Monthly Archives: September 2019

Gestalt Community Project

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I wanted to take the opportunity in this newsletter to thank all of you present at the wonderful conference this Summer. It was my first and a real opportunity to make new friends and forge many useful and nourishing connections.

I am also writing to update you on what has happened as a result of some of those conversations, to share the progress regarding how to bring Gestalt theory and practice to facilitating social change and our communities thriving. Responding in part to what Paul Goodman believed was the true aim of Gestalt therapy – ‘to create healthy citizens and nourishing communities’ (Joseph Melnick & Ed Nevis, in Mending the World)

At the conference one of the themes we talked about was how nationally, as a result of austerity, communities are being asked to do more to support local areas and citizens, yet with fewer resources. Evidence for this is clear in the form of social prescribing, asset-based community development and foodbanks, etc. Our discussions highlighted the fragmentation that has developed over recent years. Specifically, manifest in the divisions associated with Brexit.  With poverty growing and an increase in societal division; increasing isolation; rise in hate crime, ‘othering’ and a blame culture. What this means is decreasing confidence, family and relationship breakdown and the rise in poor mental health. 

From those discussions a recommendation was put forward for a research project to explore how the magical powers of Gestalt could be shared within the voluntary sector and local neighbourhoods. To progress this, we agreed to identify a mechanism that would be accessible to communities to focus on increasing self-awareness and understanding of how we relate to each other, in Gestalt, make good contact with others and in the context of our field(s). Because after all (to quote the French Gestaltist, Jean Marie Robine) “Social change begins with two.”

Having spoken to the Lottery, we are now preparing a small bid for a pilot programme. The intention is to engage local people in a Gestalt-based intervention for social change. Our hope is that we will demonstrate an association that, ‘improved awareness of Self and how we make contact’, can lead to better mental health and increased understanding and acceptance of others. We believe our results will show better outcomes for ourselves, others and communities. It is likely that this will particularly benefit those who are providing supporting roles in local neighbourhoods, within organisations and across communities. 

Our aim is to evaluate how intervention will lead to

  • Better wellbeing through self-acceptance and holistic awareness of how we function. Increased ability to recognise the need for support; how to engage in strategies to build self-support
  • Improved confidence through the acknowledgement of individual uniqueness and valuing difference; leading to
  • More cohesive, tolerant and resilient communities. Individuals and therefore communities will have confidence to express themselves and their needs; listen and reflect on the considerations of others, so increasing positive connections; to identify opportunities to give and receive support within local neighbourhoods; and above all, challenging ‘othering’ by discovering the value, contribution and rewards of diversity. 
  • Inclusive communities where individuals will recognize their voice matters and they have an integral place in society. 
  • People in the Lead increasing a strong community voice to influence decision making, deliver creative solutions to entrenched issues, support those more vulnerable and importantly be able to say ‘no’ when appropriate, building resilience and assets in local neighbourhoods. Control of activities will exist with the individual and the community. 
  • Improved local areas as people grow in their awareness and sense of place and belonging 

We are working with several local and national contacts, arising in part from conference conversations to develop an innovative and flexible learning programme, and want to draw on the collective wisdom of the Gestalt Community.

So, in the spirit of collaboration and community, as part of our continuing dialogue, we would really appreciate any examples of community projects and research that is available that has applied Gestalt principles related to community development and social change. Please contact us if you are interested in our work.

Leonie McCarthy, CEO Peterborough Council for Voluntary Services ([email protected])

in collaboration with

Margaret Chapman-Clarke, Independent Gestalt Practitioner-Researcher and Consulting Psychologist ([email protected])  

John Gillespie, ([email protected])

References

Melnick, J. & Nevis, E.C. (2009) Mending the World: Social Healing Interventions by Gestalt Practitioners Worldwide, Gestalt Press.

Robine, J.M. (2015) Social Change Begins with Two (Gestalt Therapy Book Series 3), Istituto di Gestalt HCC Italy.

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Haka and Gestalt Experimentation

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Tanis Taylor reflects on performing the Haka at the 2019 UKAGP Conference.

Fists balled I plant them on my hips, feet apart, knees bent. My chin juts forward, my jaw is set. From deep in my diaphragm I build to a big voice before slapping hands on thighs, feet stamped, eyes locked. ‘Hiiiiiiiiii!’.

