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Posts Tagged ‘Gestalt’

New GISC Programs and Certifications Support Your Goals & Aspirations

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019

Today’s business environment is marked by rapidly increasing complexity, relentless change and competitive pressure to do more with less. Professionals across all industries and markets must continuously adapt to their changing environment and prove their value while maintaining their personal values and a strong sense of their own identity.

As leaders, coaches, consultants and professionals who guide individuals through this complex maze, we are challenged with helping our clients or team members, but also with understanding that these same pressures apply to our own lives. In fact, it is difficult to imagine a time when our services and expertise were more in need than right now.

Gestalt International Study Center

The Gestalt International Study Center (GISC) is a community of professionals who are leaders in corporations, entrepreneurs, executive and life coaches, organizational and human resource consultants, educators and therapists. The members of our community are participants in our programs, faculty who lead our programs, authors and contributors, colleagues and friends.

GISC administers two certification programs for professional coaches:

GISC Advanced Coaching Certification

We also maintain a robust schedule of training programs and development paths for the wide range of individuals who make up our community. Two upcoming programs of note include:

Join us for a FREE, 1-hour online Info Session

Click here to learn more about our free Info Session.

At noon ET on November 7, 2019, we will conduct our first-ever one-hour online Executive Coaching & Personality Dynamics Info Session.

  • If you’ve thought about participating in a GISC program in the past but weren’t sure if it was for you
  • If you appreciate the opportunity to interact directly with the faculty and ask questions prior to committing to register for a program
  • If you want to learn how Gestalt Core Concepts differentiate GISC training from other leadership and coaching training that is available today

Then click here to register for this free Info Session.

And even if you are not a professional coach, I hope you will take this opportunity to participate in our community and gain a better sense of what we’re about and what we can offer in support of your goals and aspirations.

To listen and be heard

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

By Gwynne Guzzeau, Executive Director

Here at GISC, the sun is out. Fourteen professionals from as far as California, Sweden, Wisconsin and Denmark or as close as Wellfleet gather for their 7th day of training to learn the Cape Cod Model – our Center’s process for helping people and teams change.

Five years ago, I was in their seat as a participant and fortunate to have our founder, Sonia Nevis in the room. An avid note-taker, keen on capturing the words from each faculty member, I’ve saved my notebooks and I’ve decided to share some of the nuggets from our Cape Cod Training Program teaching.

Let’s start with the check-in – the first 15-20 minutes of each day when participants sit together with faculty in a large group to discuss any questions or thoughts that are present from the previous day’s work. Even in these seemingly mundane moments, we were being taught that “Gestalt is a way of looking at the world and thinking about your life.” Check-in is important “to get something out of your head” so we can start where we are today.

The notes that follow are what I need to do this morning to start my day with a full sense of connection to the current participants, to the teaching and learning that inspired greater range and growth in my own life, and to the creative urge that the sun – after many days of rain – has inspired within.

Day 2 comments from Sonia:

You cannot feed your own soul. Connecting is food. To have listening and to be heard is food. The basic principle of how the world is better is to really listen and to really be willing to be heard.

Sonia went on to emphasize that “the learning that takes place at GISC is getting more and more skilled at reaching other people and listening.”

And the words flowed in through my ears, my eyes, my hands as I wrote furiously to capture her specific point of view:

If there’s only one person, it’s self-reflective. We are in relationship with the past and our Self. But all you can do is repeat the same thing. We can’t continue growth without another person. We develop to the extent that we allow ourselves to be in contact with the environment.”

These notes from our founder’s voice make me wonder:

What’s the optimal blend of sunshine and support to foster new growth in your life today?

If “no one person is making an experience happen” then join me in a virtual conversation and leave a comment below.


BEING GREAT: An acronym for learning leadership

Friday, September 18th, 2015

By Nancy Hardaway

Listening 2 Leaders

How do you teach people how to manage (or become better at managing, depending on their experience) in 20 minutes? That was my challenge last spring when I gave a talk to a group of young professionals.

