Final update from our chair, Belinda Harris

11 Minutes Read

This being human is a guest house, Every morning a new arrival….
….Be grateful for whoever comes, Because each has been sent As a guide from beyond.

Rumi

Introduction

As I approach this task for the final time I am aware of the power of this moment to evoke embodied memories of people and events that have made a unique impact on me during my term of office with UKAGP, and in my life, in general.  

I have substantial experience of endings occasioned by death, having lost at least one significant person every year for the past 35 years! Difficult as some of these losses have been, and as powerless and grief-stricken as I have felt, eventually solace was found in the realisation that their imprint lives on in my being. I have so much to be grateful for. 

My experiences of other transitions hold strong memories of aloneness, of missing someone special, or of letting go of a well-trodden routine, even when I had chosen to let go. I remember childhood feelings of devastation as my family moved from one home and community to another, unconsciously repeating a pattern of intergenerational trauma. 

I learned to seek out one friend at every new school, knowing in my heart that I would likely have to leave them the following July. Aged 16, the death of my Austrian grandmother, aged 32 my beloved partner, aged 41 my father were all significant and traumatic losses. Symptoms of complex trauma and bereavement eventually took me into therapy where I began the long process of undoing oceans of retroflected anger and grief. Painful and slow as that was, it was also a potent introduction to Gestalt practice, and to the emergence of a less traumatised, less controlling, more creative and optimistic me.

I chose to offer you a small glimpse into my personal relationship with endings as a backdrop to this final update.  As Gestalt practitioners we recognise the power of stories to give us an insight into another person’s relationship to and with their environment. Stories are also important vehicles for fostering connectedness and building community, which we at UKAGP are whole-heartedly committed to doing. I therefore thought I would use this opportunity to give you a window into my personal journey with UKAGP.   

Early days

My first contact with the organisation was in 2015.  Jacqui Lichtenstern, my predescessor, invited me to speak at the annual conference in London. Despite some fear and trepidation about how my keynote on Gestalt and Education would land with therapist colleagues, I soon found myself feeling relaxed and curious.  I remember the pre-conference dinner viscerally; the sensory games we played and the feeling of being overcome by laughter that enlivened my whole being. Before I knew it, I had ‘fallen in love’, not just with Jacqui, but with the organisation and all those who had welcomed me so warmly.  It was as simple and as profound a feeling as that, and I don’t fall in (or out of) love easily – it takes a rare person or event! 

I had finally found a home in a UK Gestalt community, having eschewed any such memberships since completing my Gestalt training in 1997. With a young family, a full-time job, supervision training, a doctorate and private practice all in process I had healthily retreated from community engagement; apart from sharing the role of assistant editor for the BGJ.  That however, felt different. Christine Stevens and Katy Wakelin are near neighbours; both of them live within a 5-minute walk of my house; so, in reality that engagement felt local, invisible and required minimal direct contact with the wider community.  

Don’t get me wrong, I was no hermit! I had begun to connect in a small way when interviewing both Sean Gaffney and Gaie Houston for the BGJ. I remember feeling very shy and was shocked when Sean invited me to give the keynote at a Roots conference in Hungary. There, I met Edwin Nevis, Jo Melnick and Malcolm Parlett for the first time. A couple of years later I went to GISC on Cape Cod to help set up an Education Initiative with Edwin and others; a magical place where I took a sabbatical from the university, completed several GISC trainings, co-trained teachers and school leaders, and met some truly inspirational people; a lifelong heart connection. I felt blessed and full – I had no intention of becoming more involved back home. 

However, that first evening at the Wesley Hotel in London I recognised at an embodied level that I was depriving myself of connectedness and experience here. Moreover, I had a strong sense that I had skills and competences to share. Sonia Nevis always spoke of focusing more on what I/we could give than what I/we might gain from a situation. I still love that message and try to honour her memory in my own way.

