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Interview with Judith Abelenda, international guest lecturer of The Art of Therapy: Play and Relationships

18 Apr 2017 11:09 | Alex Mcarthur Davies
This month we caught up with Judith Abelenda, our international guest tutor for the 2 day course, The Art of Therapy: Play and Relationships course taking place 15-16 July 2017 in London.

We asked her a few questions to get to know her a little better.

What is your professional background?

I am an occupational therapist from Argentina. I trained originally in mental health, but different circumstances took me to working with children and their families. Looking back, I can tell how much of my work in mental health informs my current work with the whole family.

In the year 2000 I moved to the United States for my post professional masters of science degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and I stayed in that city for 10 years!

In Chicago I was introduced to the work with children, which changed my professional activity for ever. Working with very young children in Early Intervention, I became aware of the need to integrate a variety of practice models to meet their occupational needs, to understand the family occupations as a whole, and to support parents to support their children´s development.

What is your area of interest/ specialism?

I am especially interested in fostering participation for children and their families through sensory integration and social/emotional development.  More specifically, I am interested in promoting children´s self-awareness and self-direction on one hand, and on the other, parental encouragement of the idea that trial and error, experimentation, fun, and unconditional acceptance of who we are and where we are in our development are an essential part of every learning experience.

What are you passionate about?

All of the above! (and below).

How did the idea for The Art of Therapy course: Play and Relationships course come about?

One of the aspects of sensory integration that most appealed to me from the beginning was its improvisational nature, in the sense that if we are to promote children´s self-direction, as Ayres proposed, we need to constantly read their cues, (verbal or not, obvious or more subtle), and respond to them on the spot with the support of theory.

I have been puzzled by the fact that, although Ayres clearly stressed that the power of sensory integration intervention depended on children’s integrating their own brain, we were not explicitly trained in the promotion of self-direction. Moreover, as I moved around the world and had the opportunity to see my colleagues work, I noticed a tendency to structure and direct the therapy sessions.

Two main questions arose in my mind: First, where did Ayres´ ideas on the need for therapy being child centred come from? And second, how do we promote self-direction in children? Even more, can those skills be taught? Or you either “have” them or not?

I started by asking my mentors and leaders in the field about these issues, and I obtained a variety of answers.  I heard that the core ideas were a reflection of Dr. Ayres' personal nature and beliefs, and also that therapists just acquire those abilities with time and practice.  Therefore, there was no source, and we needed to wait for time to pass. My curiosity still remained unfulfilled.

For several years I continued to ask these questions from any scholar in the field I had the chance to meet, as I was growing ever more convinced of the need to find a satisfactory answer. I was guided by some of our leaders towards humanistic psychology and the basic principles of promoting self-determination.  And I found a group of solid ideas to answer the why and the how of my questions.

So the ideas for this workshop grew out of my own professional inquiry, from conversations with the leaders in the field, and from a thorough literature review.  As I started sharing them in different venues, from professional conferences, courses or conversations with colleagues, I realized that other therapists were interested in learning to be more artful in their practice.

What is different about the course?

This course will help participants to reflect on this less frequently addressed aspects of practice.

It will offer a strong theoretical support for them, but it will also offer opportunities for self-reflection, discussion, experimentation and play as we develop skills.

We will learn together as a group, and we will work together on the development of our own questions about the way we practise, and towards answering those questions.

Specifically, the course will offer opportunities to practise different ways of using ourselves as therapeutic tools to convey the message and promote the opportunity for self-direction.

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