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Roots VI Conference

Gestalting Groups: Roots & Branches
This is the sixth Roots Conference. Beginning in Paris in 2003 with “The European Roots of Gestalt Therapy” conference, and continuing with Roots II in Antwerp, 2005, in Rome in 2007, Budapest in 2009, and Bommersvik, Sweden, in 2012, these conferences have provided an opportunity to focus on Gestalt therapy theory, its roots, development and the rich diversity of its application. Presented by Gestalt International Study Center in cooperation with Gestalt Centre Belfast.



Roots VI will take place in Belfast, Ireland, convened by GISC and hosted by Gestalt Centre Belfast. Groups have been a fundamental part of the Gestalt approach since its inception. Fritz Perls was one of the first therapists to do therapy “live in front of a group" – later called the “Greek ampitheatre.” As it developed as a specific approach to therapy it was then nicknamed the” broken wagon wheel.” The therapist would work one-on-one with each individual, using the group as communal support.

Yet our approach to groups and their application has always been much more diverse. At the New York Institute for Gestalt Therapy, such founding members as Elliot Shapiro and Paul Goodman were moving effortlessly into education and social change, followed by the next generation of members, such as George Dennison and Patrick Kelley. These Gestalt practitioners had a profound, though often unacknowledged impact on the theory and methodology of Gestalt with groups.

Some of the future founders of the Gestalt Institute of Ohio (the second institute, later to become the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland, GIC) were an essential part of Kurt Lewin’s brainchild, the National Training Laboratories (NTL) as they developed T-groups, and also Esalen Institute, the birthplace of the encounter group. There was a small but important group of Gestaltists led by Edwin Nevis, PhD, of GISC who used experiments and exercises to teach leaders about self-awareness, group process and cultural change. And, of course, there are our institutes which each use group process in unique and creative ways, and our various Gestalt conferences such as Roots which all use groups and group process as an essential ingredient of the structure. Increasingly, applications like Gestalt in organizations (GIO) have moved naturally into such areas as team building, project management and the dynamics of the boardroom as well as top management teams.

In the opening presentations, our intention is to describe the early roots of Gestalt with groups before moving into the use of groups in Gestalt training.


- Jack Aylward, USA


- Jan Henrik Bjørnstad, Norway


- Marie Anne Chidiac, England


- Joëlle Gartner, Ireland


- Gaie Houston, England

    - Rick Maurer, USA   - Mike McElwee, USA

- Frans Meulmeester, Netherlands

    - Eugenio Molini, Spain   - Konstantin Pavlov, EEGI, Russia


Please check this web page for updates on topics and presenters.

Jack Aylward, USA

Title: The Clinical, Social, and Political Impact of Paul Goodman on Gestalt Therapy Theory as Reflected in his Contributions to the 1951 'Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality'

His political activism during those times, primarily from a libertarian/ anarchistic perspective, dovetailed well into such psychological concepts as organismic self-regulation, creative adjustment, and contact functioning developed by the early Gestaltists. For him, a healthy society was necessary background for personal growth. Over the years, gestalt practitioners have moved away from this perspective. The workshop will provide opportunities to reinstate such awareness by combining an historical understanding of Goodman's accomplishments in this regard, followed by small group discussion. Much of the material covered will be drawn from Aylward's newly published: Gestalt Therapy and the American Experience.

Talia Bar-Yoseph Levine, UK

Title: Business Families – The Beauty and The Complexity

Business families present a unique challenge to the consultant – a given of two groups; the family and the organization both over lapping, involved from within and without, differently invested etc. The complexity of business, family, generations gaps, blurred boundaries, shared history, hierarchy and expectations demand of the consultant a wider set of skills, diverse and creative being.

I wish to present the complexity, bring a few examples allow space for discussion, experiment and sharing of experiences.

Jan Henrik Bjørnstad

Title: The Cycle of Dialogue: Putting something in the middle


How to facilitate group work promoting awareness, reflection and creative interplay? I will present my experiences using two approaches, one by participant-written pieces of text and one by photographic images. In gestalt emphasis is put on “good contact.” We focus on how a person makes, breaks and modifies contact in a given situation. This is about how we are able to be in touch with each other. We are familiar with a wide range of ways contact may be disturbed by “something” interfering. Good contact may be seen as “authentically seeing each other” in the here and now without these disturbances. Two people staying in eye contact with the other may be a metaphor. In my cases I will show how text and images can serve as bridging relationships in the group and enhance contact. By putting these in the middle of dialogue energy is raised leading to new awareness.

