May 9th, 2013
By Sonia Nevis
While I was waiting for the warmth of Spring, a friend sent me a letter about a magazine that she has been reading. She was sure I would like the magazine a lot and she was right.
The magazine is the Sun and it has published 448 issues (P.O. Box 5837, Harlan, IA, 51593). What I liked about it is that it has an eccentric point of view and it often upsets comfortable ways of established thinking.
Reading it in my cozy chair, I began to have images of my early life. One of my favorite habits had been to sit alone in a restaurant and pretend to be reading a book while I listened to all the conversations around me. Real conversations. Where else would I have learned so much?
These are some of the things I heard that I never would have known:
1. You really didn’t even leave him a note?
2. How could you not even leave a note?
3. Oh, come on, I was twenty-five. I was a baby.
4. He broke up with me in Prospect Park. Took me there so he could do it in public.
5. In public?
6. Hey, I spent four days on a camping trip in a tent.
7. Oh, Jesus, a tent.
8. No, it was great, then he totally disappeared.
9. Excuse me, I’m sorry but I am trying to read.
10. I know that look on his face. I’m going to pretend I’m not judging him.
This is the way I learned how to listen, for many a year. I liked being able to take in what people talked about and how they talked to each other.
In my home or in my school I learned much less than what I learned for so many years just drinking in what I saw and what I heard.
I counted up 53 things that people said to each other that I just read in the Sun. I enjoyed reading them all and I’m writing this to you so that you know what I mean by “learning.” But, truly, what I wish the most is that I could listen to all of you and drink in and learn from you.
Take good care of yourself and of each other.
Also, thanks so much, my friend, for having found this magazine. I am enjoying it so much. That you thought to send it to me, somehow knowing that listening is what made me who I am, has touched my heart.
February 28th, 2013
By Barry Camson
I recently completed a study that looked at GISC as a network. The thesis of this study was that the community aspect of GISC which we have long been familiar with and appreciated really constitutes a network. Perhaps, the best way to describe it is as a latent network which in order to actualize its potential as a network requires our naming it, developing some language that enables us to speak about it as a network and recognizing the network characteristics that it possesses. All of this facilitates our intentional interventions to strengthen GISC as a network.
There are a variety of network attributes about which we could speak. I have previously written about many of these. On this occasion, I would like to view GISC as a network through a Gestalt lens.
Levels of system – the network level of system.
I have expanded common Gestalt categories of levels of system to include the network level of system which I believe is qualitatively different from the other levels. Though it is not always the case, I posit the network level of system as a type of the “largest present system” (LPS). Though a group could be a network, more often I suggest we would find a network as existing across organizational boundaries or extending into a regional, national or global community.
Well-developed and less-developed.
Networks commonly reflect what is well-developed and less developed. Network aspects that are well-developed or over-developed often involve a cost reflected in what is less developed. For example, when specific people in a network are over utilized as resources, it often means that other people are under-utilized. Network theory explains that without conscious intervention the adage that the “rich get richer” can often be the case. The consequences of this could be bottlenecks around the over-utilized person and isolation and lost input from the under-utilized person. Focusing on what is well-developed or less-developed is useful as a point of diagnosis and change. It allows us to “re-balance” the network.
Creative tensions: connection and production.
Networks have purposes and to be effective should have clearly acknowledged purposes. Networks vary in terms of what might be the purposes of the network. One schema of categorization views networks as having purposes of connection, alignment and production. These are evolutionary stages of a network in which the network first establishes connection, then may choose to build on this by aligning around a common ideology or language. Then a network may choose to add production as a purpose. Often purposes co-exist.
GISC has a purpose of connection supported by a culture of connection and values around interpersonal competency. At the same time, GISC has a purpose around the production of training, workshops, consulting and writing. Members vary in terms of their valence towards the purpose of connection or production. There is a creative tension within GISC on a network level of system between connection and production.
The Paradoxical Theory of Change can be applied here. Following this approach, the GISC network as a whole could be made aware of the existence of each polarity within the network. The practice of network mapping is an intervention that would increase awareness by visualizing these two creative tensions in operation within GISC. It could dramatize the network energy devoted to each. The role and value of each polarity within the GISC network can be acknowledged. This could in turn lead to explicit conversations about the role of both qualities.
Value propositions as structures of ground
Purposes are translated into value for members, customers and the public. This can be reflected in value propositions that cover each of these groups. The value proposition becomes an organizing and orienting mechanism for the network. Possible value propositions for GISC could be:
- Improve professional competencies and effectiveness.
- Transfer skills and theory.
- Build interpersonal competencies.
- Create good relationships.
- Build a better world.
A value proposition acts as structured ground in the network which then continues to influence future figure formation.
Integration of strategic and intimate.
This tension between production and connection can also be seen as a tension between the “strategic” and “intimate.” Another way of looking at this tension at GISC is arguably between the world of OD, leadership and organizations and the world of therapy. In the first, the effective completion of tasks is primary. In the second, relationships and intimacy are primary.
GISC constantly strives to integrate these two worlds. In the past, a major way that GISC ensured the integration of these two was through Edwin and Sonia [Nevis]. They represented, as founders and as husband and wife, the real and symbolic effort to maintain this integration. This integration remains an inherent challenge of the 21st century Gestalt enterprise.
The network cluster as a manifestation of figure formation.
