Friday, May 26, 2023

New York State ATSA Delivers Once Again

 By David S. Prescott, LICSW

ATSA’s New York State chapter has put on annual conferences since at least the late 1990s. For most of that time, they have collaborated with the New York State Alliance for the Prevention of Sexual Abuse.  The settings have varied from the Hunter Mountain resort in the Catskills, the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, the outskirts of Albany, Corning, and for the past several years, a conference hotel in Saratoga Springs. It’s worth mentioning that Saratoga is a popular destination, with natural springs in a large park nearby and close to world-famous horse racing (Carly Simon sang about it in her classic hit, “You’re so Vain”) and numerous visitor attractions.

This year’s pre-conference workshops provided an excellent balance of material with top-shelf experts. Jane Fleishman talked about sexual wellbeing, and Mark Olver talked about therapeutic approaches with high-psychopathy clients. Although I could only be in the latter training, attendees were mightily impressed with both. Dr. Olver is able to make statistical analysis come alive, and with humor (“Some people enjoy rice and beans for dinner; I grew up on Cox regression”). Dr. Fleishman provided both safety and humor (laughter from her audience was audible in Dr. Olver’s presentation: “they’re having fun while we’re doing survival curve analysis”). As always, Dr. Olver’s presentation style is a fine balance of clinical skill and statistical prowess. Not every presenter is able to pull this off.

Dr. Olver opened the conference with a keynote address titled Empirical Models of Evaluating Change in Sexual Offenders: Linkages to Risk Assessment and Management. Among the many highlights, I was struck by the fact that so many of the people who attended a self-care workshop by Janet DiGiorgio-Miller returned for a closely related workshop on mindfulness in the next session. I attended a workshop by Elaine Vuong, who examined the role of culture and its relationship to the responsivity principle. She used a well-structured approach to illustrate the ways that culture is addressed in the principles of effective correctional rehabilitation and the Good Lives Model. She next described how her agency, the New York Office for Mental Health and its STARC program, are using this information to improve services to its clients.

On the second day, Kelly Socia provided the plenary address titled Using Language to Avoid Landmines: How to Convey Scientific Facts and Cut Through Myths. This was an update of the brilliant plenary address Dr. Socia gave at last year’s national ATSA conference in Los Angeles. As always, his presentation was captivating and persuasive, balancing deep knowledge of policy and personal experiences. Dr. Socia then gave a talk on tips for getting published in academic journals.

The atmosphere at this year’s conference was an inspired mix of continued relief at finally being back together in person after two years alongside an influx of newer members to the field. Speaking for myself, I felt sentimental as Kelly Socia showed a video containing interviews with Rob Longo and Barbara Schwartz to an audience comprised of many early-career professionals unfamiliar with the work of these highly influential progenitors in the field.

As a conference, NYS ATSA/NYS Alliance has long been run by the very best that New York has to offer. Per their website, the current board of NYS ATSA includes Bud Ballinger, Jennifer Cinicolo, Kelly Bunt, Larry Menzie (who also leads the NYS Alliance), Chris Farrell, Dina McManus, Gilian Tenbergen, Justyna Rzewinski, Amy Gaddor, Shoshanna Must, and most recently, Katie Baker. Of course, they were preceded by other great contributors to NYS ATSA such as Ken Lau and the late Richard Hamill. It was great to be back.

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