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News : New Providence Last Updated: Feb 24, 2018 - 2:08:53 PM

Dr. Allen to speak at psychotherapy conference in USA
By Diane Philips & Associates
Feb 24, 2018 - 10:21:53 AM

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Dr. David Allen, M.D., MPH, will deliver the prestigious Hochberg Lecture to more than 1,000 professionals at the American Group Psychotherapy Association Annual Conference in Houston February 28. The presentation will focus on The Family, People Helping People, a program pioneered by Dr. Allen and team involving some 400 persons in 27 family-style groups weekly, a model now attracting international attention.

Dr. David Allen, clinical psychiatrist, author, founder of Renascence Clinic and The Family, a program that has had profound and measurable results reducing violence and increasing self-esteem, will deliver the prestigious Hochberg Lecture at a major international conference next week.

The local expert, who was among the first to recognize and predict the decades-long effect of crack cocaine on family disintegration and social fragmentation, will speak at the 2018 American Group Psychotherapy Association meeting in Houston February 28. More than 1,000 professionals are expected to attend the 3-day conference with the annual Hochberg Lecture considered one of the breakthrough highlights.

“It is a great honour for me as a Bahamian to have been invited to speak to such a prestigious gathering, but even more importantly, to have the opportunity to take an innovative model of group therapy we developed in The Bahamas and showing great results to a wider audience,” said Dr. Allen, M.D., MPH.

That model, The Family, People Helping People, funded by Templeton World Charity Foundation  (TWCF), started in 2009 with a single unit called a family. Participants who needed to explore their feelings and deal with anger, grief or other symptoms of social disengagement but could not afford private sessions were invited to just show up.  And they did.

In just under a decade, the movement has grown to 27 Families with 400 people a week participating in family-style group sessions. Ongoing training prepares leaders.

“Most therapy groups are made up of 8-15 people,” explained Dr. Allen. “We have been able to work with groups of up to 50 and to do so in a nurturing, supportive way which is why we call it The Family, People Helping People.”

 Families meet throughout The Bahamas. Each family identifies itself by an area name, such as the East Street Family, averting any stigma of a mental health group connotation while creating an environment that is like a close family pulling together to work through troubling issues.

“We see people every week whose lives are radically changing before our very eyes,” said Dr. Allen. “We have evidence to show decreases in anger, violence, revenge and loneliness. We have also seen increases in self-esteem, commitment to community, forgiveness and gratitude.”

One of Dr. Allen’s many academic publications, “Adapting Group Therapy to Address Real World Problems: Insights from Groups Offered in The Bahamas”, captured the attention of group therapists around the world. The paper details the history and results of ‘The Family’ as a means of improving lives and community. It forms the basis of the presentation he will make in Houston.

As Dr. Allen explains, “The Family is a group-based resocialization intervention designed to confront the prevailing community chaos. In theory, the group creates a therapeutic replica of a home-based family, allowing members to confront their issues in a safe and nonjudgmental environment, offering a sanctuary from the normal Bahamian culture and encouraging the expression of emotion.”

Leaders help take family members on a journey that includes finding common goals, participating in assessment, inviting expression of emotion even if it is raw or hurts, shames or embarrasses. Throughout the process, the family lends support.

“What we have done and that is now being taken to a wider world is based on some of the standard group therapeutic principles but custom-tailors them to the cultural and psychological needs of the community,” said Dr. Allen.

“It is an innovative approach that is particularly helpful in places where there are few mental health professionals and the needs, like those in The Bahamas and in particular in the inner city, outweigh the financial capability or available skills capacity to meet the demand. We are making a difference and what we are doing in The Bahamas is being noticed outside the country.”

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