A network competency is the ability to form fluid figures throughout the system in response to new internal and external challenges. Members join in new and different relationships with one another in responding to these challenges. Both the Healthcare and Education Initiatives at GISC are good examples of how GISC organized itself to respond to these challenges. When people have been energized to come together in pursuit of new knowledge or action, the result is what has been called a cluster or community of practice or simply a new initiative.
Creation of a fresh figure as a path to innovation.
For GISC to be sustainable, it needs to exist as a fluid overall figure composed of other fluid figures. This fluidity results in ongoing fresh and rich figures. In this regard innovation becomes key. This includes innovation in programs and services, in governance and in the underlying content and process theories of the GISC network. Innovation needs to flow into action and into contact that changes GISC members, organizations and the world.
Innovation requires a diversity of members. It requires a movement of members into and out of the GISC system in order to keep the system fresh and fully in tune with its environment. It requires contact among members of GISC that is rich and in keeping with system values around connection. It requires a flow of knowledge from outside in, from inside out and throughout the system. Innovation requires clear goals from the core governance mechanism and ample space for new ideas to emerge that furthers GISC system purposes. Innovation requires an appropriate degree of support for these points of collaboration.
In essence, innovation arises from the integration of planfulness and emergence just as it does from the intimate with the strategic. Innovation requires sufficient goal directed behavior to make good contact with the surrounding business community as well as serendipity that makes contact with the hearts, minds and souls of its members.
Awareness as an intervention
I believe that networks are qualitatively different from traditional organizations and that interventions need to be adjusted to this new reality. The practitioner community is in an early stage of doing this. At this point, I want to posit one intervention for the network level of system that has strong continuity with Gestalt practice. This is the critical role of awareness as a guiding intervention. Though the concept is familiar, its application is more challenging at this level of system.
The thesis of this article is that we help to further the network potential of GISC by being more aware of its nature as a network. One can ask, is there a phenomenology of networks? We can observe and point out aspects of network governance, inclusion, interaction, funding, facilitation and knowledge sharing. We can also reflect back who talks to whom, about what, with what frequency, in what groupings. We can also point out how the flow of work overlaps with these groupings.
The challenge at the network level of system is how to cultivate this awareness at a network level of system.
It is my hope that the insights set out in this article will help everyone involved in GISC continue to make it a vibrant and giving network.
Barry Camson is an organization development consultant and trainer and professor of management (www.barrycamson.com). He has been a Gestalt practitioner for many years. A current focus of his work is on using networks effectively to connect, do business and support innovation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 “Net Gains,” Peter Plastrik, Madeleine Taylor, v.1, Pg. 33.
 “Gestalt Reconsidered,” Gordon Wheeler, 1991.
February 25th, 2013
I am excited to share with you that GISC has received Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP) status from the International Coach Federation (ICF) for our initial coach training program, Competency Development Program for Coach Certification, Skills for High Impact Coaching.
The energy and expertise that went into the design and development of the program was tremendous and produced a program that can be differentiated in the marketplace. The first graduating class helped us pilot the program and gave us the information we needed to apply for accreditation. They were wonderful and received their GISC Coach Certification upon graduation in June 2012 and are now busy applying to the ICF for further credentialing. The group is out there coaching and making a difference in the world. Congratulations and a special thanks goes to them for all their work.
Our second group of coaching participants will graduate in April 2013. And we are thrilled to be working to bring this and other coaching programs to Europe. So please watch for more information which will be coming out soon.
I will also share with you that GISC has 15 programs approved by the ICF for continuing education credit. The programs are designed to teach the 11 ICF competencies and our 20 Gestalt Core Concepts and Behaviors. That, combined with the quality of our expert faculty, allows us to differentiate our programs from others.
Please visit www.gisc.org/practitioners on our website where you will find detailed descriptions of the Competency Development Program for Coach Certification, Skills for High Impact Coaching and our other programs that will support your development and learning. Or, call our office at 508-349-7900 for more information. We would love to hear from you.
Mary Anne Walk
January 24th, 2013
An Interview with Philip Brownell and Joseph Melnick
Philip Brownell and Joseph Melnick, co-chairs of the upcoming joint AAGT/GISC conference, The Challenge of Establishing a Research Tradition for Gestalt Therapy, discuss the evolving role of research in Gestalt therapy and the importance of the April gathering. Interview by Laurie Fitzpatrick.
LF: Philip, I know that you recently published a book on research, the Handbook for Theory, Research, and Practice in Gestalt Therapy. What made you become so interested in it from a Gestalt perspective?
PB: Well, Gestaltists had been lamenting that there was not much research support for Gestalt therapy, in a world that was just rushing toward building an evidence base. And then, the whole comparison with Cognitive Behavioral therapy would always result in people saying CB people will have all kinds of research because it’s easy to do with that approach and all kinds of excuses. Then one day people realized that in Germany the government had gone to regulating the practice of psychotherapy – and they had not accredited Gestalt Therapy based on the fact that it didn’t have a research base. And so in Germany, the people there had to re-certify as psychoanalysts in order to keep practicing and – everyone went “uh-oh,” and so then there began to be a little more urgency around the idea that we had to do something about research.
