Collaborate! The Developing & Deepening of International Collegial Relationships

Tips for those wishing to expand their careers to include being invited to lecture at foreign Universities, do presentations or workshops for organizations in other countries, or to collaborate in multi-cultural research.

By Florence W. Kaslow

In 1979 I gladly accepted my first invitation to visit Israel in a professional capacity.  The invitation emanated from the Israeli Marriage and Family Therapy Association.  I was asked to deliver a keynote address entitled Profile of a Healthy Family.  In addition, I was slated to represent the US on a panel entitled Family Therapy Around the World, plus commit to doing two half day workshops – one on Couples Group Therapy; the other on Personal Projective Techniques in Family Therapy: Sculpting, Genograms and Phototherapy (all topics on which I still lecture – in updated versions).  This conference, held in Tel Aviv, was the first major international family therapy / psychology conference which I attended, and to be invited to deliver the keynote address was thrilling.

Psychologists often ask how such invitations come about and how to become a sought after person on the international speaker’s circuit. Let me share some ideas throughout this article which I’ve compiled over the years.  This invite originated from the President of the Association who had been a colleague of mine in Philadelphia.  He knew of my reputation as a respected professor who thoroughly enjoyed teaching.  He was familiar with some of my writings and the fact that I was then editor of The Journal of Marital and Family Therapy and was perceived as an energetic, far sighted leader in the field.  He had made “aliyah,” (moved to and resettled in Israel) several years earlier and helped form the Israel Association; he wanted the best of the Israelis plus well known leaders from other countries to be the main speakers.

One must build a good reputation as an interesting speaker, teacher, cutting edge thinker and theoretician, and researcher, if possible.  But these are the necessary but not sufficient requirements.  In addition, you must be adaptable to unforeseen travel mishaps; all kinds of hotels and conference events; changes in schedules; expectations that exceed what you agreed to; socializing for long hours beyond what you might do before, during and after speaking engagements in the States; the ability to work with a translator who may not be very good; not getting paid when you are supposed to, and have a good sense of humor and of the absurd, and much flexibility.  Sometimes it is advisable to modify your topic and present on something else because circumstances have changed and there is a more pressing issue that concerns those attending. 

For example, some years ago when I went to Sweden to conduct a day long workshop, on “Dealing with Difficult Couples” the program committee and I had agreed on ten different types the audience would be asked to prioritize that day.  But the participants were absorbed by burning concerns about couples who had recently immigrated from Serbia, Croatia and other parts of former Yugoslavia – so much so that they were experiencing secondary trauma in treating them.  After some introductory remarks, we took a ten minute break and I pulled my thoughts together, based on having worked with Holocaust and other trauma survivors and various immigrant groups, so I had enough material to present very different content than originally intended.  They were most appreciative of my ability to shift gears, be spontaneous and relevant, and work under pressure.  This led to further invitations throughout Scandinavia.  Professionals share comments throughout their networks; if they are extremely laudatory, ones’ reputation spreads.

Now back to Israel.  The conference was exhilarating and excellent.  Being on and listening to dynamic international panels and forums was stimulating and illuminating, even though at such conferences presenters speak with many different accents and inflections and we can be hard for each other to understand. The variety of theoretical and clinical perspectives undergirding presentations broadens one’s knowledge base, if he/she is open to hearing and absorbing.  The official conference language was English, as it often is at International Conferences, sometimes with simultaneous translation into the language of the host country and maybe a third language, if there are many participants who speak another language – like Spanish.  The importance of the formal sessions and the exchanges that occur within these is matched and sometimes exceeded by the animated interchanges that take place informally in hallways, at meals and in hotel lobbies.  I found a high level of congeniality, warmth and eagerness to meet and welcome new people at this and all subsequent international conferences I have attended.

