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A Long Way to Go: The Stepfamily Association of America's Vancouver Professional Training Institute
by Jim Campanella, Clinician, Stepping Stones Counseling Center
I attended the SAA Professional Training Institute in Vancouver, Canada on Oct 1st and 2nd, 1999. As a relatively new SAA member I found the experience both educational and spiritually uplifting. (I recall telling a colleague upon my return that I was on a "high".) The knowledge and expertise of the workshop presenters was most impressive. I had no idea that so many outstanding professionals have been making the study and treatment of stepfamilies a major part of their professional lives.
I came away from the workshops with a better understanding and sensitivity to the unique qualities of stepfamily living. I never realized how different the experience of living in a stepfamily truly is from first family living. For me the most meaningful meetings were Scott Browning's discussion of the treatment of a couple in a stepfamily; Jean McBride's presentation of the difficult and complicated stepmother role; Jeffrey Larson's exploration of stepfamily dynamics; and Jerry Devine's revealing and touching sharing of his own experience as a stepfather.
The icing on the cake of this wonderful two day experience was a reception for John and Emily Visher, founders of the SAA, twenty years ago. These pioneers had remarried in 1959, each bringing four children to their union. Both are widely published and have co-authored several books and many articles. John is a psychiatrist and Emily is a psychologist. It was fascinating to hear how they confronted stepfamily tasks at a time when stepfamilies were rarely recognized or discussed. The humor they brought to their marriage helped them to overcome the many mistakes we all make. Stepfamily counseling has been seen as a speciality area for only ten years. The Vishers have made the most significant contribution to the literature and to the practice of this speciality. A personal highlight for me was their graciously autographing their book Therapy With Stepfamilies.
The trip was not all work. Debby, my wife, and I had a marvelous time sightseeing in almost perfect weather for six days in the Vancouver area.
Now that I have completed the Level I training course I am to enroll in Level II. The next Training Institute will be held in Philadelphia on April 7th and 8th, 2000. I hope several of my colleagues at Stepping Stones Counseling Center will join me in Philadelphia!
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