Research has found that over 70% of people in corporate America name their boss as their biggest stressor in their lives and that anywhere from 40-70% of managers fail. Obviously, people need help! In order to make the concepts easier to digest and remember in just 20 minutes I organized them with an acronym : BEING GREAT

Typically it’s not the content of the work or the tasks that cause problems for managers. It’s the people interactions. Every interaction between people is “co-created;” you are half of the equation so managing or leading others requires managing yourself. The first word of the acronym, BEING, represents ways to manage yourself:

B: Boundaries

E: Emotions

I: Intent and Impact

N: Nature

G: Goals

BOUNDARIES: Managers need to set and understand their boundaries. They have to find the appropriate place for themselves between the company and their boss, and their allegiance to their staff. They have to be careful about friendships past and present, and where the boundary is in what they disclose to whom. Promotions from within cause colleagues to become staff overnight, necessitating careful and explicit renegotiation of boundaries. Then there’s that tricky balance between work and home. Those boundaries blur too easily and you find yourself answering emails while playing with your kids – not successful or satisfying for either activity.

EMOTIONS: Emotions impact perspective, decisions, and affect interactions with colleagues or staff. It takes awareness to recognize your emotions in the workplace and skills to manage them successfully. Neuroscience research tells us that some of the most successful ways to manage emotions are labeling (putting a word to the feeling shifts the brain from feeling to thinking mode), reframing (looking at it in another way, or in Gestalt terms, looking for the multiple realities), and refocusing (turning your attention elsewhere).

INTENT AND IMPACT: How often does it happen that someone takes your message (words, body language, action) the wrong way? We need to know the difference between what we intend to convey and the impact we actually have. It requires knowing our intention. It requires paying careful intention to the way our message is being received and interpreted. And we need to check and verify – just plain ask.

NATURE: Managers and leaders need to understand how they are different from others: What are your biases and filters based on your experience, wealth, gender, family of origin, age, culture, occupation, etc.? What’s your work style? How are you motivated?

GOALS: Understanding your goals, your priorities, and your values is key to managing your time appropriately and knowing whether you are succeeding. You have to know your organizational goals (the big picture) and the goals of your role, which shift your focus from to-do lists to prioritization toward the bigger picture. And you’ll only know whether you are succeeding if you have some sense of your goals in life.

You can’t lead without followers – you would be a parade of one. So the second word of the acronym, GREAT, is about managing others.

G: Goals

R: Reviews

E: Events

A: Accountability

T: Teams

GOALS: Goal are so important, they show up twice. In this case it’s about knowing your organization or boss’s goals (make sure to ask and clarify) and then setting the goals for your team as a whole and for each individual. Express the “why” and express the “how” and express the “when.” The why is what inspires so make sure to spend time with it. The how and when create the basis for success and holding people accountable. Provide enough detail for clarity and enough space for innovation and independence.

REVIEWS: Massive research demonstrates that only 30% of performance feedback has a positive impact. Our Gestalt training enables more successful results. Build on the positive. Provide feedback on a daily and weekly basis rather than waiting for the annual review. Provide specific data – evidence and examples of what you mean. Provide support for new behaviors – assume if they could have done what you wanted before and knew you wanted it, they would have. Follow up to feedback (71% of managers never follow up on reviews – how unfortunate!).

EVENTS: I chose the word events (which typically involve a lot of planning) to cover meetings, important conversations, retreats – planned interactions where you want to accomplish something. Know why, who, what, when, and how for every meeting. Plan how much time will be needed for what you want to accomplish and know what a successful outcome would look like. Plan for good beginnings, middles, and endings – don’t skimp on those endings or overbook your agenda so you run out of time. Closure is important for effective results.

ACCOUNTABILITY: Start with clear expectations, and maintain communication. Be specific about what and by when, and the consequences to all for missed targets. Don’t wait – quick and frequent check-ins are better than big blow ups after the deadline passes. Be direct – too often new managers confuse directness with being mean, often because they wait until they are angry at failed performance to act.

TEAMS: It takes intentional leadership to create teams, even though our brains are wired for collaboration. But we want to collaborate with “friends,” not “foes.” Here’s where the Gestalt concept of intimate (relational) and strategic (work accomplishment) is so helpful – it takes a balance of both for good work to occur.

BEING GREAT takes work, important work. Being a great manager or leader is an opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of those who work for and with you rather than becoming the biggest stressor in their lives.

Closing Counts: What we can learn from Jon Stewart

Monday, September 14th, 2015

By Gwynne Guzzeau, Executive Director

Jon Stewart got it right: closing counts. For over fifteen years, fans of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart – the popular comedic news show on cable TV – have tuned in for a potent blend of fun and facts, myself included. During the past year, the final weeks, and Stewart’s last episode as host of The Daily Show, we were not only treated to his edgy brand of humor with heart, we were shown how to create a good ending.