I know these moves. My three year old throws them all the time. Usually I’m the one shushing lest we disrupt the status quo. Today I invoke my inner toddler, adding her voice to sixty-five other gestalt therapists and actively disrupting the quo of a very English conference centre in High Wycombe.

We are doing haka. Haka is a dance genre best known for its infamous warrior dances. In Māori culture it has numerous other ceremonial uses – there are wedding hakas, hakas for transition rites, to welcome, to defend, to grieve. Often framed around creation stories haka serves crucial, communal functions for Māori and is a way of showing one’s full-bodied commitment or intent through movement: in war this intent is for domination; in rugby it will be to win; at a wedding it will be for love and union. 

Historically haka was regarded with suspicion – so incendiary that missionaries in the 19th Century banned it proposing a set of rousing hymnals instead. Intimidating in battle, in grief it has the power to collectively articulate in a way that the mannered English funeral rarely does. When a white supremacist fatally shot 50 Muslims at prayer in Christchurch, hundreds of their fellow students performed a haka; as their shaking intensified and momentum built in their voices and bodies these students viscerally and communally showed their loss, their solidarity and their rage. During this UKAGP conference we are played some personal footage of a funerary haka, for a native New Zealander in a British church. To me the video is unsettling. In a field where our respect is usually solitary and reserved Karl Burrows leads a Manawa Wera haka over the church organ, forcibly escorting the casket from the premises and exhorting death – in song – to ‘tear at’, ‘lacerate’ and ‘smash the head in of this monster’ and take the deceased to ‘join his ancestors’. Loud and un-retroflected it is defiant in its lament. One delegate reflected afterwards that the haka while hard to watch, ‘seemed to express and relieve the pain that you might be feeling inside of you.’ ‘I feel like grief took its rightful place here’. 

For the performer of haka there are some very real psychological and physiological commendations – a crouched stance loads the psoas muscles and activates the adrenal gland, increasing blood flow and stimulating the amygdala, hypothalamus and pituitary gland. Burrows, who runs Haka Works, talks about haka as a ‘structure to contain energy’before it is directed onwards. Since the All Blacks introduced it as a pre-match ritual in 1905 they have enjoyed a 77% win rate. What would it do to a room full of therapists? 

Early indicators are promising. The invitation is to see whether haka might support a different level of working with our clients and to that end we are learning the famous haka Ka Mate, first performed by Te Rauparaha. Invoking aspects of the war god Tumatauenga – a god, not of annihilation, but of destruction, creation, industriousness and aggression – May Lee Allen stands on a chair and engagingly, with humour and a surprisingly big voice schools us through the four phrases and fortunes of Te Rauparaha who hid in a pit while his enemies fruitlessly searched and a local lady obligingly sat on him. Allen instructs us how to enunciate the Māori words and she and Burrows demonstrate how to affect the infamous facial guerning – women scowling, eyes wild; men with tongues stuck out. 

Allen talks about the ‘helpful disinhibition’ of haka and, as a woman, this is certainly its draw for me. My belly is slack so I can breathe into my diaphragm and my posture is what my mother would call ‘gauche’. I begin to enjoy the power and the swagger of my pose and the release of introjects around attraction and femininity. Over the hour, as we become more familiar with the glottal sounds and abrupt moves, I close my eyes and notice how strong my body feels, I feel the muscles of my upper arms, thighs, fists, eyes and how connected to and reassured I am by my wall of fellow, guerning colleagues. I feel both alive to my own phenomenology and almost inconsequential, a field event. I realise how few places in my life I get to feel like this. Also how glad I am no one is recording it.

Burrows grew up with haka, as a native New Zealander it has always been in his field, his body and the lineage of his ancestors. Initially he trained as a performer (he wasn’t very good he says) and today he’s less interested in a haka aesthetic (‘you guys aren’t very good either!’ he shouts with affection) rather than what it might unlock as a methodology; an ‘unconscious way to process’. Delegates at his workshops from Vodafone to Apple have experienced profound shifts at Haka Works management team-building events. Burrows is interested in the ‘why’ of these shifts and hopes that we, as psychotherapists, might help him add to his understanding by articulating some of ours. ‘We have a saying in Māori. ‘You can see the corners of the house, but not the corners of the heart. That’s your job. That’s what you guys [psychotherapists] see.’ 