Simon Cavicchia, UK

Title: Senior Team Dialogue – Facilitating the Emergence of Leadership in Complex and Uncertain Times

In this presentation I intend to offer an overview of a particular approach to working with senior teams in complex and uncertain contexts. I shall draw on my experience of working with numerous teams tasked with making meaning about their context and developing strategies for leading their functions and organizations through volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity and where past learning and existing models of practice are insufficient alone to respond to the challenges they face.

Marie Anne Chidia, England

Title: Working with Multi-Disciplinary Teams: Gestalt and Team Coaching

This presentation will address the challenges of coaching multi-disciplinary teams in organisations and how Gestalt can support both our thinking and practice in this area. The presentation will explore the growing trend in using multi-disciplinary team coaching as an organisational performance improvement intervention and both the advantages/challenges of this approach. The presenter will provide a framework of how Gestalt informed coaching practice can support such interventions and will illuminate this with practical examples from her work.

Seán Gaffney, Sweden

Title: History of Gestalt with Groups Theory

Joëlle Gartner, Ireland

Title: Becoming and Being a Group in a Society in Conflict

“Whatever you say, say nothing.” The late Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s line describes the superficial chat people engage in when the environment is unsafe and when expressions of difference or personal disclosures are too risky.


The Gestalt training groups I have been leading in Belfast are embedded in a society emerging from armed conflict. The dynamic in such groups can often be understood by using a neo-lewinian model of contact boundary dynamics, along the axis of risk taking - looking for safety. I propose to show how this model can be used as a teaching tool through some vignettes of group work, and describe my chosen field-theoretical approach to facilitation as a useful way for participants to learn, not only some important gestalt concepts, but also how to make sense of the process of the group, and how to become more effective group members in other areas of their lives. I will also speculate on the impact of decades of conflict on groups in the north of Ireland, and consider my work in the light of models or approaches to work with people who have experienced trauma, such as the Herman model, or Peter Levine's Somatic Experiencing method.

Barry Gruenberg, USA

Title: Leading through Uncertainty: A Gestalt-based Approach to Developing Groups of Leaders at Microsoft

In a world characterized by high levels of turbulence and ambiguity, the “expert” theory of leadership, which requires a leader to quickly and decisively provide a direction, can lead to highly unrealistic expectations that can erode the confidence of both a leader and his followers. The inability to provide quick solutions to highly complex and unprecedented challenges can lead to a leader appearing “indecisive” and “incompetent” by those above and below him as well as to the leader herself. Working with small groups of Microsoft leaders, we have attempted to use a number of Gestalt insights to help leaders adopt an alternative mental model of leadership, adaptive leadership, in which the leader’s role is to facilitate the creation of a shared figure in a group that draws from the perspectives, experience and interests of all of the group’s members rather than relying on the leader to deliver a direction. Participants are taught to work in small groups and to periodically “go to the balcony” to observe how they are affecting the group and the group is affecting them. They are also are taught to appreciate the entire Gestalt Cycle of Experience, increasing their understanding of the importance of the processes that affect their and others’ awareness, the construction of shared meaning, and the importance of completion through reflection.

This workshop describes and provides experiential exposure to our approach to developing leaders by using Gestalt principles in small groups to heighten their awareness of themselves, their system, and the interaction between the two.

Gaie Houston, England

Title: Interpretation, Fantasy and the Group

I would like to offer two related themes. One is the close relation between fantasy and interpretation, with reference to Perls' fascination with fantasy, as many of his lectures testify. This all leads to clarifying some of the differences between mechanistic and organic groups, quoting the Tavistock Institute and National Training Laboratories advances that have influenced Gestalt group work in some settings.

Rick Maurer, USA

Mike McElwee, USA

Title: Integrating Gestalt into Pre-existing Complexity-based Organization Change Practices

Organization change, if it is to be successful in the long term, must consider much more than issues of finance, legality, structure and configuration. Internal social and cultural issues – notorious for their production of emergent phenomena that can rise to the level of a classic Butterfly Effect - must also be addressed. Complexity science and studies in nonlinear dynamics provide data and models that can be helpful, but human psychology remains an area seldom approached directly, systematically and in a manner fully integrated with organization change practices. Since organizations of any significant size are complex, culturally varied social systems, the absence or weakness of a clear and integrated psychological perspective in a consultant directing a change process can become problematic and limit or endanger the success of the project. The author, finding just such a weakness in himself, adopted a Gestalt-based course of study, completing a GISC Advanced Practice OD Consulting Certification. This paper describes the integration of his Gestalt work and learning into his consulting approach and practice.