In these final days of summer, as we look to the fall and year-end, how are you attending to the endings in your life, small or large? It may be the end of a summer vacation or the end of the third quarter with only one quarter left to meet the 2015 goals you set for yourself back in January.

What can we learn from Jon Stewart about creating good endings? A lot.

Here’s what I saw in the final episodes that speaks to the Gestalt practices we teach at GISC.

Stewart didn’t go cold turkey; he practiced leaving. Over a year ago, he took a leave of absence for several weeks. Whatever the reasons, it gave him experience letting go of a job, a role, and a routine that he’d held for over 15 years. During his leave, he tried something new by directing a theater production – more practice letting go of The Daily Show.

Not all of us can take a long leave and land a short-term gig in a dream role like Jon Stewart. But we can practice letting go of our work identity, role and routine in small ways. For instance, on your next vacation, what would it be like to truly leave behind all responsibility for work? What does that mean? Well, it could be as small as committing to: “on my vacation (or on the weekend, or after 5pm . . .), I will not check my emails from work.” The point is that to end well you need to start small and practice. Design a small test run of a bigger goal.

Get Support
I’m willing to bet a week’s pay that Jon Stewart didn’t cook up this plan on his own – he had help. Maybe it was his wife, colleagues, friends or a trusted advisor, but at some point there was probably a professional advisor – a coach or a therapist to support the meaning-making that leads to a good ending. How do I know this? I didn’t count, but in the final weeks of his tenure as host of The Daily Show, Stewart repeatedly said, “I had to come to terms with it,” that is, leaving and letting go.

As you and I plan and practice our own endings in the coming weeks, with whom will we meet and talk as we create endings for the year, the vacation, or even the weekend? It can be as small as a conversation with family about why the weekend, vacation or year mattered. Or we could hire a coach or reach out to work with one of GISC’s coaches-in-training who start their coach certification program in late October.

Endings matter and even the smallest degree of attention can support the experience of closure and our internal transition.

Take an Appreciative Stance
In his final episode, Jon Stewart ran long. The 30-minute show lasted 60 minutes. The way I see it, Stewart took his time. And he needed the time to both acknowledge his colleagues and, I would argue, to take in the acknowledgements and appreciation expressed to him by others.

As he said so often, “I had to come to terms with it.” If we can do that for ourselves by adopting an appreciative stance and perspective for what has been and what is, then we free ourselves to be available for the actual ending – the good-bye.

And it is in the smallest of gestures or practices that all our preparation and work on “coming to terms” with closure shows up. For me, Jon Stewart’s good-bye from The Daily Show is captured in the handshakes of thanks he took the time to make with each individual member of Springsteen’s band at the very end of the show.

Jon Stewart showed us how to create a good ending and that’s what we all need in order to make a good beginning. So I wonder, what’s next? For Stewart, for you and for me?


Gwynne Guzzeau, MS, JD, is the Executive Director of GISC. She teaches The Next Phase: Life Strategies for Navigating Personal and Professional Transitions.


Reflections from the Gathering: Turning ideas into action

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

By Stacey Shipman

“How does over-thinking serve you in a positive way?” my group member asked.

We had gathered into groups of three, tasked with identifying a trait or skill we don’t like about ourselves and turn it into a positive. A concept, I learned as a first-timer, GISC refers to as Well Developed/Less Developed.

I didn’t answer the question right away because I’d never thought about my ability to over-think in a positive way.

I love big ideas and solving problems. As a result I spend a lot of time thinking. Sometimes my brain feels so full I imagine smoke billowing from my ears right before my head explodes.

Yet with the support of this peer group, they helped me see that over-thinking allows me to analyze problems from all angles and come up with solutions others might miss.

In that moment I became an expert at analyzing problems from all angles.

My area for development and challenge for the weekend: Turn some of that thinking into action.

Especially if the thought or idea isn’t fully formed.


I could feel my insides stir.

I accepted the challenge. What good is attending a development weekend if you’re not willing to do the work?

I committed to share my ideas more during group interactions and social conversations. Each time my stomach turned…less and less.