I can only speak personally. I used my haka as a welcome mandate to drop any people pleasing and play with my power – licensing a safe exploration of aggression, which, as a woman, a therapist and a mother, I don’t typically allow. The subsequent dance helped me notice how desensitised I had become to some of these aspects. And how thoroughly I enjoyed reintegrating them. The last time I can remember using such sanctioned, healthy aggression was during childbirth three years ago and my haka gave me a profound gratitude for its creative, animal potentials. 

I imagine if, as therapists, we are required to draw from the greatest palette of emotions in the beneficence of our clients it makes sense for me to taste the pheromones and phenomenology of my own aggression in the safe container of a haka the better to understand my clients’ aggression and to be able to reach for my own, choicefully as and when required. (I am thinking about civil disobedience here. Increasingly.) Making contact with my aggression – like making contact with my white privilege or heteronormativity – threw up interesting questions for me about ownership, accountability and choice. Keeping these aggressions removed and remote feels like a convenient creative adjustment to a societal norm which would have us keep our greatest aggressions invisible and constitutional. 

Other delegates had markedly different experiences to mine. Haka in itself is a creatively indifferent vehicle; it is the intention you plug into the co-ordinates that dictates the experiment. For some haka became an experiment about contact or masculinity/femininity or virility. For others it was simply about the abandon of the dance – a lively event at the contact boundary. Some feedback afterwards was that the exercise could have been more gender-fluid (women would have liked to try on the men’s posture and vice versa); more relational (it would have been interesting to perform to one another and see what changed); less directed (there was an appetite to take a small section of the haka and to run and run and run it and see how it built). Ultimately though – from my unscientific straw poll based on talking to people in the lunch queue – it was a welcomed methodology. Welcomed as an awareness experiment to consciously capture, contain and magnify energy in awareness and before mobilisation. Or just welcomed as a tantrum touchstone for those of us who – like me – long ago lost our wildish permissions to ‘Hiiiiiiii!’

If you would like to give Karl and May Lee any feedback about your experience of haka at the UKAGP conference please email on [email protected] For details of Haka Works or to contact Karl about corporate workshops visit www.hakaworks.com.

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Documentary Proposal Brief for UKAGP Members

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Simon Chu 

The following brief is to invite gestalt themed documentary film proposals to be pitched to a television broadcaster. 

2019 was my first UKAGP conference and I attended in my capacity as a second year student studying for an MSc in Gestalt Therapy and a documentary filmmaker with 25 years experience in making factual programmes for the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. Amongst my directing credits are BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are’, Channel 4’s ‘Secret History’ series, ITV’s ‘Secrets From the Workhouse’ and ‘Human All Too Human’ a documentary on the life and existential philosophy of Nietzsche for BBC 4. 

What struck me most was the vitality of the conference goers over the weekend. There seemed to be a genuine and deep sense of passion and enthusiasm for practicing gestalt therapy and a strong conviction that it worked. However there was also a shared sense that Gestalt was barely acknowledged as a vibrant, relevant modality in the wider therapeutic community and I detected certain fears that it was even shrinking in importance, status and perceived relevance. The closure of various gestalt training courses around the country seemed to confirm these fears. 

What I noticed is that whilst aspects of gestalt theory and practice are widely applied and adapted in many different areas of mental health including mindfulness, PTSD treatment, Somatic Experience, mediation and organisational development, the term ‘Gestalt’ is rarely referred to or acknowledged. 

My sense is that the Gestalt Community would like to increase the public visibility of gestalt therapy and to this end I propose that we start developing a small number of carefully chosen documentary proposals with a view to having one programme commissioned for broadcast on TV or made for online dissemination that can act as a platform to show how gestalt therapy and practice can make a positive difference in the world. This could be an one off film or series of films from 30 mins to 50 mins in length. 

What I am proposing is that anyone who has a gestalt based project which they think:

  • Would be suitable for a documentary treatment and 
  • The subjects or clients involved would be prepared to appear on camera and
  • Would have a high degree of public interest or mass appeal and 
  • Hasn’t been seen on TV before and
  • Lends itself to emotional engagement or drama. 

Jot down your proposal in a brief paragraph or two, including what access to filming people is possible bearing in mind issues around confidentiality and ethics. Don’t be put off if you have an idea but don’t know how to find the participants. TV productions tend to have good resources for finding contributors. 

