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The Wingspread Conference

Posted By David B. Seaburn, PhD, LMFT, Monday, January 23, 2012
On January 27-30, 1994, a group of approximately thirty-five health and mental healthcare professionals lead by Don Bloch met in Racine, Wisconsin at the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Wingspread Conference Center. From this Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sponsored meeting, the Collaborative Family Healthcare Coalition was born. I was honored to be part of that birthing group. At the time, I was a faculty member in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center working alongside Susan McDaniel, Tom Campbell and others trying to develop effective models of family-oriented collaborative care in a family medicine residency program.

It was a heady time. Don was editing the journal, Family Systems Medicine (now Families Systems and Health) the vanguard publication for collaborative family healthcare. Susan, Jeri Hepworth and Bill Doherty had published Medical Family Therapy two years earlier. Still a fledgling movement, I recall knowing personally almost everyone in the country who was doing this work. We were a small and highly motivated group. I had organized the Working Group for Family Therapists Practicing in Medical Settings in 1992. In a matter of two years, I was sending informal newsletters to over four hundred interested health and mental health professionals. As you likely know, there were no formal training institutes or degree programs for family-oriented collaborative healthcare at the time. We were creating the models as we did the work.

In the late winter of 1994, at the Family in Family Medicine Conference at Amelia Island, Fla., Don Bloch invited some of us to his condo to discuss the future of the collaborative family healthcare movement. The notion of a planning meeting came out of that gathering. In the fall of 1994, a smaller group met in Rochester, NY to plan the Wingspread Conference. This included Mac Baird and Bill Doherty (who had written the seminal work, Family Therapy and Family Medicine, in 1983), Don Bloch, the father of the collaboration movement and our convener, Lyman Wynn, one of the founders of Family Therapy, Theodora Ooms, Virginia Rutter, and Susan McDaniel, Tom Campbell and myself (together we had published the first edition of Family-oriented Primary Care, in 1990).

I must admit that I was star-struck by the leaders in the field that I met at Wingspread, including such early pioneers of primary care collaboration as Barry Dym and Michael Glenn. We had an ambitious agenda for the conference, dividing our work among three key areas: practice, training and research. Groups met to develop ideas for each of these areas and then reported back to the whole. From the beginning it was clear that the heart of this approach was: collaboration between mental health providers, healthcare professionals, patients and families. The issue of including family members in collaboration (especially with chronic or life-threatening illness, psychosomatic illnesses, and health problems that required family members to provide care) was discussed at length in those years and it became apparent that the influence of family was so great in most circumstances that not partnering with them could be detrimental to care.

The most important development from the Wingspread Conference was the recognition that we had a critical mass of committed professionals that needed its own organization. We left the conference with a new name---The Collaborative Family Healthcare Coalition. Yes, Coalition, because we saw ourselves as bringing together many different voices, many different organizations that were committed to the same cause. It was only later that the name was changed to Collaborative Family Healthcare Association to meet the growing demand for a membership organization.

The goal at that time was to facilitate a shift in healthcare nationally, from acute to chronic and preventive, from inpatient to ambulatory care, from top-down to collaborative, from individually focused to family-oriented, from exclusively biomedical to biopsychosocial systems. We felt that these should guide our practice, training, research and systems organization. I think that vision is as sharp and fresh now as it was then. It was the driving force behind the Collaborative Family Healthcare Coalition and became the foundation of the Collaborative Family Healthcare Association in all its endeavors.

I left the University of Rochester Medical Center in 2005 to initiate collaborative approaches to mental healthcare in a public school setting. I had not been to a CFHA Conference in many years when I attended the meeting in Philadelphia. It was invigorating to see so many people who are committed to this work. And it was exciting to hear new and old ideas coming together to shape the future of family-oriented collaborative healthcare. It was clear that the spirit of the Wingspread Conference was alive and well.


David B. Seaburn, PhD, LMFT was Assistant Professor, Psychiatry and Family Medicine, at the University of Rochester School of Medicine (1986-2005) where he was Director of the Family Therapy Training Program (Psychiatry) and Coordinator of Psychosocial Core and Psychosocial Rotation (Family Medicine). Seaburn was also Director of the Family Support Center Spencerport Central Schools until he retired in 2010. He has written three novels, most recently, Charlie No Face.


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The view expressed in the blogs and comments should be understood as the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the Collaborative Family Healthcare Association (CFHA). No information on this blog will be understood as official. CFHA offers this blog site for individuals to express their personal and professional opinions regarding their own independent activities and interests.

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Jennifer Hodgson says...
Posted Saturday, January 28, 2012
Dave...we all get starstruck being around you! People need to know that David is pubishing books that operate in the reality of what we see in our offices and struggle with as collaborators (Charlie No Face, Pumpkin Hill, and Darkness Is As Light). His collaboratively written 1996 book "Models of Collaboration" is still a must read for people entering this area of work. His historical review is both important and inspirational. We have come a long way but not to forget the sweat, hope, and diligence of those who have the fire in their bellies for this work.
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