So, along around 2006 or 2007 I started talking to people about the idea of actually putting together a kind of book about Gestalt people and the need to do research, and what’s involved with research, and that’s what led to gathering that group of people that did the handbook (Handbook for Theory, Research and Practice in Gestalt Therapy). I decided that if Gestalt practitioners didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done because we didn’t have any Gestalt practitioners in academic positions where the research would naturally get done. So it was going to have to be done by just the therapists in the field. It’s not like I thought this would be a wonderful thing and a lot of fun – I just said somebody’s got to get the ball rolling. I’m a project-oriented person so I just said, “Well, let’s just do this.” So, I got the ball rolling and it’s been rolling ever since. It’s kind of amazing. I think it’s about timing. That book came along and we were able to get it translated into Spanish and French and Czech and - and there are people working on it in Korea and Brazil. I’ve just stayed with it as a growing project.
LF: I hear the term “evidence based” all the time. Why is research becoming so important for therapists?
PB: In the United States, if you follow the precedents being set by the APA (American Psychological Association), it’s all going towards practice guidelines. Practice guidelines are going to be determined on the basis of evidence, to promote what’s called an evidence-based practice. Actually, globally, the evidence-based movement started in medicine. The medical practitioners had to demonstrate that the medical procedures they were doing were effective. It’s just spread to all the different helping professions. I noted a couple of years ago that they had a doctoral program in evidence-based practice at Oxford University. It was in their social science department. It was downgraded to a masters degree,but that momentum towards evidence-based practice has just continued, it has just built. So, what we actually have to deal with is public policy forming to dictate practice guidelines on the basis of evidence. All that will eventually affect licensing – so that people won’t be able to get licensed if they don’t practice an evidence-based approach.
This is why I’ve really felt some urgency in showing that Gestalt therapy is an evidence-based approach. We have been relying on Leslie Greenburg and his emotion-focused therapy for a while, and that’s just not going to work. Emotion-focused therapy is its own thing.
LF: I see. So, could you tell me more about the role research has played in Gestalt therapy?
PB: It hasn’t really. It hasn’t very much. For instance, there’s a handbook of humanistic psychotherapies edited by David Cain. Uwe Strümpfel and Rhonda Goldman did a chapter in there on Gestalt Therapy but their method to show the research evidence for gestalt therapy at that time was to look in the research literature for anything that said “Gestalt.” Well, you had a lot of people doing Gestalt two-chair exercises or interventions that any gestalt therapist would say was not gestalt therapy, that it was just using a technique. In fact, in many cases they would say that. Like Leslie Greenburg and the people in schema therapy would say they use “gestalt technique” or, quote: “the Gestalt two-chair technique.”
So Strümpfel put that into his chapter and that was our evidence? No. That’s not going to work in the long run. And so we need to come up with our own research that is specifically on gestalt therapy, and addresses the rich theory that we have. We have a really rich theory that is so compatible with a lot of other stuff. One of the things that we can do is to appropriate research from other modalities that are consilient with what we do. And an example of that is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is awareness; it’s gestalt therapy 101, actually. It goes way back to experiments in the service of building awareness. And, mindfulness – there’s all kinds of research on that. So, if we say Gestalt is a mindfulness kind of approach, then all this research on mindfulness applies.
That’s one thing we can do but we really need to generate our own research on Gestalt therapy. I’m glad to see that there are so many people from different countries coming to this conference because it shows that all over the world people realize that. Now the arguments and the development will begin. There will be questions like what kind of research is most appropriate? And how do you do stuff that won’t obliterate the Gestalt approach? There are some people that recoil about quantitative methodologies for instance. Fine – we will get into it when we get there! [The discussion] should be rich.
LF: Would you tell me a little about the upcoming conference?
PB: Well the keynote speaker is Leslie Greenberg, and he’s going to do two things, he’s going to do a keynote address and he’s going to take the first plenary. We have descriptions on the website about what these topics are. He’s such a great person to be doing this for us because we have relied on him for one thing – we kind of “own” him; he is a Gestalt-trained person. But Les is a world-class researcher; he is the Distinguished Professor of Research at York University.
The vision for this conference is to be a re-occurring thing that builds a community of people doing research on Gestalt therapy so that we can start supporting one another, dialoging with one another, and engaging with one another.
One of the things I’m hoping will develop out of the conference is practice-based research networks where we have people in different locations, probably associated with the different training institutes: clusters of researchers working together cross-culturally to produce practice-based research. That, by the way, can contribute to the larger field so that the Gestalt people start interacting outside the little Gestalt cloister and start talking with other people in other clinical approaches.
In the future, If this conference is successful and we do more conferences like this, what I hope is that we can get other people that are world class researchers like Les Greenberg but are from outside of Gestalt. A person like John Norcross, for instance, who has done a lot of research on the therapeutic relationship and about integration in psychotherapy – he’d be great. And there are a lot of other people.
And they just start having cross-discipline discussions between Gestalt researchers and other people.
LF: Fantastic. So they can share what they know and have learned with each other.
PB: In both directions. Because there is a great big gap between the academic research labs, so to speak, and the clinical practice. And in all of the different modalities, that’s what they lament. They are doing all this research at the university but then all the people in practice are not applying it. Why? Well, there are reasons. But if you start from the practice end, and you do research at the level of the clinical practice – whoa, all of a sudden you are in a whole different world – and you are filling the gap. Gestalt people are uniquely positioned to do that because we have got these post-graduate institutes all over the world. And if you had clusters of Gestalt researchers doing work and cooperating across geographical and cultural bounds to produce practice-based research, that would be huge. So that’s what I’m hoping will happen.