Thanks to my experience at the Gathering, I walked away with two big lessons and one reminder:

First, I am not broken. When stuck in a cycle of over-thinking I often feel broken and in need of fixing. Not to mention mentally exhausted! I learned I don’t need to stop thinking. Instead I need to press pause on thinking and turn an idea into action.

Second, thoughts and ideas don’t need to be fully formed to put them into the world. One group member suggested that by sharing my thought when not fully formed I provide a starting point for others to brainstorm and contribute. I had never considered that as a potential benefit.

Finally, I was reminded that community and relationships are everything. Having the right support systems to question our assumptions, in a respectful, encouraging way, can make life and work challenges feel manageable.

Nearly two months after the Community Gathering I’m still committed to the challenge of thinking less and acting more both in my personal and professional life.

Take this blog post for example. At the Gathering I told Laurie I’d love to write a reflection piece for the GISC blog. And every day since I’ve thought about what angle to take, what a-ha moment to share, and whether my voice would be a good fit.

And then my head felt like it might explode.


Stacey Shipman believes everyone has a message that can make someone’s life better. She is the founder of Move.Breathe.Explore. (, author of Turn Speaking Stress into Success and speaks and blogs about using your voice to make a difference at



What’s mud got to do with it?

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

By Gwynne Guzzeau, Executive Director

It’s overcast today.  The snow and ice from multiple storms has finally melted leaving the ground exposed once again.  Mary, our office manager, prefers the ice on her driveway this time of year, “It looks nicer than the wet dirt and gravel.”  If I wasn’t so worried about slipping on the ice, I’d agree with Mary, but I’ll take the mud for now along with the inconvenience it brings, sticking to my shoes and tracking after me whether wet or dry.

It wasn’t always this way.  When I was seven, mud was a projectile.  Easily shaped into balls that fit my small hands and launched over the six-foot stockade fence into the neighbors yard where kids we weren’t allowed to play with lived and launched their counterattack.

When I was twenty-seven, mud was a serious matter.  I was working on a 25,000-acre cattle ranch on the Crow Indian reservation in southeast Montana.  Dryhead was a fitting name for the ranch, except after heavy rains when the dirt turned a slick rusty brown at least three inches deep.  My job as a ranch hand included vacuuming the carpeted dining area in the cookhouse before and after each meal and cleaning the bathrooms where the linoleum floors invited a mud slide, even with paper laid down to absorb the wet dirt.

Now, I live on the marsh where the mud is black and you can sink to your knees if you stand in the wrong spot.  Mostly, it’s my dog who gets covered in the thick smelly stuff of the marsh.

But what’s mud got to do with it anyway?  As a leader in transition, as a coach and as a human being, there’s so much that I can’t see.  So I lean into the unknown, the uncertainty, and much like stepping on the soft wet earth — boundaries become blurred when my feet merge with the mud.

Mud demands that I pay attention to the ground, not just the figure I’ve decided to move towards.  In this way, the ground acts on me and my experience literally, not “only” in a Gestalt sense of the word “ground.”  

Last week, I asked a CCTP colleague in the UK what I should be reading in light of my new position, she responded:  “Poetry.  The answers to your leadership challenges won’t be found in a book.”

I know she’s right because I already have a poem posted on my office wall that captured my attention in the first few weeks on the job.  It’s called “Spirit of Place: Great Blue Heron” by William Stafford and the last line reads “…feet that go down in the mud where the truth is.”

Luckily though, for all you can’t see, mud is really good at leaving tracks.  And if it’s Meetinghouse mud that means that you’re lucky enough to be at GISC and you’ll probably be tracking it in with the rest of us….



Why write a book about Gestalt leadership in fiction form?

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

By Nancy Hardaway


What does fiction and Gestalt have in common?


People have asked me why did I write my book The Awareness Paradigm in fiction, when I wanted to teach leadership theory and behavior.   Why write about Cesar and Fletcher, Mark and Redley?  Why write about their coach, Julia? It was a way of “showing, not telling.” A way of creating some of the feel and touch of a GISC program.


Whether as student or teacher, my richest learning opportunities contain only small bits of talking at, and lots of opportunity to experience new things through exercises and practicum groups.  Where I learn not only from different faculty with varied styles that I resonate more or less to, but also from participants, hearing their stories and sharing my own.  And… I have a bit of fun!


