Conference on Psychology and Spirituality

On October 28 and 29, 2011, the beautiful Fairfield University Campus was the scene for the 17th Annual Meeting of the Northeast Conference for Teachers of Psychology as well as the 51st Annual Meeting of the New England Psychological Association. It was a true pleasure to be part of this, learning about new discovery research and applications to society. Some of my reflections follow about parts of the conference that might be relevance to America’s readers.

A recent video by Tim Reidy pointed to the need for ways of teachers of theology to reach young people at the beginning of the 21st Century and a story in the Octopber 24 issue of Americalooks at the spectrum of new faces in theology. I am not sure if there are any organizations of theology teachers dedicated to finding ways to reach students, but within the profession of psychology there has been an ongoing reflection during many decades on how to effectively connect with undergraduate and graduate students and the 17th Annual NECTOP conference was devoted to this aim. Like theology, there are divisions and ideologies within psychology, and a conference like this is a good way to sort these out so that students obtain a balanced view of the field.


One of the keynote addresses, by Wade Pickren, Ph.D looked at Three Case Studies from Cultural Psychology. Pickren was especially critical of the new Diagnostic and Staistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V) being prepared for publication by the American Psychiatric Association. In particular, he noted how many forms of emotional malaise and suffering in Eastern and Southern cultures take a different form than is recognized by Western psychiatry--and he challenged American and Western European psychologists to learn more about these other cultures. (Very similar, it seems to me, to efforts of Jesuits to reach out to these same cultures, now and in the past.)

The joint keynote for both conferences was Dr. James Garbarino (Senior Faculty Fellow at the Center for Human Rights at Loyola University of Chicago) who spoke on Children and the Dark Side of Human Experience: Confronting Global Realities and Rethinking Child Development. Garbarino himself has worked with severely traumatized children around the world and in the USA and he works to understand “how does a child’s soul survive in a world of torment?” Students at the conference were especially responsive to Garbarino’s talk and in his vivid descriptions of different situations of reversible and treatment-resistant post traumatic stress disorder.

Two of my students and a fellow faculty member made presentations and for me it was a thrill to see them do a great job. Lynde Kayser, a student from my psychological testing class, presented on Teaching Psychological Assessment Across the Lifespan for Persons With Autism. Lindsay Blevins and C. Ryan Kinlaw, Ph.D. presented findings from their study Inspiring Versus Non-Inspiring Religious Images in College Students. I was also glad to see a number of other student and faculty teams looking at areas where psychology and spirituality intersect.

I struck up random conversations with several people on the Fairfield Campus and each recalled fondly Fr. Gerry Blasczak, S.J., Fairfield’s Vice-President of Ministry who was called to Rome in September to work for the Superior General. While at Fairfield Father Gerry worked tirelessly to encourage students to become global citizens and the talks by Mickens and Garbarino and others.suggested to me ways that psychologists at the conference are working in ways that strengthen that vision.

William Van Ornum


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cheryl rifen
7 years 2 months ago
I agree that I hadn't known this conference was being held.  Perhaps things like this should be forwarded via foxmail? I agree that there are so many more ways students could get involved in things that are perhaps outside of the box. Other than checking email, you often find programs/events on the bulletin board as you are walking up and down the stairs (which are normally crowded). I often wonder if there would be a way to develop a special needs camp/program for disabled children to enjoy some time at Marist. We have a special education program and no hands on activities where students could intern/learn right at the college. (or at least nothing I know of). I am glad you had fun at the conference!
Thomas Belmonte
7 years 2 months ago

Its great to see Marist College being represented by such able and well-thought leaders, and i guess its only fitting that they choose the difficult problem of trying to engage the sluggish attitudes of most undergraduate students. It amazes me that this is even a problem. One would figure that, instead of struggling to maintain motivation, they would cash those (rather large) tuition checks and put it towards something that needs less pushing a prodding.
Gabriella Necklas
7 years 2 months ago
I think part of the problem with engaging students is making them aware of how they can be involved. For example, as a Marist student I had no idea this conference had taken place until I read this article. While I'm glad that people from Marist took part I think even more people would have wanted to or tried to if they had known the option was there.
we vnornm
7 years 2 months ago
Thanks to all for the helpful comments! bill


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