This update follows soon after our recent conference, online community meeting, AGM and seminar. I hope that you received my annual update, ‘Looking Back’ and my thoughts about the future, ‘Looking Forward’, both of which were written with the Community Meeting and AGM in mind. This further update is in 2 main parts:
- Personal reflections on the conference.
- News and Announcements: Appreciations; Congratulations; Hellos and Goodbyes.
Part One: Personal Reflections
During the community meeting on Sunday 26 th September, I received a text from the NHS informing me that the PCR test I had taken the previous morning was positive. I was not at all surprised, as I had been feeling really exhausted for a couple of days, and everything had felt more like a chore, rather than the pleasure it would normally be. Fortunately, I knew where I had been infected – and it wasn’t at the conference on the previous Saturday, just in case you were wondering!
Instead, I had spent two evenings during the previous week in the company of my singing teacher, re-discovering my singing voice after lockdown. I love singing, however I had lost a lot of confidence and felt wildly out of tune. She reassured me: ‘it’s only a muscle that needs to be warmed up and then fine-tuned’. The evening after our second rehearsal meeting, she reported that her daughter had tested positive at school. On the following morning a Lateral Flow Test confirmed her own status as Covid positive.
Fortunately, having already had both vaccinations, my experience of Covid was bearable. I felt I got off lightly. However, as my singing teacher’s words kept reverberating round my head, I continued to reflect on the Healing Dialogues conference, which focused specifically on the issue of race, and was underpinned by Eugene Ellis’s new book, ‘The Race Conversation’. Whilst self-isolating, I renewed a long-term commitment to work on my relationships with my Black, Asian and Chinese clients, supervisees colleagues and friends.
I recognised during that time of ill health that making a pledge to stay fully present and non- defensive at the racial contact boundary, is even more important and useful when the going gets tough between a person of colour and myself. At such times, I am aware that my assumptions, privilege, ignorance, insensitivity and/or carelessness are likely to leak, and imperceptibly affect trust in me and the relational process between us. If/when I’m fortunate, I will be challenged and called to account. If not, then I acknowledge my responsibility to stay open, curious and compassionate, so that I catch myself before I harm or burden a person of colour with my (out of immediate awareness) racism.
‘The Race Conversation’, has inspired me to go deeper and pay closer attention to my own embodied experiencing and presence at the contact boundary. This is challenging in many ways. Recently, a black supervisee commented on my unbrushed, unruly hair, loosely piled on the crown of my head. She also pointed out two toothpaste stains on my dark blue jumper. She told me she was ‘pissed off’ with me, as she could never show up as a supervisor or therapist without paying close attention to her appearance and dress.
It would have been easy to go into shame (an old gestalt of mine), at that point, and yet that would have deflected from her experience, and taken us away from attending to her pervasive fear of being judged stereotypically as lazy, slapdash and unprofessional. Whilst I am not usually that careless about my appearance, I realised I had never considered this facet of/burden on my black supervisee’s daily routine. A burden I do not share, by virtue of being white and middle class. In the space between us, the inequity of the barometer of judgement placed on each of us had become figural and palpable.
After offering a heartfelt apology, I was able to acknowledge how sad and ashamed I felt about the additional time and work that she needs to dedicate to be taken seriously as a professional black woman in private practice. It felt important to own that I too might have been/might be someone who could, albeit fleetingly, I hope, notice and judge her for being a bit slapdash in her appearance. Furthermore, I wouldn’t necessarily have caught myself and recognised that as an expression of my white privilege. We sat in silence for a moment or two, taking one another in. I felt vulnerable and exposed. I was squirming inside. She commented that she trusted me a bit more in that moment; she felt met and seen. As I write this now, I recognise this to be a partial account, and one in which I am unable to capture all the nuance and unconscious bias, that was/is present in an exchange such as this.
Subsequent reading helped me to understand that even my unexpressed judgment (not to mention my hypocrisy!) might have been experienced as a micro-aggression*, even if it was not named as such, by my supervisee. Note to self – be much more attentive and attuned to the between. This was a core aim of our one-day conference, and the participant’s survey feedback indicated that some individuals had actively taken the opportunity to warm up their ‘race conversation’ muscle on the day. This is just the beginning of a longer-term process to fine tune our collective ‘race conversation’ muscle. As one participant wrote:
“I think we need more than a once a year dialogue and some ongoing movement like once every other month, or it would just seem like lip service and not go anywhere. A momentum of sorts is needed with a direction, like a series of dialogues and a program, which runs. It would be great to be able to do this face-to-face. I think it was a lot to cram into one day.”