Further, I know that we rarely learn from being exposed to something once (okay, maybe being burned would be an exception).  We need to engage with it, chew on it, see it again in a different light or a different context, try it, hear it again, etc.


For us, Gestalt learning occurs not just by doing but through reflection, as primary a tool as didactic, experience and practice.   With schedules so rushed, many leaders come to leadership training and are both discomforted and refreshed by the time set aside for reflection.  Research shows it is a primary skill of highly successful leaders.


In a recent Harvard Alumni Magazine, I just read about a task force called the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching (HILT).  At a recent HILT symposium, psychologists and educators talked about new research on cognition and learning.


They emphasized the importance of learning how to think, and of practice and cumulative engagement (successive relearning of foundational knowledge).   One academic who studies strategies that promote durable learning said that students need to learn how to learn.   A professor from Harvard Business School explained that they no longer find its case method – talking about what to do – as useful as actually doing.  So Harvard is finally figuring out what Gestalt faculty have always known.


How could I create some facsimile of the Gestalt learning experience to teach Gestalt concepts in a book?  Experiences.  Connection.  Practice, repetition, reflection.  Fun. How could I create that support which is an important piece of leadership training? I first sought out support for myself as writer, from Joe Melnick – who asked me questions, and kept my going when I flagged.


I thought briefly about writing a book of theory with lots of exercises to try, but I was intrigued by the idea of stories. After all, down through the ages, people have learned through stories, connecting with the characters and internalizing the lessons.  We learn best when our whole brain is involved – intellect and emotion.


Most importantly, leadership happens not in a vacuum, but only in relation to others, and our growth as leaders happens in the way we relate to ourselves, so I needed a vehicle to demonstrate the space within and the space between us.


I also knew the characters would have to learn as we all do, incrementally and with fits and starts, defaulting back to old behaviors under stress.  This is especially true for adult learners who have fixed patterns that have been reinforced for years.  They get excited about something new at a program and then are return home to be bombarded with emails and crises and catch-up, and the new learning tends to slip away.  That’s why coaching and ongoing reinforcement is so useful, and why leadership training has far more ROI when that occurs.


I envisioned leaders with unique styles and challenges from different organizations, coming together to solve a common problem.  Those first wisps of characters came to life in a role play for which I recruited students in the first GISC coaching program. Although their efforts took just over an hour, that experience allowed me to interact with the characters and see them interacting with one another. They jumped off the page after that, diverging wildly from the participants who played them.   A surprise character came in and the story started to have the page turning qualities of a mystery – a bit of fun!


Just as I sometimes forget about reflection for myself, and often have to remind my leader clients to include it in their days, I almost forgot about including reflection for the reader, but it happened by accident.  Once the book was designed, there ended up being some blank pages because publishing convention calls for chapters to start on the right facing page.  I decided to take those randomly spaced blank left pages and use them as reflection points for the reader.   On Joe’s urging, I also added an appendix with a chapter by chapter summary of the plot and primary lessons so a reader or team could go back and reflect alone or together, as well as an appendix of theory for the layman (a bit of didactic, if you will).


There’s no way a simple book could possibly replicate the richness of a Gestalt program, but hopefully, this book will reinforce that richness for those who’ve taken a program, and introduce Gestalt learning and experience to those who haven’t.


The Awareness Paradigm: A Story of Leadership Success is available in GISC’s online bookstore and at your favorite online book retailers.


Nancy Hardaway, MEd,  is a member of the GISC faculty and internationally known leadership consultant, combining her experience as a serial entrepreneur and corporate executive with an avid curiosity in human behavior and neuroscience.  A former journalist, banker, and CEO, she is a certified leadership coach and holds degrees from Tufts University and Harvard University.  Follow Nancy on the Listening 2 Leaders blog.



Viewing GISC as a Network Through a Gestalt Lens

Thursday, 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.[1] 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.[2] 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[3] 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 ( 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

[2] “Net Gains,” Peter Plastrik, Madeleine Taylor, v.1, Pg. 33.

[3] “Gestalt Reconsidered,” Gordon Wheeler, 1991.

The Evolution of Roots: An Interview with Seán Gaffney

Friday, 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?

SG: Yes.

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.



Dream Big, Start Small, Act Now

Tuesday, 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.

Gestalt International Study Center
P.O. Box 515, South Wellfleet, MA 02663
Phone: +1 555 123 4567