Engaging Our Community Conference 2015

Karen-Marie McPherson

Dipping my toes in

Feeling a whirl of anxiety

That avoidant part I know and loathe so much

Wanting to belong yet wanting to hide

But hellos, glances, smiles and processing help more then anyone could have known

Now left with a sense of connection and that maybe just maybe I could have a place in this world

No longer tentatively dipping my toes in but not yet fully emerging myself

Sitting with my curiosity

Gaie Houston

Like many others, I imagine, I am full of admiration for all who worked to keep us informed about the conference at every step, and who were responsible for making it work so well. My very warmest thanks.

Contact, Awareness and Response-ability are the old bedrock slogans of Gestalt, all amply exercised over the days in Nottingham, consolidating the sense of community I feel when I am with other people who have taken on Gestalt values as they variously interpret them.

My workshop was about using the huge range of skills that were present in that gathering, not just for the repair work of therapy, important as that is, but in the larger community, promoting right livelihood in settings where the words counselling and therapy are perhaps not used, or dreaded.

Our community, in the title of the conference, could be seen as the Gestalt family itself, and that surely was the place to start. The more cheery and secure that place feels, the freer I hope people will feel to focus on gaps in happiness, gaps in know-how and coping in all age-groups and social settings, and find how to intervene with the creativity Gestalt encourages.

Bother. This sounds like a sermon, and was only meant to convey my excitement.


Bob Smith, Psychotherapist and Director of Birmingham Counselling & Psychotherapy Centre: “Best conference I’ve been to for a while!”



Emergent Relatedness

My story of this conference involved a lot of dialogue without words. Communicating, making contact with my hands, a wall, trees, crystals, clay,.. Moving with other people, engaging, experimenting…

And some people really spoke to me! …to that part that has no words and that was tentatively emerging. I felt touched, moved, in pain at times or full of longings or sadness.

I was drawn to workshops that helped me to be more in touch with that part, relate with and from that part.. allow it to be.

When I looked at my piece of clay after allowing my hands to flow with that part, it looked like a nice, solid, protective dome – not quite ready to take shape, but something was slowly emerging. And I could choose to be open or closed.

According to Daniel Stern (1985, The Intersubjective World of the Infant) emergent relatedness is the first domain of relatedness which develops from birth to 2 months old, when the infant takes in and begins to organise sensory experience.

In our process group, I remembered my history as well as that of my parents’. My parents are children of the war, born in 1943 in Germany. What must it be like for a baby to be born and “emerge” into a world of terror, chaos, deprivation and constant fear of survival? Maybe already absorbing angst and anguish in the womb?

My father escaped from what is now Poland when he was 2 years old with his mother and sister – no father anymore and no home. This is pretty much all that I know as it was hardly talked about. Not talked about and yet I feel I am beginning to understand as I give those parts of me that have no voice a chance of expression and relating.

Engaging Our Community – My Experience

Jacqui Lichtenstern

My experience of the ‘Engaging Our Community’ conference began almost a year ago, when I and a few other committee members were busy with the final two of twelve months work preparing the one day ‘Enriching Our Community’ conference in London. I realised that we would only have nine months to organise the 2015 conference, and that a new structure would need to be created in order to share the workload amongst more people and make it a less stressful and more satisfying experience.

As I reflect back, from the initial proposal to form a Conference Organising Group (COG) separate from the Organising Committee, and the search for people to join it, to my role as Programme Lead on the COG and the rich conversations and explorations I enjoyed whilst developing the theme, structure and final programme, I begin to appreciate the extent and range of my journey and engagement with the gestalt community.

Working alongside a large group of colleagues was successful in achieving the intended outcome of sharing the workload, and also provided the many mutual learning experiences which come from collaborating on a challenging project together. Notwithstanding organisational structure and the business like planning of the COG, I have also appreciated the unexpected pleasure of making connections with new people and deepening existing relationships. I recognise that we will always have this shared experience, which feels in some ways like a similar if less intense bond to that which many of us feel with those with whom we trained.