A great example of how to do this can be found at BAATN, the Black, African and Asian Therapy Network. BAATN has a trainer’s forum where therapists of colour and white therapists can meet to discuss their specific experiences of dealing with racism, share ways to tackle problems and find solutions. Eugene Ellis calls it a space for dialogue around the impact of race on identity and mental health. A space where participants can work with the uncomfortable feelings such dialogues evoke. He is unapologetic when he says that this is a feeling space, not just a thinking space, stating that something happens in people’s bodies when we talk about these issues.
This speaks to me, as threat and fear confuse the brain, and can interfere with my own ability to engage in race conversations. Eugene invites people to focus on what is happening in their bodies, and to speak from that feeling, rather than from the purely rational …. ‘to step outside of the politically correct and say what’s on their mind, shake their hips a bit and let whatever energy they have in that moment to come out……’ What a great invitation and learning opportunity!
I am taken with this idea of a forum space where we, as members of the UKAGP community, can share our authentic feelings and experiences of race and racism; of being a person of colour or a white person in the wider gestalt/psychotherapy community, perhaps in separate groups first (e.g. trainees/therapists of colour, white trainees/therapists, supervisors of colour and white supervisors, etc).
What do you think would be most helpful as a way to move this agenda forward?
Would you like to be part of a group, shaping this?
Following consultation with conference participants, the conference programme group and the UKAGP Organising Committee (OC), I will put some firmer proposals out there for discussion. The UKAGP OC would love to hear your responses and any alternative suggestions you may have for enhancing our capacity to meet and embrace one another in all our diversity. That way we might sustain momentum and meet each other at a deeper level. The potential benefits for our own awareness and growth, as well as for our collegial relationships and client work could be significant.
*A recent systematic review of microaggressions (Spanierman, Clark & Kim, 2021)
identified 4 categories of microaggressions. Of relevance here are the first two:
- a tendency to pathologize differences, to reinforce a sense of white superiority.
- Denigrating and pigeonholing – using power to undermine, confine or exaggerate a person of colour’s capabilities, behaviour or appearance.
Spanierman, L.B., Clark, D.A. & Kim, Y. (2021) Reviewing Microaggressions Research:
Documenting Targets’ Experiences, Harmful Sequelae, and Resistance Strategies, Perspectives on Psychological Science 16(5): 1037-1059. September.
Part Two: News and Announcements: Appreciations; Congratulations; Hellos and Goodbyes.
Firstly, the conference:
Organising the Healing Dialogues Conference was a collaborative activity and could not have happened without the help and support of several people.
The Conference Organising Group was comprised of Vicky Eugenio, Liz Beauchamp, Nika Jelendorf, Alec Parsons-Smith and myself. We met regularly to talk through the logistics, and were disappointed, but not surprised, that we had to postpone our original booking. It would take pages to list the number of tasks that were undertaken over the past two years (sometimes more than once!) to get us to this point. Robust dialogue, great teamwork and an unswerving commitment to provide a face-to-face event in 2021 helped to sustain momentum and move us through successive challenges. It is hard to put into words my gratitude to Vicky, Liz, Alec and Nika – a stellar team of colleagues.
The conference programme was put together by a separate conference programme team, comprised of Carmen Joanne Ablack, Eugene Ellis, Sharon Beirne, Lucy Christopher, Dawn Gwilt, Ruth Nightingale and myself. We spent time getting to know one another individually and collectively, and gradually found common ground on which to stand and develop a programme for the day. We wanted the conference to be different, experimental, experiential, inclusive and probing. We all saw it as one stage of a longer journey for UKAGP members and for the organisation; a day that would lead to ongoing opportunities for healing dialogues that truly reflect our approach, and embrace the diversity of our membership, and our client work.