The type of project I am interested in would be to follow a number of individuals or a group process over a set period of time as an experiment or case study which would lead to raised awareness amongst the subjects and entertain and inform the audience. This could be something you have already put into place or something that you would be able to set up specifically for filming. Events which have already happened will tend not to work as the camera needs to capture a process as it unfolds. To give you an idea of the sort of themes that I heard over the course of the conference weekend which could be developed, here are some social issues which I think could lend themselves to a gestalt approach: 

Using the dialogic method to promote understanding and communication amongst conflicted groups such as:

Brexit – at least one person at the conference (Leanne?) was interested in setting up Post Brexit dialogues to help heal the divided nation – this might involve using gestalt organisational facilitation to hold dialogues between Brexiteers and Remainers. Eg Candidates will be taught how to hold a dialogic attitude towards another person and then to try and apply it in a group conversation. People who volunteer for this will need to be open to the experiment and committed to entering into a dialogue with their political nemesis. 

Using Gestalt process/experimentation to help heal ruptures in society such as:

Gang violence – can group process facilitate communication between alienated faction/generations? 

Refugee counselling – can individual or group process help tackle PTSD, threat of radicalisation and foster integration?

Youth mental health – how can gestalt practice be used to address issues such as self esteem, drug abuse and debilitating anxiety in young people? 

Unconscious Bias – how can gestalt workshops be tailored to address issues of prejudice and discrimination in public life/ media / the workplace? 

These are just a few broad suggestions to give a flavour or what might be possible. Judging from the initial level of energy for a film during the conference, there could be a high number of proposals. Unfortunately it will only be practically possible for me to collaborate on a small number – up to three proposals – so I apologise in advance that not every idea can be pitched through me and that this will ultimately depend on my subjective judgement.

I should add an important caveat at this point. The task of getting an idea commissioned by a broadcaster is extremely difficult and requires a high degree of luck. I have made over 50 films of which just 3 have come from an original idea of mine. I have pitched many, many more which have never seen the light of day. But having said that I think it is worth taking a punt and I am prepared to use my experience and contacts to try and win a commission. This might involve going through an established production company first. Your specific role in the production can be discussed in greater length but generally I would expect you to be a consultant. I would be involved as producer, director or executive producer. 

If you are interested please email me at [email protected] and put as a heading – Documentary proposal / (your subject description). 

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Report on the Climate Crisis Group Meeting at the 2019 Conference

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We formed a group of 10 people discussing the state of the world and the climate crisis.

We discussed the impact that Greta Thunberg has had on raising awareness of the issue. From her early actions of sitting outside the Swedish parliament demanding politicians  take the climate change seriously, to her travelling around Europe by train, addressing other governments, urging everyone to treat the situation as a crisis, she has been an inspiration. “Our house is on fire”, she says, “we need to act now”. Only then can we expect a serious response to a serious problem. Her little book is entitled “No One is Too Small to Make a Difference”, is an inspirational read and is produced by Penguin at the subsided cost of £3.00. Greta has now crossed the Atlantic in a sailing boat to attend the climate change conference in the USA.

There is a lot of coverage of her speeches on YouTube, which are worth viewing.  Hugh Pigeon circulated a link to David Attenborough’s BBC Climate Crisis documentary.

Alongside Greta Thunberg and the associated School Children Strikes against climate change, is the growth of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement. We have all heard of XR since the powerful London protests a few months ago.  They have adopted a peaceful, creative, civil disobedience movement which is capturing the imagination of people everywhere. Born in Stroud, Gloucester, it is now spreading across the planet. This weekend (end of August), another XR camp will happen in Manchester, and on September 20th a global climate strike is planned.

The group also discussed other related matters such as:-  What we feel in our bodies about the impending planetary doom and gloom? Can we as individuals actually make a difference? How too much bad news can depress our spirits and lead to burn out. 

We also talked about plastic pollution and the overuse of single use plastic at our conference. It was recommended that in the future we should aim to have more sustainable conferences.

Since the conference other UKAGP members have joined our email list. Further questions and suggestions have emerged such as how can we support each other and our clients when they are exploring their fears about environment breakdown and the future? There has also been a suggestion that as a gestalt community we support a tree planting charity.

If you would like to be involved in the climate crisis group, drop me a line via [email protected] and I will add you to the list.

Danny Porter     September 2019

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