Responding with humanity and humility: Reflections on an inspiring conference

EAGT Conference, Berlin, Germany
26-28 October, 2018 

When I first saw the conference title “Yes we care! Supporting human dignity in a collapsing field: Giving a voice to those who are hardly heard” I immediately felt drawn to find out more. I knew very little about EAGT or their Human Rights & Social Responsibility Committee. Consequently, it felt like quite a stretch for me, as a relatively recent graduate in Gestalt, to follow my instinctual pull and take the step of traveling to Berlin to attend this conference*. At the same time, I was aware that with my background, it felt like a perfect fit.

During the introduction to the conference someone spoke about coming together as therapists, and taking the step out of the consulting room in response to current crises in the world. In contrast, my experience is very different. Prior to returning to the UK and training in Gestalt, I spent most of my professional life abroad, working internationally in peacebuilding and human rights. It was my direct experience of working at the community level in post-conflict environments, and the recognition of a need for a deeper level of healing, which led me to train as a therapist in the first place. Trying to find a way of honouring my prior experience and incorporating this background with my therapy work is something I’ve been interested in since completing my training.

Stepping into a diverse international community space, and hearing about the many innovative Gestalt-related activities being implemented with and by different communities, throughout Europe and beyond, was truly inspiring. These varied from interventions within more developed countries, supported by the state and institutions, to smaller and more independent actions offered by individuals and groups of practitioners. We heard from therapists working in the most challenging of circumstances on the front-line of Europe’s largely forgotten conflict, in Eastern Ukraine. We learnt about the spontaneous emergence of group circles for collective mourning in the wake of terrorist attacks in Belgium. We heard from those who have been working with refugees and asylum seekers along different parts of the migrant trail, from arrival in Greece, through transit across central Europe, to the challenges of integration in Germany. Importantly, we welcomed some local Syrians who spoke about their involvement in Gestalt groups in Berlin. These voices reminded us of the importance of working alongside people, recognising our common humanity, and finding a way to value the inherent strengths of those often perceived as most in need of help.

We explored together the heritage of Paul Goodman, and the relevance of his philosophical and political ideas for today. The concept of autonomy, and the inspiration of small self-regulating groups to activate themselves, was much in evidence amongst those present. The focus on the here-
and-now, and finding what action is possible from where we stand, connected so many of the different stories that emerged.

It was a very full and busy weekend, with input through lectures, poster presentations, workshops and panel discussions. I appreciated the openness to exploring what we can offer as Gestalt therapists, grounded in the knowing of why we are called to this work, and the humility to be with
what we don’t know. I was touched by the recognition of our deep interdependence: the acknowledgment of how we are all part of the suffering of this world, and how by coming together in our shared humanity we can find mutual connection and allow the emergence of possibilities to contribute to healing. I left feeling both moved and inspired, grateful to have found this space within a Gestalt community where there is a warm and genuine caring for the suffering of humanity, and
where we can explore these concerns without the certainty of answers.

Sophie Buxton Burns – 03.12.18

*The Conference of the Human Rights & Social Responsibility Committee of the European Association of Gestalt Therapists, Yes we care! Supporting human dignity in a collapsing field: Giving a voice to those who are hardly heard, took place in Berlin between 26-28 October 2018