Gestalt Community Project

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])


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.