The other two plenary speakers are Linda Finlay and Ansel Woldt. Linda is out of the UK. She is an independent academic consultant and, along with Ken Evans, edited/wrote a book on the relational and phenomenological approach to doing research. So she’s a good counter-balance to Les who tends to be more quantitative. Ansel Woldt is going to present on his long history of overseeing Gestalt-based research out of Kent State when he was on faculty there and on his career – his life’s work, actually.
The other people that are presenting – it’s just all over the place. We have different categories of research – things like research methodology, research-in-progress or completed, philosophy of science behind research, research design, and those kinds of things.
You can see from the list on the conference webpage, the wide range of people presenting. What’s really exciting to me are some things like one guy who is coming from a doctoral program at the University of Tennessee. He’s going to be presenting on a particular design, which is a single-case, timed-series design. The reason I’m excited is that it is the design we really need to get a hold of and start doing. Because you don’t have to lump people into groups and you don’t have to randomly assign them to manualized treatments. All these things are very objectionable to Gestalt people. A Gestalt person, doing what he or she does, in their own practice – and they study one of their clients. That’s it – they study one of their clients, they use this method, and they can see if there is any change.
Now what that will do – number one – it will give that therapist an idea of whether or not they are being effective and – number two – if you do a number of these things then you can aggregate them to make some observation about the effectiveness of what’s being done.
And so that’s what I’m excited about. I’m excited about people sharing from different places. We’ve got people coming from Lithuania, Norway, Mexico, Chile – it’s really exciting to see.
LF: Is there anything else you’d like to share about the conference or your vision for where it goes? Is there anything we didn’t touch on that’s important?
PB: I think it’s just an exciting time. I don’t mean to sound so cliché to say it – but it really is. Remember what we said about the right time for the book and all that kind of thing? It’s the right time for this research to take off. In Europe, EAGT has a committee for research; in Australia and New Zealand GANZ has an impetus for research for evidence-based practice. And it’s just time that Gestalt therapists come of age – grow up a little bit – and start doing this kind of thing.
I’m really excited to see what might develop out of this conference. When you get all these people talking together and this energy of what might take place.
I have hopes, but I don’t have any real idea about what’s going to happen. I’m hoping that in that place – that wonderful place that you all have there in Wellfleet – it makes for an intimate kind of gathering and I’m hoping there’ll be a lot of conversation, as people just spontaneously go for a walk and put things together….
LF: Hi Joe, would you like to add anything to what Phil has said?
JM: Just a few things. I agree with Phil’s focus on the timing of this conference. We did have a Research Conference here at GISC about ten years ago, and we actually had a research section in Gestalt Review when we started publishing Gestalt Review. We were never able to get traction from either of these initiatives. I am particularly pleased that the upcoming conference is being co-sponsored by GISC and the Association for the Advancement of Gestalt Therapy (AAGT). I think that it is important that the worldwide Gestalt community continues to cooperate together in areas that benefit Gestalt Therapy as a whole. And last, I know that Susan Fischer, editor of Gestalt Review is looking forward to publishing some of the papers from the Conference.
LF: Thank you, Phil and Joe. We look forward to the conference in April, to seeing both of you there, and to all that emerges!
Philip Brownell, MDiv, PsyD, is a trained gestalt therapist in private practice in Bermuda. He was first exposed to gestalt therapy while serving as a neuropsychological technician during the Vietnam war. Phil has over forty years’ experience working with people in various contexts, from line staff in residential treatment of children and adolescents, to working as a therapist on the ICU of a co-occurring disorders psychiatric hospital, to overseeing community mental health organizations, to employee assistance counseling, organizational consulting, and outpatient psychotherapy. He is a prolific scholar and writer with numerous articles, chapters in books, edited editions, and books of his own. Among other things, he is currently working on revising Uwe Strümpfel and Rhonda Goldman’s chapter for the 2nd Edition of Cain’s Humanistic Psychotherapies: Handbook of Research and Practice (for the APA) and his own book, Spiritual Competency in Psychotherapy, for Springer Publishing Company.
Joseph Melnick, PhD, is Co-Chair of the Cape Cod Training Program, a couples and family therapist, an organizational consultant, and author of numerous articles and book chapters on intimacy, ethics, and small groups. Joe has taught worldwide and is co-editor of Gestalt Review, published by the Gestalt International Study Center. He also serves on the Board of GISC.
November 26th, 2012
As part of the Gestalt International Study Center (GISC) community, you are important in carrying our vision and mission throughout the world. We want to bring you up-to-date on some significant changes and progress at GISC. This is also the time of year we ask for your financial support—but first, let us share with you what is going on at GISC.
As you know, Edwin Nevis, one of the two co-founders of GISC, died last year at age 85. Edwin exemplified leadership with his passion for supporting people and creating programs—and by building a physical Center that fosters transformation. We honor Edwin best by continuing to build on the legacy that he and Sonia established.
Mary Anne Walk has assumed the role of Executive Director of GISC. Mary Anne has been a longstanding member of the GISC Board of Directors, a faculty member, and an active member of our community. Under her leadership we have established a new, well received, internationally certified coaching program to our offerings. A number of you already know Mary Anne, and we encourage you to connect with her in the coming months.
