Psychological conference inspires U of O participants

Release Date: 4/25/2012

How much fun can you actually have at an academic conference? For the half dozen U of O students who recently attended the Southwestern Psychological Conference in Oklahoma City, the answer is Wow.

"Attending this event did change me and my view of my field," says John Nix, a senior from Stamps, Arkansas. "When people usually think about psychology, they think of Sigmund Freud and lying on the couch talking about your dreams. But when you get into it, it's pretty amazing how many different divergent fields there are in psychology. It's not just one thing. There are thousands of different disciplines all under that one umbrella - abnormal, cognitive, clinical, developmental, occupational - there really are too many to list."

This year's theme was "Trauma & Resilience," and all the attendees - John Nix, Katrina Mariswamy, Nichole Maddox, Colleen Guillory, Debi Sosa, and Ester Maria Diaz - all found something to talk and think about.

Nix and Psychology/English major Colleen Guillory, a sophomore from Lafayette, Louisiana, both consider themselves more interested in the analytical, cognitive side of their major, and Guillory said she was fascinated by the keynote speaker, James Pennebaker, Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas.

Pennebaker's presentation, "What Our Words Say About Us," outlines a series of studies showing how an individual's use of common English articles (words like "a," and "the") and pronouns ("I, you, he, she, they," etc.) can reveal our emotions, the ways we think, our social status, and the nature of our relationships with others.

"Because I am both an English major as well as a Psychology major," said Guillory, "and since language is the main medium we have to communicate who we are and what we want, I think it's amazing somebody could learn so much just from studying parts of speech. He also did a study studying Yahoo messaging and could actually determine whether or not the relationship of the people sending messages was going to succeed or fail and who was the dominant partner in both dating and friendship relationships, based on the articles and pronouns they used in their texts. It's so interesting!"

For Nix, networking with his peers was a high point of the trip. "Especially with my senior seminar coming up, it was helpful to see what other people were doing, either because I felt they had done something that sparked some creativity in me, or else because it clarified some point I don't now want to pursue. Just getting an idea of how to present at one of these things is a big deal because that's a big part of getting your research across. You can only do so much with numbers and figures on paper, but when you actually explain it to people, and these presenters were amazing speakers, that teaches you a whole lot about your field right there."

For Katrina Mariswamy, a senior from Malaysia, the best part of the trip was "Sweet Dreams: A Cognitive Behavioral Approach to Treatment of Trauma-Related Nightmares," a presentation by Joanne L. Davis from the University of Tulsa.

"It was a about how these therapists are helping people who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and can't stop having nightmares as a result," she said. "People may have consciously dealt with whatever happened to them, whether it was domestic abuse or any other kind of traumatic experience, but their lives continue to be disrupted by nightmares several times a week."

Mariswamy said the therapists involved developed a three-session-long treatment involving teaching relaxation techniques, modifying sleep habits for maximum rest, but most importantly, something called "rescripting."

"They have the person write out the trauma in first person, well detailed, explaining what happened," she said. "Once they've done that, even identifying what the main issue is, whether it's fears of safety or intimacy or whatever, they have the person then rewrite the experience so that it comes out better. One great example was a woman who had been in an abusive relationship with her husband and kept having dreams where she could hear him come into the house, come up the stairs, and enter her bedroom. She would wake up shaking in a cold sweat. So they had her write that all out in detail, and then change the details in with a positive spin. So she added candles and soft music and herself waiting excitedly for romance to be coming up the stairs. And when the door opened, instead of her ex-husband, it was Johnny Depp!"

Mariswamy said that often times, the mere act of writing out the nightmare and therefore exposing it on paper was enough to remove its power, and that clients were often amazed at that point that they had ever been worried.

"Just writing it down helped them overcome it, and that led to the end of the nightmares," she said. "To me, that kind of psychology is what I want to do with my life, and this conference inspired me even more to want to do so."

Ozarks students at the Southwestern Psychological Conference in Oklahoma City.

Ozarks students (left to right) Debi Sosa, John Nix, Katrina Mariswamy, Ester Maria Diaz, and Colleen Guillory recently attended the Southwestern Psychological Conference in Oklahoma City. One of the stops on their trip was the Oklahoma City Memorial, where they took this group photo standing by the Survivor Tree.