“The Gestalt approach is based on a positive interest in differences. Not only do we accept that in any situation there will be differences in attitude and perspective, but we value those differences. This perspective may seem simple, but it is revolutionary. We do not shy away from differences, nor see them as problematic. Instead, we are attracted to and move towards them. In fact, we look with suspicion at attempts to homogenize and create sameness (confluence), believing instead that growth and development occur at the boundary of the other.”
Melnick, J. (2007) “Managing Differences: A Gestalt Approach to Dealing with Conflict”, Gestalt Review, 11(3):165-169.
Particular thanks to Eugene and Carmen, for bringing themselves so wholeheartedly to the
day, and for sharing their personal legacies so powerfully in a fishbowl. They clearly made an
impact, as evidenced by these participants’ comments on the survey:
“Enigmatic, why at first I felt puzzled by it, like what was the purpose? I then felt feelings of admiration surface, for placing themselves in the middle, and for sharing their truths and vulnerabilities. I then felt this sense of putting historical context into the British history books, through embodied experience and through stories. I felt privileged to be there and witness. To get to know the journeying of two lives, with us and sharing.”
“Respect. Self-disclosure. Historical background of trauma. Place of power, unresolved trauma and personal celebration. Beautiful sense of connection: ‘you are my brother’.”
“Lovely, warm. Would have loved more space to reflect on these stories.”
I am grateful to all of you who completed the conference survey and communicated your
experiences of the day. The feedback indicates that we succeeded for some:
- It was painful, there was a lot of learning and real emotion emerged, which this subject needs.
- A powerful day. It has stirred up so much stuff for me. But that is really what I needed from such a conference.
- This was not an easy experience; nor was it intended to be so. Facilitation was inclusive, thoughtful and very impressive.
For others the day needed more spaciousness and opportunities for dialogue, especially post lockdown:
- I just feel coming back to this event after Covid, we just launched back into it. It might have been a good idea to prepare the group and check in to see where everyone was at the start and reflect on what has happened during this time and what had bought us to the theme today. There was something about the importance of the conference theme itself, and that the pressure of lockdown and covid seemed to have been forgotten. I think this would have been really useful.
- I think the day was well-meaning but could have been structured differently, there did not seem many moments of real ‘dialogue’ in the gestalt sense. Smaller groups, with those groups then sharing to the whole community throughout would have been better. Despite the efforts to make this interactive I think quite a lot of the day the participants were still quite static/ passive observers.
- I felt it was too packed – less would have been more. I would also have preferred to start with much smaller conversation opportunities (pairs maybe, then small groups) before moving into the bigger arena of fishbowl and open forum.
All of these comments are welcome and helpful as we move this important agenda forward.
Now to the seminar programme
Since the Summer Newsletter UKAGP has hosted two seminars, both of which are relevant to UKAGP’s focus on Healing Dialogues this year. In July, Malcolm Parlett ran an evening session: Making a Difference: Becoming a Citizen Practitioner, which examined ways of being and showing up in the field of psychotherapy practice and in society. This took Malcolm’s work on the 5 Capabilities to a new level and felt very relevant for engagement in the wider social and political field.
In September, Adam ran a session based on his doctoral research and recent book: Sensing and Voicing Collective Gestalts – A journey from breath to society. This session followed the Community Meeting and AGM. Adam’s argument moved the healing dialogues conversations to examine how collective Gestalts inform prejudices and stereotypes and underpin human relating in and across diverse fields. I was particularly grateful to Adam for offering a practice oriented theoretical framework for this phenomenon.
Both these events were well attended and highly stimulating. I am hugely grateful to Adam and Malcolm for giving UKAGP their time and expertise. Such a privilege. Thank you both.
The following members of the UKAGP community have recently published a chapter or a book in the mainstream press. UKAGP wants to celebrate their achievements and appreciate all of them for taking Gestalt ideas and practices out to a wider audience.
Congratulations to Dr Faisal Mahmood and Natsu Hattori, for their recently published chapters:
Mahmood, F. (2021) ‘Can I please have White Skin too?’ in. T. Ade-Serrano & O. Nkansa- Dwamema (eds) Applied Psychology and Allied Professions. Working with Ethnic Minorities. British Psychological Society
Hattori, N. (2021) ‘Childhood, spoken and written selves’. In A. Zarbafi & S, Wilson Mother Tongues and Other Tongues: Narratives in Multilingual Psychotherapy. Oxford: Phoenix Publishing House. Pages 33-47.