I loved feeling at home both in the USA and here. Such a good fit with my bi-cultural heritage. It was a joy to meet and work with wonderful, unique people, with whom I shared some important values. Everyone I met was motivated to work collaboratively for the benefit of the Gestalt community.  Despite this whole-hearted commitment to facilitate, nourish and sustain community, no-one seemed to take themselves too seriously. I found that combination refreshing, especially compared with my life as an academic and practitioner. Within a year I had joined the Organising Committee and a year later I took over from Jacqui as chair. They felt like huge shoes to step into! 

Being Chair

It’s been a rollercoaster ride since then, full of thrills, laughter, creativity, moments of terror, appropriate confluence, and of course, relational and operational challenges. What I have appreciated most of all is a generosity of spirit to support one another, to share our diverse areas of expertise, to work hard, to have fun and to grow together in service of you, our members, associates and friends. My lungs and heart feel expansive; I am quietly smiling as I recall different key moments and events, which helped me to fall more and more in love and committed to the work we had to do.  I am particularly grateful for a GISC scholarship to study Gestalt Leadership for the 21st Century; everything I learned there has contributed to my work with UKAGP. 

As I take my leave I am aware of the many changes that have occurred over the past 5 years:

  • We are now recognised by EAGT as the National Organisation for Gestalt Therapy. We are a gateway for joint membership of UKAGP and EAGT.  We are able to process applications more quickly and at lower cost than individuals applying on their own.
  • We are active participants in the National Stakeholder Campaign to influence the NICE approach to validating therapies as effective for anxiety, depression and so on. This is slow work but we are moving forwards. It is validating to play an active role with other organisations and to contribute a Gestalt perspective to enliven our discussions. 
  • We have overhauled our membership systems to bring us into alignment with EAGT and to make joining and renewal systems easier for the community to manage. 
  • We set up a bursary fund to assist people with travel costs so that people living at a distance can attend our conferences. 
  • We have established a Gestalt Leaders Group which meets monthly so that we can support one another with the opportunities and challenges that being the leader of a training or an institute inevitably bring.
  • As a national organisation we have had to position ourselves, and to ensure that we are active at the contact boundary in support of those who are suffering as a result of seismic events in the wider field. It is therefore no accident that our conferences and workshops have all sought to resource participants and offer ways of being together. We have become more response-able to the field conditions:
  • We scheduled free community meetings, cpd opportunities and workshops during the pandemic, and more recently in response to the invasion of Ukraine. We invited voluntary contributions to build the bursary fund and were able to make a significant contribution to the Disasters Emergency Committee fund.  
  • Our workshops proved popular and have now become part of a regular offer to the community. Special thanks go to: Gaie Houston, Di Hodgson, Toni Gilligan, Malcolm Parlett, Adam Kincel, Piotr Mierkowski, Hannah Turner and Nick Adlington for giving their time and expertise so graciously and generously. 
  • We established UKAGP Connect, an email forum for our members to communicate with one another, and to share ideas and expertise. Marc Williams got this off to an energetic start by offering a group for members interested in group facilitation; we hope that more members will use the forum to set up temporary groups around specific issues of shared interest.
  • We appointed a social media officer, initially Charlotte Hegley, and more recently, Martyna Glowacka. Our social media presence is developing slowly but surely, and we would love it if you could help us by liking and reposting our Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter posts.  
  • Our newsletter now attracts contributors and readers from across the globe. We are making an impact and being noticed within and beyond our borders. That feels healthy and fitting for a Gestalt organisation.  Special thanks to Piotr for the creativity, energy and commitment he brought to the role of editor. It was his idea to set up an editorial team. I am delighted that Gaie Houston, Fiona Turnbull, Angela Mutum and our new publicity officer, Hannah Turner volunteered to be part of that – they are a highly functioning and effective team. Please send them your creative contributions.  
  • At our last residential conference, we began to truly embrace ourselves as an organisation for all Gestalt Practitioners. We took part in a Hakka ritual and explored what it felt like to move and make sound together as a community with purpose, energy and connectedness. We also undertook a constellation of our community and included Gestalt practitioners working as OD Consultants and Coaches. This inclusivity is one way we can learn from and support one another with our different areas of expertise, and grow together – I hope we will build on this and engage more frequently with Gestalt practitioners working in other roles and contexts.  
  • Each conference theme has emerged seamlessly on the energy and engagement of the previous event, and our capacity to stay with uncertainty and work with emergent processes has been touching to experience. 
  • We have begun to explore ways of staying connected at the contact boundary and being with our racial and cultural differences, including our intergenerational trauma. Our last conference on healing dialogues was challenging and energising in equal measure. We have a lot further to go, if we are to feel like a safe base for our BiPOC ( black, indigenous, people of colour) trainees and colleagues.  I hope this important work will continue. I am so grateful to Eugene Ellis, Carmen Joanne Ablack, Lucy Christopher, Sharon Beirne and Dawn Gwilt for all they brought to every stage of the process.
  • In July this year we will create spaces for more stories to be shared and chewed over together. This is so important at this time of polarisation and fragmentation. 