Our flagship programs, Leadership in the 21st Century and the Cape Cod Training Program (the model for effective interventions created by co-founder Sonia Nevis), continue to draw participants from the U.S. and abroad. Our best measure of success, however, is the enthusiasm of participants and their eagerness to take new ideas and methods out into the world.
There is an enormous need in the world today for the programs and services offered by GISC. We have expanded our presence with programs across the United States and in Europe. We are broadening our influence in the key areas of health care, education, business, and the professions. Two specific initiatives we are involved in are:
- Health Care—In partnership with a health care system, GISC Professional Associates used Gestalt core concepts and behaviors to develop a relational model for patient-centered medical services, resulting in better health care at lower cost. This work was one of many components that contributed to the system receiving the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Your donation can help us replicate this effective model so it can have wider impact.
- Education—GISC Professional Associates, working with school systems from elementary grades to community colleges, provide training, consultation, and leadership development to teachers and administrators and help educators deal with multiple student issues and increasing student retention.
Health care and education are just two examples of areas where financial assistance is needed. Every year, GISC awards numerous scholarships as part of our commitment to making our programs accessible as we endeavor to transform the way you live and work in the world. We hope you will join us in this endeavor. A gift of $125 or more begins or renews your annual GISC membership which includes a subscription to the Gestalt Review. We hope you will support us; the following are among the opportunities to direct your donation dollars:
The Nevis Scholarship Fund provides financial support for participants to attend programs.
Program-Specific Scholarships provide financial support for a program of your choice.
The Education Initiative supports the development and delivery of GISC courses and methods in schools and colleges.
General Donations support a myriad of functions that sustain and grow GISC’s impact in the world.
Sonia Nevis says, “Be generous—it’s good for your heart.” Whatever your financial capacity, please help us continue to make GISC experiences available to a wide range of people. Your dollars will be used wisely, and your generosity and support are very much appreciated.
With all best wishes,
Sonia Nevis, Co-Founder
Jamie B. Stewart, Chairman of the Board
Mary Anne Walk, Executive Director
October 22nd, 2012
By Sonia Nevis
My summer was almost perfect.
I was drinking in every day of this summer of continual sun—until it came to an end.
Only then was I aware of how many of my plantings had dried up.
An odd winter and then an odd summer. It seems true that the seasons are not as reliable as they have been.
As the weather cooled, I turned to reading again: back to sitting inside the house in my comfortable chair. I came across an article I had scanned about Homer’s Iliad, about the Trojan War. I think I had put it aside because I didn’t want to read about war, not when the sun was shining so much.
The article I read was written by Daniel Mendelsohn who was reviewing Stephen Mitchell’s new translation of the Iliad. He focused not on the Trojan War but on the wrath of Achilles.
It is said that Aristotle, in 335 B.C., did not attempt to treat the war as a whole but rather he focused on Achilles’ wrath.
Now in 2012 A.D. anger continues to prevail.
The Iliad gives us some understanding about Achilles’ rage. The Greek soldiers were accustomed to seizing slave girls as a way of expressing their status. The more slave girls they seized the higher their status.
The Commander of the Greek army, Agamemnon, is compelled by the Gods to return one of Achilles’ slave girls to her father, a priest. Achilles, enraged that his slave girl was taken from him, withdrew from the fighting and from leading the troops.
Agamemnon was enraged that Achilles was no longer willing to assist with the troops. Achilles turned to Agamemnon and said “did you think I would just sit here alone without the slave girl?” He felt that the slave girl belonged to him.
A furious Achilles felt that he was being treated as a nobody and the fury between the two of them started in 335B.C.
Sadly, anger will probably always be with us. However, there might be ways we can soften it.
If we learn to attend to what we need for ourselves as well as attend to what other people need, then we would not feel like a “nobody.” We would all feel like a “somebody.”
Second, if we cultivate appreciating differences rather than disdaining them, then we will have brought us together, rather than kept us apart. Anger will probably diminish.
And I guess we can try to read the Iliad, especially on a rainy day.
On the sunny days, let’s get outside and enjoy ourselves.
September 7th, 2012
GISC Executive Director, Mary Anne Walk talks to Seán Gaffney about the upcoming Roots V Conference devoted to Gestalt OD, which he will chair along with fellow GISC faculty member Joseph Melnick on November 1-4, 2012. In this interview, Seán shares stories about planning the early conferences with Edwin Nevis, how the conference series has evolved, what to expect at Roots V, who should plan to attend, and what makes “Roots” so exciting for Gestalt practitioners and theorists alike.
MW: Hi Seán. Thanks for sitting down to talk to me about the Roots V Conference that will be held just outside of Stockholm this fall. It’s November first through fourth, will focus on Organizational Development and is dedicated to Edwin Nevis. Is that correct?
MW: I want to ask you a few questions about this because the conference has a strong heritage. Before beginning can you just say a few words about your engagement with Gestalt theory and the movement through the last several years?
SG: I came to the Gestalt world in 1986 when I had my first Gestalt training. I completed a four year Gestalt therapist training program in Sweden and then the Cleveland International OSD program. So I trained both as a therapist and in OD. My background also includes being a lecturer in cross-cultural management at the Stockholm School of Economics. And then in 1995/1996 I met Edwin when I did the international OSD program, and then joined the faculty. I shared with Edwin the fascination for social applications and organizational applications. We had many, many conversations, and there probably isn’t anything we haven’t spoken about.