Congratulations to Miriam Taylor, Emilyn Claid and Adam Kincel on the recent publication of their books:
Taylor, M. (2021) Deepening Trauma Practice: A Gestalt Approach to Ecology and Ethics
Milton Keynes: Open University Press
Kincel, A. (2021) Exploring Masculinity, Sexuality and Culture in Gestalt Therapy London: Routledge
Claid, E. (2021) FALLING through dance and life (dance with dialogue) London: Bloomsbury.
Here is a review of Emilyn’s impact on one Gestalt psychotherapist:
“Coming from a psychotherapy perspective. I initially thought I would read this book by dipping into it as the main focus appeared to be about dance, but after a short time …I FELL right into it and loved it.
Starting out I was holding that it was about dance with the odd psychotherapeutic reference.
While the author’s emphasis on dance is clear, I experienced and thought throughout that this was as much about the expression of life and living as dance and dancing. I could have been reading a philosophy book or a psychotherapy book as with most readings that I engage fully with and enjoy, I felt in relationship with the writer. I felt very moved in many places and could easily make the link to what the author was expressing, through my own worldview with no knowledge of dance whatsoever. Indeed I felt in a dialogue. The clear articulation of lived experience is reflected through the author’s openness and humility throughout as she brilliantly integrates academia, dance and psychotherapy. A wonderful book.”
– Laurence Hegan
One of the saddest things for the UKAGP Organising Committee, is to lose amazing colleagues.
Vicky Eugenio’s term of office (six year maximum) came to an end this year. Vicky has been a wonderful colleague and has led the organisation of our conferences since the one-day event with Madeleine Fogarty in Birmingham, 2018. As a group leader and facilitator, she has had her fingers on the pulse at every stage of the process, and kept the team on a tight, loving, supportive rein at all times. Vicky made sure that contact and dialogue was regular, robust and contributed to shared decision-making and action. A wonderful delegator. Working for her, and alongside her has been such a privilege.
Piotr Mierkowski joined the Organising Committee at our Lane End residential in 2019. He brought such energy and enthusiasm to the conference, and was very clear from the beginning, that he wanted to be responsible for the UKAGP Newsletter. He has been unstoppable ever since! Piotr has proactively sought poems, articles and photographs from Gestalt practitioners across the globe. The newsletter literally exploded into a forum for diverse opinions, reflections and social commentary, and Piotr is never shy of seeking out and embracing sensitive and emotionally charged contributions. Each season, when I read the final version before writing my update, I was stunned, not just by the range and quality of contributions, but also by Piotr’s heartfelt editorials, and his links to music, to events and to wider readings. This was a labour of love by a very loving, courageous man, who never shies away from difficult topics or conversations. If only some of our mainstream media followed his example!
Vicky and Piotr
Parting is such sweet sorrow.
Thank you so much for your professionalism, your energy,
and your generosity of spirit.
You will both be missed!
I am delighted to report that at the AGM in September, Nika Jelendorf was elected to the Organising Committee. Having played a key role working alongside Vicky to organise this year’s conference, Nika was keen to take on the Conference organiser, which is excellent news for Vicky, and for the Organising Committee.
Hannah Turner, has volunteered to support the conference organising group with advertising and social marketing, and is keen to be involved in planning the programme for next year’s residential conference. Thank you Hannah!
I am delighted to report that three people have volunteered to join a new Editorial Team and share the work involved. Thank you so much, Gaie Houston, Angela Mutum and Fiona Turnbull. It would be great to have a couple more people to join them, so if you are willing to be involved, please let either myself or Alec know.
As indicated in my reflections on the conference, UKAGP is planning to set up regular events so that we can continue our exploration of race, racism, culture and inclusion. If you would like to join the planning group, please get in touch with me, or Alec.
Thank you to those people who have already indicated their interest in being part of this: Natsu Hattori, Gladys Diaz, Karolina Burda, Jane Riordan, Jenn Lewin ( from January 2022), Ruth Nightingale and Dawn Gwilt.
I didn’t expect to write this much!
Thank you for bearing with me.
Belinda Harris PhD