I have an image of many colourful threads weaving their way through the Gestalt community, creating unexpected patterns through contact with others. Some vivid patterns that stand out are early discussions with Toni Gilligan around the different circles of engagement and the wider fields we are all part of; a Skype exploration across the seas with Michael Clemmens sparked off ideas and noticing excitement at the emerging shapes of commonality; re-meeting Hugh Pidgeon with a few close friends and engaging in a rich multi layered dialogue interspersed with watching his insightful film and fed an inspiration to invite him to participate in the conference.  And a couple of hours before the conference, the gathering together with those I had invited to lead the large group pieces Toni, Michael, Hugh, Belinda Harris and Adam Kincel, as we met together for the first time, to articulate with each other the particular colours of the threads we each brought, and to notice where and how they have and can meet each other, and noticing the patterns that we create in the process.

Some of the colours that stand out for me are our shared interest in the marginalised and those who do not feel supported to speak, and of how the organisation can support different voices; how we define another in order to feel that we belong, and of owning our shadows; how language can be in service of the pre-reflective.

It was from a desire to try to share some of this rich pre-conference engagement, dialogue and dance, that I faced my intense dislike of public speaking and chose to introduce the three large group sessions from a personal perspective. I pushed myself right to the tip of my growing edge, just resisting the magnetic pull to turn and run from the room. I knew that whatever words I chose to speak I would think that they were not enough, that they hadn’t done justice to the experience or the people or the unfolding journey, and hadn’t illustrated the particular colourful patterns our threads had woven together. However, I wanted to try to complete the circle of that gestalt, and trusted that people would hear my intention.

I have attended many conferences as a participant only, and it is with some fondness that I remember the freedom and lightness of those experiences, as compared to one where participation is very much secondary to organisation. However, I know that I will continue to integrate my learning from this experience into other aspects of my life, and I can warmly encourage anyone who has not yet taken part in the creation of such an event to consider doing so.

Alisa Logan

Thankyou to all the organisers for all your hard work arranging such a successful conference! I found the weekend very enriching and arrived
home very tired – but happy.

The atmosphere was just right and I met some new people, as well as catching up with colleagues I hadn’t seen for years.

The setting, and accomodation worked well for me. The weather was perfect for once. How did you manage to organise this?

Both keynote speakers were most stimulating and I appreciated the way in which they were part of the conference. I thought Jaqui was
courageous sharing how she had come to invite both Michael and Hugh and for me this added greater depth to their work.

One highlight is going outside and becoming aware of the impact of trees on the environment.

It was difficult deciding which workshops to attend, as so many were inviting. I wasn’t disappointed with the ones I chose and that seemed to be the verdict of others I spoke to.

Jim Robinson – Sacrilegious clarity

Something that feels provocative and somewhat un-allowed became clear during and reflecting on, what was for me an enjoyable, contactful and liberating, conference.

This is about how the ‘relational version’ of Gestalt has become the accepted doctrine and in doing so is ‘drowning out’ the ‘individualistic version’.

As I understand it, the limitation of the individualistic perspective is that people hide their emotional insecurity behind self-sufficiency and then projected the unacceptable insecurity onto the other in the form of blame of some form or other. So, attending to the relationship and the “field” is wonderful in opening up and sharing of that insecurity, it makes the “ground” safer, more open and inclusive.

What I see now though is the tendency to hide behind this place where everything is “relational” and “of the field” with an avoidance of facing insecurity. “It’s not just me, it’s co-created”, can form an escape from taking responsibility for our own insecurity.

There is a huge difference between blame and responsibility. Blame is always a projection of badness, self-responsibility is an essential and profound and always ongoing aspect of our journey.

And this is the point that I see as getting lost, from the individualistic perspective our journey is about reconciling and finding our freedom from insecurity, with all the spiritual dimensions implicit in that.

This is not to deny in any way the validity of the relational perspective with its journey of moving towards meeting, towards “I-Thou”, towards “I am you and you are me” with its own implicit spiritual dimensions. As well as of course our need to expand our awareness of the all the contexts we are a part of.

Our defences around facing our insecurity are insidious and powerful, inveigling us to use whatever philosophical cover we can find to support our avoidance. This is a plea for both the individualistic and relational aspects of our world to be encompassed and validated in their own right, “both, not either or” (as per Ken Wilber’s “quadrants”). Both are needed for our journey of ever more deeply opening our hearts and meeting the other.