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Jeff SzymanksiToday is the last day to register for the 19th Annual IOCDF Annual Conference at the Early Bird Discount rate — so if you have been on the fence about attending this year’s conference, today is the day to take the leap. You can register through our website here, or you can call our office at 617-973-5801 and we can complete your registration over the phone.

Today, we are also excited to have a blog post from our Executive Director, Jeff Szymanski, about his take on the IOCDF Annual Conference! 

From your unique insight as the Executive Director of the International OCD Foundation, tell us what you like about the Annual Conference. What makes it unique? Are there any other meetings or conferences like this? 

Attending the Annual Conference is my favorite part of being involved with IOCDF. What is truly amazing for me about this conference is that one third of the attendees are individuals with OCD, one third are family and friends of individuals with OCD, and one third are therapists and researchers. Half of our registrants each year are first-time attendees. And the number of kids and teens that attend grows every year. This creates a very unique experience for all conference goers. In fact, the best part of the conference is watching all of these different groups interact and support each other. OCD and spectrum disorders can be so isolating — for those with the disorder and their family and friends. To see how everyone comes together at this conference is truly inspiring. As one teen was overheard saying at last year’s conference: “You know the worst part of this conference? That we have to wait another whole year to come back again.”

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you became involved in the OCD community.

I am a clinical psychologist and originally specialized in working with chronically suicidal and self-injuring patients. However, when a position opened up at McLean Hospital’s OCD Institute I thought it would be a great opportunity to work with a different group of folks. What I was really struck by was the intensity of the suffering experienced by individuals with OCD and how the disorder left the individual and family feeling hopeless. Seeing how effective Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) was for so many of these patients was incredibly rewarding. When the executive director position opened up at the IOCDF I thought it would be another great opportunity to have a larger impact on a larger scale.

Will you be presenting any talks at this year’s conference?

I will be welcoming attendees at the “General Orientation” session on Friday morning, but it is really Jeff Bell and Liz McIngvale — our national spokespeople — that do such a nice job of talking with everyone about how to make the most of their experience at the conference. I am also on the panel, “OCD in the Media,” talking about how OCD is portrayed in the media and what we are doing at the Foundation to influence perceptions of OCD. Finally, I am presenting on perfectionism: “Practically Perfect: When and Why Perfectionism Pays Off or Backfires.” When I worked at the OCD Institute I ran the perfectionism group, and I subsequently wrote a book about how to effectively manage unhealthy perfectionism and maximize effective perfectionism. This talk will cover some of the same principles.

When was your first IOCDF Conference?

I am coming full circle — my first IOCDF conference was in Chicago in 2004! This will be my eighth conference.

Do you have a favorite talk from past year’s conferences?

My favorite talks have always been the ones that are more experiential like the “Families Unite” and “Handling Hoarding: An Experiential Workshop.” In the family workshop, attendees are broken down into small groups and asked to develop a contract with their family right then and there. Similarly, the hoarding workshop asks attendees to bring in items from home to get in-the-moment coaching about how to dehoard.

What workshops are you most excited about attending and why?

This year we had a lot of submissions that are about telling the story of OCD from two different perspectives. “What Do I Do if My Loved One Refuses Treatment?” features parents and kids with OCD talking about the challenges of managing OCD in the home, while “Learning about Residential Treatment from Both Perspectives” will show the different perspectives of both therapists and patients. I also have a particular interest in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) as it applies to OCD treatment and this year we have several excellent talks on that topic.

Anything else you are looking forward to at this year’s conference?

I have a unique role at the conference in that I get to touch upon all of the activities going on from meetings with the affiliates to talking with first time attendees to attending the Scientific Advisory Board meeting. It is such a rewarding experience to see the breadth of activity and range of different stakeholders in the IOCDF community. So many people are so generous with their time, resources, skills, and talents. It is really wonderful to see.

What are you most excited about doing in Chicago while you are there for the Conference?

I went to graduate school just outside of Chicago many years ago, and it is one of my favorite cities. I am flying out early to see the city because once the conference starts, my days last from 14–16 hours. Not much time to see the city then!

If you could give any advice to someone who is not sure about attending the conference, what would you tell them?

If there is any part of you curious about what the conference has to offer, listen to that voice! Pam Lowy — our finance manager — was running the onsite registration desk last year and told me a story about a family that came to the conference on Friday morning: parents and a teenage daughter with OCD. All three looked nervous and unsure. The daughter looked like she would rather be anywhere but at this conference. They registered for Friday-only, thinking that by the end of the day they would have had their fill. Instead, by the end of the day they came back to Pam and registered for the rest of the conference. The next morning she saw the same family in the registration area looking excited and full of energy, with smiles on their faces. The daughter met up with newly made friends and was already running off to her next meeting.

Register today to get the Early Bird Discount. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call our offices at 617-973-5801, or visit the Conference page on our website at http://ocfoundation.org/conference. Early Bird Registration ends today at 5pm ET, but you will still be able to register (at higher rates) after today.

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