interventions, evidence-based though they may be, are typically tested for efficacy and effectiveness with research samples of people who are not very culturally, linguistically, or socioeconomically diverse as a group. Dr. Bernal’s work has focused on taking evidence-based models and culturally adapting them so that they are better suited for specific ethno-cultural groups.
A DIVINE APPOINTMENT
On the second day of the conference, I stepped out of my introvert comfort zone and introduced myself to the person sitting to my right. Her name was Dr. Laurel Taitt. When we had a chance to chat more over lunch, I found out that she works as a school psychologist in the local Miami area. As we talked more about our work with youth, we came to the exciting realization that we have both been involved in similar church and missions-related intersections of psychology (this is a completely secular conference, mind you). She had used her knowledge of developmental psychology to help church planters in Africa understand how they could reach people at different phases of the lifespan. I shared how I had used aspects of trauma treatment to train missions teams as well. Dr. Taitt was also from the Caribbean, where part of my family is from, so she helped me understand that cultural context and what it has meant for the gospel in those regions of the world.
This was by far the most encouraging aspect of the conference. She called our lunch “a divine appointment,” and I agreed.