SPPAC 2016: Days 1-3
After three long, non-stop (but great) days in Atlanta (and a few weeks of getting caught up on other work), I finally have some time to sit down and write about my experiences with the SPPAC 2016 conference. There was a LOT of information, but a good amount was relevant more to me personally (e.g., internship information) rather than good information to share in general. Keeping that in mind, I will try to cover the most relevant information here, along with some commentary and extra information.
My original hope was to write about a lot of this either in live blog posts or at the end of the same day, plus doing some podcast episodes during the conference. Unfortunately, the internet was not very reliable while I was there, and I was too tired after returning to my hotel room each night to record or write anything. So instead, you get a nice summary all in one post!
Day 1: SIGS
Day 1 (Thursday) was filled with “pre-conference” workshops and SIG (Special Interest Group) meetings. I had hoped to attend some workshops as a volunteer, but I was busy helping with the registration materials. I definitely heard good things about the workshops, though, so it’s a shame I can’t write more about them here.
The C/L (Consultation/Liaison) SIG focused mostly on “business” content. There were several things worth noting, though. First, the SIG is in the process of creating brochures for parents and healthcare providers. They have one so far, and another will soon be ready based on Somatic Symptom Disorder (basically when a child has medically unexplained symptoms).
The other notable update was what is planned for the transition to the Society of Pediatric Psychology’s (SPP) new website. As part of the new site, SIGs will have the option to update the content they have there, and the resources the C/L SIG currently provides (and future resources) will be made available. It should be a nice one-stop shop for many clinicians, and possibly parents and medical providers.
Finally, there was brief mention of an interest to do a survey looking at C/L services at various hospitals. The idea is to compare formats, methods, and so forth so the different teams can learn from one another. It could also lead to a more consistent C/L experience between hospitals, which is exciting.
The Obesity SIG had a good presence at the conference, with a step count challenge and the first ever pairing of mentors and students to talk while walking. They also had morning exercise programs available for attendees (though they were too early in the morning for me to realistically attend).
Similar to the C/L SIG, there was discussion in the Obesity SIG about evaluating treatment programs to see if we, as providers, are actually delivering services in the way research says we should. I’m involved on two teams that are working on this very project, and while there isn’t much to report quite yet there will be a lot of news to come in the future!
Day 2: The Main Event
What I'm calling day 2 of SPPAC was really the main event of the conference. It was a day filled with information and poster sessions, and there was very little time to break between things. But everything was packed with great information!
The day started with a welcoming and award presentation. This was then followed by a great keynote address by Dr. Lee Sanders (introduced by yours truly).
The keynote address was focused on interdisciplinary collaboration in primary care (i.e., professionals from multiple disciplines, like medicine and psychology, working together in the same clinic).
One of the points raised, which I've cited in some of my own research, is the growing pediatric population. Rates of death in childhood are improving, but chronic illness rates are increasing, leading to a growing need for pediatric psychology. A major role that pediatric psychologists can play is not only providing mental health care to this population, but also working with medical doctors and families to help ensure families understand what they need to about a child's health, the treatments involved, and so on.
After the keynote there were breakout symposia. I attended one on mobile health interventions. So far this is a growing field, with many labs starting to develop smartphone apps to aid with data collection (and to sometimes provide an intervention). The area holds a lot or promise (e.g., further reach in the population, easier for participants, more immediate reporting rather than relying on memory). But there are also a lot of things that need to be considered as this becomes more common (e.g., security, initial burden on participants, how often should we notify/push participants).
Next was another keynote, this time on the topic of diversity. Dr. Gayle Brooks spoke about eating disorders in minority youth, including racial and sexual minorities.
The keynote brought up many good points, including the fluidity of gender (making gender-specific treatments problematic) and the role of stressors that are unique to minorities. For example, there are different pressures for diet and appearance in different ethnic groups, and there may be more body dissatisfaction in transgender youth. All of these things come together to make for a potentially complex eating disorder profile, which is important to understand when treating these youth. But at the same time, these minority youth may also have unique strengths that should be recognized and used in therapy.
As for the rest of the afternoon, it was a bit of a blur. There was a poster session, where I got a chance to catch up with several colleagues that I hadn't run into yet. There was another symposium I attended (but I honestly don't remember much of what was discussed; the caffeine was already starting to wear off at that point). And the evening wrapped up with an "internships on parade" event, where I got to get a lot of great info on internships that will help with my application process this fall.
Then, of course, there was dinner and chatting with friends late into the evening, followed by a short amount of sleep before starting the next day.
Day 3: The Wrap-Up
The third and final day was only a half-day for most (and still a shorter day even for those of us who had to stay into the afternoon). It was also filled with shorter presentations with a heavier focus on students.
Things started out in the morning (at least for me and most of the others who couldn't be bothered to wake up at 5am) with a poster session. This is when I got to present some findings from our TAP for Kids study at DePaul.
We then got to hear the last keynote of the conference, and it was a great one. Dr. Deborah Christie talked about medically unexplained illnesses (sometimes called psychosomatic conditions, but that can lead to stigma, as she pointed out).
The presentation was filled with humor, but also great reminders of our roles as pediatric psychologists. We often encounter families who are hesitant to meet with us due to fears that having a psychologist involved implies it's "all in their head." The reality, as you've hopefully noticed if you've read my other blog posts, is much more complicated. In the end, it's not necessarily important for us to determine if it's organic (i.e., has a biological cause) or psychological. What's important is that we help the patient and his/her family to get through the treatments, to be resilient, and to have a better quality of life. The medical team may find an organic cause of symptoms later, or they may not. That doesn't mean our role should change much.
After a short break, there was then a "research blitz" or studies being conducted by students. It was great to see the accomplishments of students being recognized, and that's something we're hoping to continue as part of the student spotlight in SPP.
There was then a final poster session, which was filled with a lot of goodbyes and see-you-soons. Everyone was exhausted by that point, but it was still great to see everyone and to get excited for SPPAC 2017.
Then, finally (at least for me) was the student board meeting. A lot of it was about roles and logistics, so there's not too much to say here. But for those of you who are students in SPP, look forward to updated resources and more helpful information on the SPP website. And hopefully we'll be able to start recognizing more of your work as well!
SPPAC 2016 was a very busy but wonderful conference. It's always great to see others within SPP, as it's like a big family. It also provided good motivation to continue moving forward on my own research, as well as collaborative projects.
Oh, and if you want to see a timeline of tweets from the conference, check out the Storify that we put together! https://storify.com/SPPStudentRep/sppac2016
Next year we'll be in Portland, Oregon, from March 30 - April 1. I'm already looking forward to it, and hopefully I'll get to see some of you there!