Conferences, when done well, provide inspiration, information and personal improvement. Within the past three weeks I have attended two conferences that exceeded expectations in all three areas. The first was the Educators Summit in the Dominican Republic, which provided for 260+ (mostly) Dominicans, and the last was the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) biennial conference in Nashville, Tennessee, which hosted 7,000 members from the USA and forty other nations.
Expectations for the first, being our own–Assemblies of God, AGWM, LAC—to be thoroughly Pentecostal in practice and solidly biblical in content were accomplished. The second, representing many denominations and a cross representation of professional counselors, psychologists, medical doctors and pastors, could have been disappointing in comparison. But having gone to a number of these events, I knew it would also be dynamic in worship and the presentations would be well grounded in scripture. The DR and Nashville conferences exceeded expectations in both areas.
Both events organized the focus of attention around major themes. In the first, each speaker added a perspective to Lift Up Your Eyes–to New Pathways with Purpose (“derroteros” loosely translated), which included New Ministries, New Ministers and New Territories. At the AACC conference, the theme was “Be Strong!,” and some plenary speakers surprised me with unexpected applications. Dr. Siang Yang Tan, from Fuller Theological Seminary, discoursed on the paradox of weakness as strength in Christ. Another’s focus defined the need to acknowledge the reality of demons and our authority to cast them out when that is the client’s need.
Plenary sessions do inform and inspire, but my attention now is centered on the benefit of the workshops. In professional circles, such as psychology, medicine, and education, in order to maintain one’s credentials, ongoing professional development is mandated. In the state of Missouri, I must acquire 40 CEU’s (continuing education units) every two years, 20 of which must be in formal educational settings.
Each time I work as a counselor at Focus on the Family’s National Institute of Marriage (NIM) in Branson, Missouri, my skills as a marriage conference speaker in LAC develop. We NIM therapists specialize in helping couples in crisis who arrive from all over America to achieve restoration of marriages on the brink of divorce. Our system of Intensives, both group counseling and with individual couples, allows us to burrow deeply in a few short days to uncover core issues and help heal broken relationships. So when Dick and I present our marriage conferences, the broad spectrum of problems I have worked with gives greater understanding to help most couples in the audience improve their marriages.
When I have opportunity to develop my therapeutic skills, my ISUM and Facultad students benefit. Since I only teach counseling-related courses, whatever helps me be a better counselor also helps me be a better professor. So when I chose seven sessions of the 161 workshops offered at the AACC conference, (they run 23 simultaneous tracks), I keep in mind not just what interests me, but also what will benefit my students throughout the region.
Some workshops draw me by subject (brain studies, attachment theory, abuse, healthy sexuality). In others, the speaker has impressed me in past settings, as with Linda Mintle (wife of LAC MK), who is one of the best-prepared speakers I have ever heard, and I can’t wait to learn from her (or him). When I read over the workshops offered, I also keep in mind the subjects that would benefit my students. Though outside my personal interest or need, the session on developing a lay counseling ministry in the local church gave good information as well as cautions that will improve the hour of class that addresses that subject.
One Facultad student recently submitted a monograph that piqued my curiosity in how he applied one of the personality assessment tools from the class, The Psychology of Learning, to the network of ministers he works with as a presbyter. I was gratified to read the results he achieved personally and with his group of influence. That paper inspired me to attend the workshop on “Spiritual Trauma and Abuse Assessment and Intervention,” which seemed to open a door for expanded understanding of potential dysfunction among ministers. The session began with the conditions that allow for an abusive environment, such as a culture of silence, valuing rules over people, the organization over the individual, seeing weakness as spiritual flaws, and the dangers of “Groupthink” (The loudest voice often wins the day, but oftentimes the person with the highest anxiety level has the loudest voice!).
It’s encouraging to hear various presenters reinforce principles or values I hold strongly, such as validation. When I teach the speaker-listener model of effective communication that we at NIM call Heart Talk, I emphasize how important a validation phrase can be once the listener has really captured the emotional heart of the message. To say, “That really matters to me,” can be more effective than a quick ”I’m sorry,” which may sound to the speaker like, “Okay, I don’t want to hear any more, so I’ll say anything to get you to stop harping on this!” Letting the speaker’s message impact the heart of the listener helps them truly care and then validate the speaker’s feelings.
The Human Relations workshop I teach in the Educators Summits addresses the need for the professor to increase self-awareness, as well as to know and understand the student. The dynamics of interpersonal relationships fluctuate, depending on so many factors on both sides of the classroom. Applying the principle of validation can overcome embarrassment when it becomes necessary to cut short a rambling question in class or rectify faulty thinking that a student may be proposing to fellow students as truth. Sometimes it’s challenging to find something positive that can be validated in blatant error, but it is usually possible to default to affirming their intention or interest in the material. When we listen well and empathically, we make room for defenses to be lowered and trust to develop.
When PROCEPA was first introduced to the Educators Summits, some questioned how well required ongoing education for Bible school professors would be received. I remember one general council in one of our LAC countries when ongoing education was proposed for all ministers to retain their credentials, one man stood and said he had pastored for 40 years without the need for Bible school. The message was, “Don’t make us do something I don’t need.” The proposal was voted down.
Thankfully, the tide has changed. More and more Bible schools are upgrading their programs and are encouraging their teachers to further their training. In each summit, whether hosted in Central America for the surrounding nations, in South America, or in Mexico, the growing number of attendees (450 and more) has proven the felt need is being addressed, as more and more Bible school teachers sign up for their continuing credits.
Receiving the CEU’s at the end of the conference for the workshops attended is necessary for my certification as a Licensed Professional Counselor, but for me, the information gleaned is of much more value than receiving those credits. On the last day of the conference I ordered 35 more audio CDs of the sessions I couldn’t get to, and will transcribe them over the course of the next a few months, as I have done each year for almost a decade. My computer is full of fascinating resources, and I have become a better-informed teacher, therapist, and person as a result!
Let’s talk about continuing education:
- Do you attend conferences more for encouragement and personal inspiration, or for enrichment and development?
- When you attend workshops for personal development, what do you look for from the speaker?
- When you are a workshop or plenary speaker, what guides you as you develop your material?
Cynthia Nicholson Bio
Cynthia Nicholson is a featured speaker in churches, Bible schools and counseling-related seminars throughout the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean. An ordained minister of the Assemblies of God, Cynthia combines a passion for the Word of God with a strong desire to help the hurting.
“The world over, the pains of the suffering are very much the same, and I want to help,” Cynthia says. Her seminar themes include such subjects as Marriage Interventions, Parenting Teens, Destructive Emotions, Recovery from Sexual Abuse, Compassion Fatigue (PTSD), and Happiness in Ministry. Fluent in English and Spanish, Cynthia’s desire is to communicate Biblical principles within the context of each group she encounters.
With a Masters degree in Counseling, from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminar and a B.A. in Bible from Central Bible College, she teaches with ISUM and Facultad. As a licensed professional counselor and marriage therapist, she works for Focus on the Family’s National Institute of Marriage in Branson, Missouri, working with couples in crisis.
She travels extensively in ministry with her husband Richard, former regional director of Latin America Caribbean for 17 years.
The Nicholsons have three children, eight grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.