To you, our community

Most of all I want to thank you, our community, which has grown steadily in recent years. Without you we would cease to exist. You have guided our thinking, our decision-making and our actions at all times. So many of you have supported us by offering your time and expertise. You have helped us with our conference planning and delivery, with our workshop and seminar programme, and with trainee meetings. Piotr’s development of the UKAGP newsletter is being continued by a small but perfectly formed editorial team. Thanks also to everyone who contributes to the UKAGP Member’s Connect forum and to our annual surveys. Finally, many of you have helped in different ways to contribute to our new bursary fund. As a small organising committee we have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to enable and support a range of initiatives and events that are important to you. However, without your participation our capacity to provide such opportunities and to thrive as an organisation is limited. Thank you all.

In my leadership roles over the years I have often felt alone. The weight of responsibility and accountability has at times felt overwhelming, especially when amplified by the projections and transferences of others. As chair of UKAGP I have rarely felt or been alone.  It has been an honour to support and enable the development of UKAGP with my colleagues and with all of you. The quality and amount of support I have received has been heartening, motivating and hugely gratifying. I would have to use all of this newsletter to mention everyone whose care, presence and support has influenced, touched and impacted me. Here are just a few who deserve special mention:

Jacqui Lichtenstern
Adam Julius Smith 
Alec Parsons-Smith
Vicky Eugenio
Piotr Mierkowski
Liz Beauchamp
Gaie Houston
Danny Porter
Deb Lane
Carmen Joanne Ablack
Di Hodgson
Eugene Ellis 
Faisal Mahmood

Lucy Christopher
Dawn Gwilt
Toni Gilligan
Adam Kincel
Rachel Kellett
Terri Windsor
Liz Smears
James Bailey
Ruth Nightingale
Hugh Pidgeon
Madeline Fogarty
Malcolm Parlett
Helen Thomas
Felicitas Rostas

Ian Greenway
Marc Williams
Renata Mizerska
Christel Segander
Bernard Thosold
Veronica Klingemann
Beatrix Wimmer
Jan Roubal
Nick Adlington
Achim Novak
Peter Philippson
Graham Colbourne
Wilma Tripp

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Endings and New Beginnings

There are three other people leaving UKAGP this summer.

Alec Parsons-Smith has been the welcoming face and voice of UKAGP throughout my period of office.  His creativity, calmness, efficiency, professionalism and proactivity have all been an invaluable source of support, not just to me personally, but to all the Organising Committee, and also to many of you. 

Note for Alec

Thank you, Alec for being you and for your huge contribution to UKAGP. Your work has made such an impact because of your graciousness, dignity, integrity and warmth. We wish you every success as you build your therapy and coaching practice and develop your new passion as a weaver.

