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Stories | 11.14.22

Living Adlerian theory: Student shares experience from international summer school program

Kristen Alysia Duemler didn’t quite know if she considered her theoretical orientation in psychology as Adlerian.

“I just wasn’t sure, but it might be,” Duemler said. This was in the fall of 2021, her first semester on the Vancouver Campus, when she was taking a class with Marina Bluvshtein, Ph.D.

Duemler’s class had just learned from Dr. Bluvshtein about a two-week international summer school program, to be held in the Netherlands by the International Committee for Adlerian School Schools and Institutes (ICASSI). The program would give attendees a chance to network with fellow mental health practitioners and take courses from renowned Adlerian experts.

“Dr. Bluvshtein mentioned there was going to be a play therapy course,” said Duemler, who is in the Master of Counselling Psychology: School and Youth Concentration program. “As soon as she said that, I jumped at the opportunity to go. I still wasn’t sure if I was Adlerian, but I went ahead and applied.”

Duemler flew to the Netherlands in late July 2022 and stayed through early August. She stayed at Hotel WICC with about 200 Adlerian practitioners, experts, professors, and students from all around the world, including Hong Kong, Nigeria, Israel, Turkey, the European Union, the U.S., and Canada.

Despite the cost and taking two weeks out of her summer vacation, it didn’t take long for Duemler to realize she made the right decision to come.

“It was a chance to really live the theory,” Duemler said. “If you’re at all interested in Adlerian psychology, this is a chance to not just see it on paper, or write a paper on it, or listen to a lecture. You get to live it.”

Duemler shares some of the highlights from her time at ICASSI’s international summer school program and why fellow Adler University students and faculty should consider going to next summer’s conference in Dublin, Ireland.

How did you first learn about Adlerian concepts and theory, which emphasizes the importance of relationships and being connected to others, including the larger community in which people reside?

I learned a little about it in undergrad. I didn’t learn a lot, but I learned enough to think that it sounded interesting and that I’d like to learn more. Then I found Adler University, and I started reading more about it, and the social justice and social connections aspects. I said that’s cool, it sounds like a good fit for me.

Photo of Alysia Duemler at ICASSI

Alysia Duemler poses for a photo with Adler graduate Sister Francisca Nzeke, Psy.D., at her presentation at ICASSI.

Why did you decide to apply for ICASSI, and what did you hope to take away from the experience?

Dr. Bluvshtein was teaching my Zoom class on Adlerian theories class in the fall. She was involved with ICASSI and told the whole class about going to the Netherlands over the summer to learn from renowned Adlerians, that different therapists, and different professionals and students will be able to participate in classes. She mentioned that she was going to be teaching there as well. She’s an excellent teacher. So, I jumped at the opportunity to learn more from her. She also mentioned that there would be scholarships too, which I figured I might be able to afford it.

I hoped to learn more about Adlerian theory. I was really excited about it because some of the top Adlerians in the world were going to be there. For the two weeks, I had the opportunity to take four courses. It’s pretty extensive. I took one on metaphors from Dr. Bluvshtein, I took a course on play therapy from Terry Kottman, Ph.D., who is very well-known in the play therapy world. I also went to lectures all related to psychology and therapy. I just made professional connections and friendships with people around the world. That’s what I had hoped I’d get out of it, and that is what I got and more.

Photo of Alysia Duemler

Alysia Duemler and her mentor Marina Bluvshtein, Ph.D., attend ICASSI.

Were there any experts or authors you got to meet at the program?

Yes. There was psychologist Zivit Abramson, Ph.D. I had read her book about working with couples and loved it. I read the book as a student though it wasn’t an assigned reading. Also, my partner told me she used to have a show in Israeli TV, a type of counseling advice show. My partner was super excited that I was going to see her. Dr. Abramson came with her daughter and grandson. That was something neat at ICASSI. There are Adlerian families, including these three generations together. Dr. Abramson taught a course on family and couples, and she even gave a funny and informative performance about making choices, free will and responsibility at the talent show fundraiser for the scholarships. She signed my book too.

I was really excited about fantastic Dr. Kottman. Because of my concentration in school and youth, play therapy is very important to me. I heard about Dr. Kottman from several courses at Adler. This was an all-day, interactive course. It was cool because we were living what she was writing. We played different games, and they were fun. It wasn’t like, OK here’s a game you can do with your clients and it’s great with kids this age. Instead, we all got in a circle, and did the actual games. We had actual real-life practice and learned how to do it. These games had very specific therapeutic goals. It is more complex than running around. We also did arts and crafts, storytelling, and writing, all with therapeutic goals. Of course, I got to learn from wonderful Dr. Bluvshtein and her helpful course about metaphors, and from many other top-notch experts and authors the entire two weeks during courses, conversations, presentations, lectures, and social events. 

What were some of the highlights?

I would say the connections that I made. All the courses are extremely interactive. Think about it: you have 100-200 people who are Adlerian or Adlerian-curious, and you’re in a hotel interacting all the time. We would eat lunch together, go on walks. You get a feel and see how Adlerians interact with other human beings. I can see how someone listens to a person and how that person responds. The community is so kind, supportive, and caring. I’ve been in several Zoom calls since then just to check in with everyone and talk about different psychology topics. I wish the world was more like ICASSI. It’s a fantastic community.

Photo of Alysia Duemler at ICASSI

Attendees of Dr. Terry Kottman’s play therapy class at ICASSI.

Why should other students consider this opportunity?

I made professional connections and friends all over the world. Every year, it’s held in a different place. Next year, it’ll be in Dublin, Ireland. This is a chance to see the world. Yes, we were at a conference, but I made friends, and we went and had fun. We did karaoke, saw Amsterdam, and visited museums and the canals. Yes, you will learn and make incredible connections, you can add this experience to your CV, you will hone new skills, but you’ll also have a lot of fun.

What I do think would encourage more Adler students to go is if they could get course credits because there were other students from other universities, graduate students who were attending, and they would get course credits. That would be a strong incentive to encourage Adler University students to experience this opportunity.

Do you plan to attend ICASSI in Dublin in 2023?

Sure! Yes. I think I will go. I know I’ll learn more. And now I have friends, and they’ll want to see me there. They’re all just so kind. And I’ve never been to Dublin, so why not.

Do you consider yourself an Adlerian now?

Yes! Now that I’ve taken these Adlerian theory courses, read several books by Adlerian authors, I took another course, I did ICASSI, now I feel like I’m familiar with it. There’s always more to learn though. I’m sure I’ll be learning for life.

Anything else you’d like to add?

ICASSI was one of the most enriching and empowering experiences in my life, and students and faculty should go. And to not let the distance or cost be a barrier. If there’s a will, there’s a way. I received a partial scholarship, which helped immensely. You can apply and perhaps you’ll receive one too, but even if not, there are reduced costs for students. Don’t miss the chance to grow professionally and personally, and to increase social Interest in the world.

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