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  • Writer's pictureRenu Thomas

A Tale of Two Conferences

I was away on vacation when I received an email expressing interest in my participation in the first Art Therapy Conference in the MENA region - Empowering through Creativity. There was an urgency to have me respond and meet via Zoom. I was excited for the rest of the vacation, and a meeting was set up shortly after my return to Dubai.

However, on the day of the meeting, the main interviewer joined late and the Zoom call left me feeling flat; it was clear that they had no idea of the work I do and I knew it was not going in my favour, predominantly because I had not published research papers and lacked in-depth experience working with individuals who had suffered domestic violence.

I received the expected "blah blah blah.. ’BUT’" email from the organizers after a week. Even so, I registered and decided to attend the two-day conference a month later as a

delegate. I was warmly welcomed and recognized a few faces as soon as I reached. The

event was well organized and the convening resulted in good professional learning and

networking. It also left me feeling validated about the challenges, doubts and fears of

practising in a region where a license for the practice of Art Psychotherapy is currently not

possible. There was hope that through the presentations which illuminated the scope and

scientific underpinnings of the practice, the regional licensing authorities would be more

open to discussions around promoting the Art Therapy practice. It felt good to pose for

photographs with fellow art therapists from around the world, but the event left me under a

cloud, of feeling less than, unseen and worst of all, pitied.

A couple of days ago, I attended the Power of Words (POW) Conference online, organized

by Transformative Language Arts Network (TLAN). As Board members, we were asked to

volunteer to host or co-host events, but I chose to let the better qualified and experienced

members shoulder all that and stay in my lane. I had attended the online POW conference

in 2021 and looked forward to being a participant, completely unfettered by other

responsibilities. By the eve of the conference, things had changed. I had been nudged into

standing in for a colleague who was unable to attend and I was to moderate and host and

co- host some events. There were supporting documents with guidelines and easy to follow

steps and the founder, Caryn Mirriam Goldberg messaged saying she believed I could do it.

In my characteristic way, I had tried to help save the day, but gulp! What had I got myself

into? What did she see in me that I did not? In hindsight, I realize that trust like that goes a

long way in mobilizing me into action and I did not want to disappoint.

TLAN and POW celebrate the power of words-spoken, written, sung, chanted, told etc., in

bringing about healing, change and transformation. It aligns well with my work that focuses

on mental health and wellbeing, but the invitation to be part of this organization has been

life changing for me and I firmly believe that the greatest gift you can give another person is

to simply include them. I write this sitting in the post conference warmth that blankets me,

of honesty, authenticity and kindness from strangers. I had done my bit and was surprised

that it was well received and that I actually enjoyed the moderating and hosting. At TLAN,

there is always an offer to hone our skills through the variety of classes, but there is also an

innate recognition and acceptance that makes me feel I am enough-just as I am. I am good

enough. These are my people, my tribe, and I feel I belong.

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