I met many colleagues from other countries and soon received invites for lecture tours in Canada and South Africa for 1980 – attributable to the quality of my presentations in Israel, the Journal editing and my interpersonal relationship skills (in today’s parlance – social intelligence).  In 1981 I was invited back to South Africa and also to Norway, as well as many places in the US, and invites have continued unabated for the last 29 years. To pick up the Israel thread, I was asked back in 1983 for a month long Visiting Professorship in the Graduate School at Tel Aviv University, teaching an elective in family therapy.  Being well prepared, highly articulate and attuned to verbal and non verbal language proved valuable assets and are important for anyone embarking on this path.

What surprised me most was that students come to class and parked their guns at the door, telling me someone might knock and call them out of class as they were always “on alert”.  I was informed that if they did not show up for class on a day they had an assignment because their unit was mobilized during the night, they would try to get word through to me.  They came to class when they could.  I had never taught under such circumstances and rapid adaptation was essential.

While in Tel Aviv I also did workshops on Divorce at Ben Gurion University in the Negev, for the Barcae Family Institute, and the Ministry of Welfare; programs on Marital Problems and Community Outreach for a Community Mental Health Center; on Cults and the Family for an In-Patient Psychiatric facility, and programs for the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education.  Add versatility to the growing list of competencies you might be extrapolating.  This trip concluded at the 4th Israeli International Congress of Family Therapy where I spoke on Divorce Mediation and delivered the closing plenary address – Key Ingredients to Change.  I learned more than I taught, particularly about courage, bravery, living under constant threat of annihilation, pursuit of a shared dream, and loyalty to one’s country.  The experience left an indelible imprint.

Since then I have been back to Israel to present in 1986, 1992, 1995, and 1997 at Hebrew and Haifa Universities as well as Tel Aviv University.  I have delivered Keynote and Plenary addresses at family therapy conferences and been invited by the prestigious Ministry of Defense to work with the Department of Psychology / Psychiatry of the Israeli Air Force on Understanding and Treating the Military Family.  The latter invitation was predicated upon the facts that my book “The Military Family: Dynamics and Treatment” had recently been translated into Hebrew and that some military psychologists had been favorably impressed by my presentation at a prior conference.         
Topics selected have changed over time as trends in the world which impact on families and my interests have changed.  There are now more requests on multicultural topics; international adoptions; violence and abuse related themes; anxiety and trauma; immigration and globalization; and family businesses.  Remaining current is imperative, and so are reciprocity and mutuality! For those wishing to expand their careers to include being invited to lecture at foreign Universities, do presentations or workshops for organizations in other countries, or to collaborate in multi-cultural research some tips are:

  • Become a skilled teacher and seminar leader.

  • Present at local, state and regional psychology conferences and APA annual convention - acquire poise, skill and confidence and build a fine reputation.

  • Publish in refereed journals, write chapters for important books, or write or edit your own book(s) if you have important topics and new information to convey.

  • Focus on one or two specialty areas and develop expertise that makes you "the person to invite" to speak on the topic.

  • Join and become active in an International Psychological organization, such as the International Council of Psychologists or the International Association of Applied Psychology.  Attend the International Congress and become known.

  • Become involved in Division #52, International Psychology, and/or the International Committee of any Division in which you may be active. 

For example, many of the clinicians and researchers I met in my travels joined me in forming the International Family Therapy Association in Czechoslovakia in 1987.  Others asked me to join them in the formation of the International Academy of Family Psychology in Japan in 1990.  International colleagues have contributed chapters to many of my edited books as I have to theirs.  I initiated a research project on Long Term Satisfying Marriages which turned into a nine country study and a book co-edited by colleagues from Germany and Israel.  Periodically I have been able to recommend outstanding foreign friends as plenary speakers or panelists for conferences and/or to invite them to present with me on International Family Psychology Panels under Division #43 auspices run biannually at APA Conventions.  One must “keep in touch” with those in one’s network and keep contributing to the field in ways that are meaningful and relevant to remain part of the huge contemporaneous international psychology field.