MW: So you’re very steeped in the whole theoretical process of Gestalt as well as the application of it, which I think is very important for the different types of people who might attend the conference. It’s not just theoretical, but also the application of the theory as well. And Joe Melnick, the other co-chair has been around the Gestalt therapy and movement for a similar or maybe an even longer time. So he’ll be there as well to oversee the conference. Can you give me a little bit of the history of the Roots Conference, because this is Roots V?
SG: Well it all began in the many conversations Edwin and I had over the years about how you can’t have an international study center if it’s totally based and staffed by people of one country. So, in one of our evening sessions on the porch in his house in Wellfleet, we came upon the idea of the European Roots of Gestalt therapy. Paris was the first one. We had a great focus on all of the European pioneers. We had some great sessions on Sachs and on Sandor Ferencz who was a psychoanalyst, but his thinking was very similar to ours. We explored the theory that Fritz and Laura [Perls] brought with them from Europe to South Africa and then to America.
That conference went very well and gave rise to a number of papers, which were published either in the Gestalt Review or in the British Gestalt Journal.
The second conference was held in Antwerp, Belgium. We decided to continue the idea of the European roots. There we had some really fascinating presentations on Buber and Lewin to really go deeper into our roots. We even explored the European impact on Paul Goodman. And again the conference generated a number of papers. We were really interested in this connection between the conference and journal articles, which is why Joe Melnick and Malcolm Parlett (the founding editors of Gestalt Review and the British Gestalt Journal) were usually around. That connection was important to us.
Then, for Roots III, we shifted to exploring Gestalt in relation to society. I spoke about the North of Ireland, Brian O’Neil came from Australia to talk about Gestalt in Australia and its impact on the social field, and Raymond Saner brought us into the social and artistic environment in which Fritz and Laura lived and its impact on their thinking. We began to look at not just the impact of Gestalt on society but also the impact of society of Gestalt. Again that gave rise to a number of articles. By number IV we were beginning to wonder what is our next big thing. And then we decided on Gestalt in education, and we had that conference in Hungary.
MW: One of the questions that I had for you, you’ve already answered; how are Gestalt theory and the Roots conference impacting society? I now realize that when GISC started the education initiative immediately following the Roots IV conference, Belinda Harris, one of the presenters came here and did an internship to help that initiative to get off the ground, along with several other interested people. It has given rise to several programs that have been developed for teachers and administrators. Would you tell me about the conference format?
SG: Both Edwin and I agreed that the most deadening thing we could create would be a series of two-hour presentations where you had to choose your workshop, thus missing all of the others. So everybody got a bit of something, but nobody got the whole picture. So we decided that this would be a small conference where everyone was involved with everything and everyone else, all the time. We kept presentations short. We said to presenters, “aim at 30 minutes and if you start heading toward 45 we’ll stop you. We want to aim at a really focused input. The real work is when the participants break up into small groups and discuss your input and come back with questions and thoughts, and then we expand it. So, don’t try to say everything in your presentation. The presentation is the starting point.” We found that over the years the discussions that began in small groups would continue over lunch, over dinner and then breakfast, resulting in a wonderful exchange of ideas.
MW: A real intellectual exchange.
SG: A real intellectual exchange in which we really dig into our theory, play with it, turn it inside out, add and subtract from it; a real sense of developing a solid cognitive base for what we were doing.
MW: So tell me, what is the spread of people who have attended these conferences?
SG: The spread is from those who would regard themselves as primarily theorists, those who are interested in method, and those who are practitioners. Over the years we have seen the connection between the importance of theory to inform practice and the importance of practice to inform theory.
MW: How are the Roots Conferences set up?
SG: We always try to have a local institute involved as host so that we have people on the ground who really knows the location to help us and support us. We are lucky to have three institutes sponsoring and supporting this Conference. We have two that GISC has an alliance with; namely, the Gestalt Academy of Scandinavia, a training institute, and Perlan, an OD business consultancy. We will also be sponsored by Norlin & Partners, an OD consultancy with a long term relationship to GISC. Perlan and Norlin & Partners will be inviting their business associates, their customers, and their clients to come and join us to get a sense of what it is that Gestalt OD thinking has to offer them.
MW: I’ve sensed that for the last 20 years that I’ve been involved with Gestalt that the thinking evolves with what’s happening in the environment. I’m interested in knowing your opinion. The vision of GISC is transforming the way you live and work in the world. How do you think that the Roots V conference aligns with that vision and can help extend the teachings and theory around?
SG: Roots is a pretty unique conference. I know of few conferences with such a focus on applied theory that also provide a format where we can talk theory in a meaningful way and see the connection to method and from method to application. I think it is really, really important. This is fundamental to GISC’s value of having a sound cognitive base for the actions it does and programs it offers.
MW: Without interfering in the local culture, I think.
SG: Yes, this is important. Our goal from the start was to not compete with anyone local. We look for cooperation with someone local so that together we can meet a local population.
MW: That’s helpful. This conference will recognize Edwin Nevis as the father of Gestalt OD. You’ve known him as a friend, a mentor, a teacher, a buddy, but what does it mean to you when you think about Edwin as the father of Gestalt OD? What does that mean to you in the practice of OD in the world?
