Ilene A. Serlin Ph.D.

Make Your Life a Blessing

The First International Conference on Existential Psychology Nanjing, China, April 2, 2010

The First International Conference on Existential Psychology Nanjing, China

Posted Apr 22, 2010

An intellectual dialogue between East and West: How to face suffering and create a life of value.


Ilene Serlin, Ph.D, BC-DMT

In April, I had the honor of presenting a keynote address at a historic summit between leading existential scholars from the East and from the West at Nanjing Xiaozhuang University. Below are notes from the program and some of my reflections:

"Thus starts-the Journey of Existential Psychology of China! Let us come together and inaugurate the 2010 International Existential Psychology Conference! Distinguished scholars from both the East and West will convene to present and dialogue on relevant topics within Existential Psychology.

The first international conference on existential psychology will be held between April 2 - 5, 2010, in Nanjing, China. More than 40 experts of existential psychology from 10 countries will assemble in Nanjing to engage in the mutual exploration and dialogues on the basic themes of existential psychology, the essence of existential psychotherapy, the latest research findings and the examination of the role of culture from an existential perspective.

Sponsored by the American Psychological Association, Society for Humanistic Psychology; University of the Rockies; Alliant International Univeristy (California School of Professional Psychology), Existential Humanistic Institute; Depth Psychotherapy Institute, Psychological Institute of Nanjing XiaoZhuang University, China Institute of Clinical Psychology, Nanjing Association of Psychology, and Zhimian Academy of Psychology.

The program opened with cultural visits to the Memorial Hall of the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre and the Kun Opera Theatre, followed by keynote addresses marking the journey of 30 years of Existential Psychology in China. Break-out sessions included:
1. Perspectives on Death & Suicide
2. Awakening to an Awe-Based Psychology
3. Growing through Suffering & Loss
4. Competency & Self-Care
5. Existential Perspectives on Trauma
6. Self-Deception
7. Social harmony, Individualism and collectivism
8. Existential Psychology & the Arts
9. Marriage and Family Issues & Existential Psychology
10. Supervision Issues in Existential Therapy
11. Spiritual Issues In Existential Psychology
12. Nietzsche and LuXun
13. Genuineness, Hierarchy, & Conformity
14. Western Movie with Discussion
15. Existential Ego Experience and the Art of mental patients
16. The Art of dance therapy
17. Existential-Integrative Psychology
18. Psychologist as Artist
19. Existential Challenges at Midlife
20. Emotion & Existential Psychology
21. Core Themes of Chinese Existential Psychology

The fact that this visit coincided with Timothy Geithner's trip to Beijing to discuss the reevaluation of the yuan marked a new step toward the friendship between China and the US. The friendship among participating psychologists was shown in the extraordinary hospitality of hosts at Nanjing Xiaozhuang University, and the eagerness of Chinese psychologists to embrace new ideas from the West. On the other hand, Western existential psychologists found deep commonalities with ancient and indigenous Chinese wisdom as both began to forge a common language.

Below are three areas in which I saw this common language take place:

1) Roots in philosophy and religion: Both Eastern and Western existential psychologists recognized that psychology had roots in ancient wisdom traditions long before psychology became a formal scientific discipline. For example, In the East, Confucius Zhaungzi, Laozi, Mencius and more recently, Lu Xun, taught about living the good life and the connectedness of all things; in the West, William James, Nietzche, Binswanger, Rollo May and others taught about authenticity and leading a life of meaning and commitment in the face of death.

Human being from both East and West are searching for authentic identities that recognize the power of their own traditions, while confronting the challenges of post-modern globalism.

2) The Role of the Arts and Culture: Ways of talking about the role of myth and culture in the conference included a recognition of how the therapeutic process parallels the creative process, "demented" or "outsider art" and reality, nonverbal language and embodied experience, and the use of symbol to express the ineffable.

3) Friendships and the human dimension: The caring and interpersonal warmth during the conference illustrated a value held by existential psychologists of both East and West that the person matters. Existential psychology is a way to live. This means that: existential psychology is not manualized or focused on either solutions or symptom reductions, but is a fluid art of improvisation and dialogue; the therapists' use of self and relationship is the most important aspect of therapy; and that the way the therapist lives his or her life matters. Ancient teachers such as Zen masters, Socrates, Chassidic teachers all taught that students should observe the way their teachers "tie their shoes" in order to understand how to live. The cultivation of wisdom and compassion are both ancient and universal virtues that are much needed in today's world.

We emerged from this conference strengthened by our immediate recognition of commonalities, forged in the sincerity of human friendships, and the commitment to building bridges and developing ongoing dialogues.

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