We are very sad to lose Terri Windsor our Finance Officer and Liz Smears our Trainee Officer. Both Terri and Liz brought huge enthusiasm, energy and goodwill to UKAGP. They were both delightful to work with. Unfortunately, for reasons beyond their control, their lives and priorities have changed significantly during the pandemic and they have decided to withdraw from the Committee. I personally enjoyed working with each of them and want to wish them the best as they both enter a new life phase and leave UKAGP behind. It is my sincere hope that they will one day return to UKAGP and come to a workshop or a conference, so that we can thank them in person.

Welcome! 

I am delighted to announce the appointment of our new administrator. June Heath is a trainee at the London Gestalt Centre and has recently moved to Bristol. June made a great impression on Ruth and I at interview. June has been working closely with Alec for the past couple of months and has taken over the admin reins with ease. I am enjoying June’s professionalism, creativity and courage to speak their mind – not always easy for a newcomer in a group of strong, opinionated people, such as ours! Please welcome June to our community and support them to settle into their new role with ease. I am confident we made a good appointment and look forward to working with you June, as is Ruth. 

I think most of you have ‘met’ Hannah Turner and Nika Jelendorf who joined the Organising Committee last year. They were formally introduced in a previous newsletter but deserve special mention here as they have already made a significant difference in their roles as publicity and conference officer. It has been a difficult few months for the Organising Committee as we have been understaffed and over stretched. Their energy, professionalism responsiveness and capacity for robust dialogue has been a great source of support for me.  

Moving Forward

As we emerge from the pandemic many of us have looked forward to reconnecting with old friends and loved ones. Shockingly, optimism and delight have been challenged and overshadowed by a different equally toxic virus, authoritarianism.  Fundamental shifts in the geopolitical field are leaving huge swathes of people across Europe and the globe in shocking deprivation and emotional distress on a daily basis; stripped of a sense of safety and security, often unable to find or afford shelter, food or clothing.  The importance of generosity of spirit, offering practical support and providing a sense of belonging to community is critical, and I would argue, a moral imperative for a community-based organisation such as UKAGP.

It is not for me to set the next course for UKAGP – that will be up to you the community, alongside the vision and leadership of my successor, vice chair, Ruth Nightingale. However, I am going to take this final opportunity to share my wish list for the next chapter in UKAGP’s life. May it:

  • Continue to be a voice and a home where every member of the Gestalt community feels seen, heard, respected, engaged and actively involved. 
  • Enable and support trainees of all backgrounds, races, cultures and Institutes to meet and develop their individual and collective voices. 
  • Continue to foster conversations which help to heal the intergenerational and daily trauma of racism experienced by members of our community. .
  • Work closely with EAGT to foster dialogue and policy development in the field of anti-oppressive practice; UKAGP could lead this discussion so that race and anti-oppressive practice become a core professional competence, fostered during initial training, and continuing professional development for more experienced practitioners.
  • Develop and extend our contract with EAGT to offer joint membership for supervisors
  • Build our social media presence and engagement.
  • Remain response-able to the field conditions and continue to offer regular opportunities for being, learning and growing together through workshops, seminars and community meetings.
  • Co-host a joint conference with EAGT, IAAGT … or another non Gestalt organisation.
  • Continue to offer exciting, engaging, innovative and process focussed conferences, which are open to and inclusive of everyone, regardless of their situation or financial circumstances.

As for me, I am just grateful to have had the honour of chairing UKAGP for 5 years. I have loved it all, the highs, the lows and the late nights! Most of all I have loved the community and I look forward to returning as a member, after a period of withdrawal. I want to create space for my own wellbeing, and also for the new team to find its feet.  I wish Ruth and everyone on her team the very best, however they decide to move forward. May their own journey be as fulfilling and rewarding as mine has been. I feel blessed.

Belinda Harris, PhD

Gestalt Psychotherapist, Coach, Supervisor, Trainer & Consultant

Email: [email protected]