SG: I think Edwin was the first person with a good grounding in Gestalt who saw the connection between organizational psychology and Gestalt therapy; He recognized that Gestalt therapy theory, organizational thinking, and organizational development were a match. He was the first to bring the theory of Gestalt therapy and the method of Gestalt therapy into the workplace and apply it; that it was absolutely valid to talk to a manager or a leader about awareness. It made perfect sense to Edwin. It wasn’t anything you needed to be embarrassed about, and that once the people that he and, at the time, Dick Wallen worked with began to understand the impact of increased awareness on how they worked, it was so obvious to them too. He saw this before anyone else. He had a solid – absolutely rock solid – understanding of OD, a rock solid understanding of Gestalt theory, and he put the two of them together, creating a synthesis, which is unbeatable.
MW: His book Organizational Consulting is so very digestible. Even someone not steeped in Gestalt theory can take that book and really get a lot out of it. In fact, it’s still being used at many schools today in the OD field. I know that you have several topics that have already been identified that you will address at this conference and I’m wondering if you could give our readers just a couple of highlights?
SG: The opening one on Gestalt OD roots will honor Edwin, because Edwin was a historian. He regarded himself as an amateur historian, and he was always aware of the importance of the history of an idea in understanding it. So, we will be looking at some of the original roots beginning at the New York Institute, the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland, at National Training Labs (NTL) and at Esalen. Then we will look at how these spread into the various institutes which have long had Gestalt OD training: for example at the Gestalt Institute of Scandinavia that has had OD for over 25 years. We’ll also be looking at various applications such as coaching, large-scale organizational transformation, and leadership. For example, three of the presenters have published a book in Sweden on leadership and adult development. It’s a quite fascinating book. They’re going to be presenting their ideas. We also have some people who work in industry who completed the Masters’ Program in Gestalt OD in Sweden. We’ll be asking them “please tell us, how Gestalt has impacted you as a manager?”
MW: What else would you like to offer those that could benefit from attending the Roots V conference?
SG: I would say that if you come you will have the most exciting, varied and rich conversations about Gestalt OD that you’ve ever had for a long, long tome, because we never stop talking.
MW: That’s one good thing about Gestalt; it never ends, it just keeps going, the picture keeps expanding. Well Dr. Gaffney I’d like to thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
SG: Thank you.
MW: Thank you.
August 21st, 2012
By Jodi Paloni
The only thing better than facing challenging life transitions with intention, is meeting them head-on with a room full of equally excited people confronting similar, yet unique, developing edges. You realize there is nothing to be afraid of. You’re part of an ever-growing “in” crowd.
Last spring, on the brink of turning fifty, I’d just about finished my coaching certification program at the Gestalt International Study Center, ready to start a new career after 25-years of teaching. My partner and I were recently engaged to be married, his father needing more and more care six hours away in Pennsylvania. If those weren’t enough transitions for one plate, we found ourselves shocked by news that I would become a grandmother by winter. Did I mention we had decided to put our house in Vermont on the market to move closer to the ocean?
As conditions gathered for the perfect storm, I received an e-mail invitation from GISC to attend a program called The Next Phase: Life Strategies for Navigating Personal and Professional Transitions. It took me about sixty-seconds to sign up.
But this four-day workshop turned out to be far more than a short-course in strategies for moving forward. Instead, I was asked to take stock of where I resided presently (emotionally, physically, mentally) in my life, by engaging in a creative exploration of the past that led me there. What struck me, as I spent time alone, remembering and sketching a pictorial view of “The Experiences That Shaped Me,” then shared my discoveries in a small group, was the tendency I had to assign meaning and value to particular memories. Water as part of place was definitely a factor. Surprisingly, the role my three grandmothers played in shaping my character emerged in great proportions compared to some other events such as travel and education.
The group sharing was powerful. When it was my turn to talk, I heard new ideas about my life coming from my own mouth before I had a chance to think them. More important, in the careful listening to others’ stories, I found resonance with the meaning in their lives, again and again. The model of participatory learning fueled my growth whether it was my story on the table, or not. When others spoke, I gleaned aspects of myself that had not yet emerged. The experience was mutual. My excitement in this realization confirmed my passion for courageous conversation, supporting my new career path as coach.
The beauty of the GISC workshop model schedule is that there is loads of “free time” built into each day. A long walk on the beach at lunchtime to think about what my grandmothers mean to me, to dream about the kind of grandmother I want to become, for example, became invaluable for the integration of the morning material. The calming presence of the sea settled deep in my bones, substantiating my growing need to locate closer to water. My questions were complex, my style creative. The intricate all-encompassing design of the course met my need to immerse in a composite of experiences. Down time scheduled after morning work established energy for fresh work in the afternoons.
Mining the past readied me for “Mapping My Current Life” a visual memoir of the present. In activating the right side of the brain, the theoretical voice in the head, the part of the brain that thinks linearly, the voices that have solidified my default script all of these years, would be sidestepped temporarily to allow the true story to manifest from the sub-conscious.
I found my map resembling three over-lapping cloud shapes to represent my three roles in life: woman, mother, professional. The size of each cloud, unplanned, bore significance. I noticed the spaces marked mother and professional were diminished more than if I had made the map a few years back, when a single mother in a full-time career, allowed for little room for space me as a woman. Yet, when a large green triangle block signifying money appeared on the paper, spearing my professional “cloud,” I could see that it was time for growth as a professional to, once again, be considered as significant part of the future. Fortunately, the workshop allowed for process time to view the work, make connections, generate meaning, and use what I now understood about my overall journey to “Envision the Future.”