Joe Melnick, USA

Title: History of the Practice of Gestalt with Groups

Frans Meulmeester, Netherlands


Title: Cancer in Perspective: a Counseling Group for Cancer Patients


During the past 20 years I have led many counseling groups for cancer patients and their relatives. The purpose and goal of these groups were always: to support the people in dealing with the fact that they were confronted with cancer. The groups were open for patients, but also for the relatives, as long as these relatives agreed on being there for them selves and not only as a companion of the patient. We discovered that relatives, who just came to see what was happening, in most cases interfered with the safety in the group. The groups were closed in the sense that it was maximum 8-10 sessions of 2,5 hours. The structure of the sessions was in the beginning somehow, more structured and further on more and more open. In both centres where we applied this method of counseling, scientific research was done to evaluate the process and outcome of the groups.


Eugenio Molini, Spain


Title: Intentional Transformation in Fuzzy Enmeshed Systems


My practice as a consultant has gone through a major change in the last 5 years:

In 1989 I began my career as an OD consultant working for "defined and structured systems” (DESSY) such as companies and organizations, mostly with assignments concerning their internal change at various scales of system. In the beginning of 2000, a very exciting shift occurred: I began to get assignments from DESSY concerning changes at their external boundaries, meaning changes in the way they related to the social-ecological-economical environment in which they operated, clearly a “fuzzy and enmeshed system” (FUZSY). The assignments implied more often than not, the urge in DESSY to control FUZSY. Since 2012 another more exciting shift has been happening: I began to get assignments from agents in FUZSY that acknowledge the reality of these systems: you never know where they begin and end, and there is no agent who gets the acknowledgement of any authority whatsoever to define anything over any other. In this presentation I will share what I have leaned so far about working in FUZSY, the challenges I am encountering, the rewards I get, and the amazing window of opportunity I see for introducing “field practice” as THE approach to intentional transformation in fuzzy and enmeshed systems.


Konstantin Pavlov, EEGI, Saint-Petersburg, Russia

Title: The Groups & Society Dynamics in Post-Soviet Lands: The “Insider’s” Perspective

We will “build upon” our presentation with Csaba Csaszar in Bomersvick.

Chantelle Wyley and Shanil Haricharan, South Africa

Title: Forces For Change And Forces For Sameness: Reflections On Consulting In The South African Public Service And Working With Groupings Around Traditional Culture, Liberation Culture, And Organisational Culture

The authors have consulted to the South African public sector using Gestalt as a foundational theory and the principles of Gestalt OD practice as an orienting methodology, since the mid-1990s. In the mid-2000s they became interested in the culture of the South African public service and its relationship to service delivery. After the euphoria of liberation and democracy, non-performance and inadequate delivery have regrettably become a feature of the South African public service. Despite access to resources (via a well-managed tax collection and public finance allocation system) and an extensive three-tier public service employing 1.6 million public servants, basic service delivery in South Africa is considered unsatisfactory by the majority of citizens. As consultants to a number of government departments at different levels and with different size client groupings, the authors investigated whether the culture of government departments is adversely affecting service delivery. This reflection will offer insights into their conclusions and their consulting methods and practice, and link these to orienting Gestalt theory.


Dates and Fees:

Dates October 23-26, 2014
Thursday, 1pm
Sunday, 1pm
Fee $535 US / Approx. 400 Euros
(accommodations and meals not included)
CE Hours 20
  Seán Gaffney, PhD
  Joseph Melnick, PhD
Location Belfast, Ireland

Read more about the Roots Conference and its history in this Seán Gaffney interview.

The Roots VI Conference will be held at the:
  Radisson Blu Hotel
3 Cromac Place
Belfast, Ireland BT72JB
All reservation bookings can be made via telephone or an e-mail to the reservations department.
Phone: +44 2 890 434065
For all bookings guests should quote Block ID: Block ID #1418510 - Gestalt International Study Center
Rates quoted are as below:
  £80 single, bed and breakfast
  £90 double, bed and breakfast
Guests may also book rooms online for
October 23-26 here:
     > Booking link for Bed & Breakfast
     > Booking link for Dinner Bed & Breakfast

For further information or details about the conference, contact:
Gestalt International Study Center
Phone: +1 508-349-7900


ROOTS has developed a specific format: all presentations are in plenary and followed by small group work to process the content, and then a plenary report-back session. Our aim is that all participants and presenters are fully involved in all aspects of the conference. Our hope is to generate collective knowledge.

In addition, our intention is to encourage all presenters to develop their presentations as journal articles, including the comments and inputs from the plenary sessions.

Gestalt International Study Center
1035 Cemetery Road, P.O. Box 515, South Wellfleet, MA 02663
Phone: +1 508 349 7900