Getting back to the script I’d played in my head until now, The Next Phase workshop offers a powerful opportunity to challenge those loud-mouthed demons, the voices in our heads, that tell us why we can’t be or have or do what we want in our futures, the voices that keep us small. Instead of moving forward with our new ideas and plans, we were asked first to pause, to take the much needed time to validate the presence of negative thoughts and degrading influences. How might the past stand in our way?
Up to this point in the workshop, we’d used visual pictorial learning modalities and the more conventional communication skills to engage the curriculum. Now we found ourselves up on our feet, fully immersed in a potent role-playing session, in which we could, literally, “break-through the self-talk” and re-construct the messages we’d prefer to hear.
I’d attended three transition retreats, earned a master’s degree and a coach certification in the past three years from various institutions and centers with the purpose to discover my calling for the third phase of life, hone a purpose, see the clear path. I’d heard inspirational speakers, received one-on-one coaching sessions, made collages, read books, wrote in reams, and listened to self-help tapes. I had even worked with a clairvoyant who comforted me by confirming things I already sensed about myself. But it wasn’t until I was surrounded by a circle of new friends, comrades who held a sincere desire to support each other’s dreams and visions, who spoke the words that would not hold me by my ankles, but words that would lead me forward, that I felt clear-minded in my vision. With clarity, I bought in.
Recently my younger daughter purchased a digital camera that requires knowing how to use a lens. I stood beside her as she received instruction on the basics of aperture. My experience of The Next Phase was just that. Over the four-days, I scanned the landscape of self. I studied the background and honed the foreground until a figure emerged and became the point of interest. And like in the well-made photographs I favor, the focal point in a scene or a portrait becomes more notable when the landscape informs its position in the piece.
On the final day, I reviewed the overall composition of my vision once more, a “fattening of the figure” and developed an action plan, which included tangible and deliverable actions for achieving SMART goals. In a nutshell, the overall strategy I took away from the weekend, in the words of our facilitator, was this… “dream big, start small, act now.”
In writing this, I have spread before me the maps I made, the notes I took, the poems and journal entries crafted beside the sea, and the list of the seventeen participants in my cohort. It was difficult to say good-bye to a group that shared so deeply and generously, and the feeling of support we held for one another. I’m certain that if any one of them was to stop and think of me today, it would be with only the best intentions for my success and happiness, just as I think of them.
As for my plan, to believe in the gifts I developed and the dreams I’ve created and to offer them to grandbabies and the whole wide world alike, I’m working on it, step-by-step, every day, a little closer to the past, the present, and the future.
April 12th, 2012
By Sonia Nevis
They say that Spring has arrived.
We have had an odd winter – really no winter at all, only a string of spring days.
I was delighted to have such pleasant weather until I began to wonder whether it was at the cost of tornadoes, floods and other unusual weather upheavals around the world.
All these years I have taken for granted that the seasons would follow each other, that the sun and the moon would rise as they “always” do, that I would always know when to buy sandals since summer was coming, and when I need to check my snow boots since I would need them soon.
Suddenly I am faced again with the reality of not knowing what tomorrow will be.
Many years ago, I read an article that said that old age started at age 85. I felt so much freedom since my mother, my grandmother, and my great grandmother all died in their 20s.
What did I have to worry about, since I read the article in my 30s and my reaching 85 seemed impossible?
A recent study showed that “it’s no surprise that the older people get, the longer they think it takes for a person to reach old age”:
• On average, adults between the ages of 30 and 49 think old age begins at 69.
• People who are currently 50-64 believe old age starts at 72.
• Responders who are 65 and older say old age begins at 74.
A Pew study said that women considered old age to be when they were 70 and men considered old age to be 66.
For me, old age is still being 85.
I counted and found that I have 89 days before I get there.
When I was in my 50s, I vowed that when I was old I would always wear sneakers and eat as much chocolate as I wanted to. I’ve been true to both of these vows.
Now I will wait until I have lived my 89 days before I make new vows.
I’ll wait to think about it until the 90th day comes, although I already have a few thoughts.
I look forward to the future.
March 5th, 2012
By David Tunney, Executive Director
Welcome to the GISC Weekly Newsflash, a headline summary of what’s planned or recently happened at GISC.
GISC will be well represented at the Association for the Advancement of Gestalt Therapy (AAGT) 2012 Conference in Puebla, Mexico, May 17-20. Sharona Halpern and Joe Melnick are leading a workshop on the Cape Cod Model, Zeynep Tozum and Stuart Simon are leading a workshop on Applying the Cape Cod Model to Coaching, and Susan Fischer and Joe Melnick are leading a writing workshop.
Organizational Change: A Gestalt Perspective will be taught at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia by Debra Brosan and Mark Magerman this week-end. Enrollment is full based on the great success of last year’s program.
As part of the Education Initiative, Trish Perry, Bob Ross, and Mike Gradone will facilitate a leadership development program for principals and teachers of the Dennis-Yarmouth school system on March 15th.
If you are interested in discussing ways GISC might get involved with online-learning, please contact Donna Dennis and learn more about what MIT is doing by reading this article.
Unfortunately, two programs were cancelled due to lack of enrollment including Applying Cape Cod Model to Coaching scheduled for March 1-3 and Women’s Wisdom scheduled for March 16-18.
“Look for the humor in your life.” Sonia March Nevis