Penny Schleiger is a social worker in an outreach suicide prevention program at a major Melbourne hospital. She also has a growing private psychotherapy practice.
Penny graduated from the GTA training program in 2016. Before commencing the training program Penny was working in Clinical Mental Health services in a case management role. She was looking for training that would provide a more experiential learning approach to developing counselling skills and found that by being after-hours the GTA course was manageable alongside working and parenting young children.
Penny describes having felt supported in the training program to develop her therapeutic skills in a graded way that enabled her to grow personally and professionally. It was the opportunity to regularly put theory into practice that was particularly important to Penny’s learning and development. She reports not having been previously aware of the level of personal development that she would engage in throughout the program, and finding this challenging but also nominating this as one of the most satisfying and beneficial aspects of the training for her.
Penny also speaks very positively about her experience of the weekend residentials, which offered an opportunity to be immersed in the theory and practice of Gestalt Therapy. The relationships and connections that she developed with others in the training group are very special to her as this was the context that supported her to develop the confidence and competence to work therapeutically with people.
Penny believes that the GTA training program gave her the skills and confidence to do the work she is doing now, which she finds highly satisfying. On a personal level, Penny reports having learned to speak from the heart, enabling her to speak without notes at a family wedding, something she would never have done before her gestalt training.
When asked what she would say to anyone thinking about enrolling in the training program, Penny said that she would encourage them to do it as “…it is a very unique course with a great blend of theory and experiential learning.” Penny wants people to know that “it will be challenging, but it will be worth it.”
Cam Gilbey graduated from the GTA training program in 2016. He had been a social worker for three years, working in the field of alcohol and other drugs with young people. The training program was recommended as a way to further his skills, so he attended an information session and reports feeling an immediate sense of alignment between his interests and the Gestalt approach. In particular, Cameron was excited by the attention to process and content that he felt was often missed or left unexplored in other approaches. This included the relationship between the therapist and client, the skilled use of the therapist’s own experience with the client to support their therapeutic process and the attention to the context via an in-depth application of field theory.
Cameron describes his experience in the GTA training program as “relentlessly challenging and stimulating”, saying he was “not once bored”. Through re-examining some of the narratives that he held about himself in the world, Cameron realised that these didn’t necessarily fit for him anymore. This was a challenging, growthful and liberating realisation that Cameron feels led to more accurate self-perception. He was constantly stimulated by the course content including Gestalt Therapy theory, the experiential approach to learning and the oscillation between support and challenge that he experienced.
A number of significant moments from his training come to mind for Cameron that he says had a lasting impact on him personally and professionally. The experiential processes that are facilitated to assist with learning and growth are fondly remembered, some of which Cameron reports using in his own work with clients and groups.
Through the training program, Cameron came to know more about his relational patterns and this has made a positive impact on his personal and professional relationships. He has been able to confidently step into more complex work that he is passionate about and finds more satisfying. Cameron has a number of professional roles including consulting for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, providing debriefing, professional development, and supervision for volunteers. He is also a shift manager at the Connect Ground community clinic and has a private psychotherapy practice.
Cameron’s message for anyone considering enrolling in the training program at GTA is “if you’re interested in learning about where you are getting stuck and what themes you are repeating, the Gestalt training program is ideal”.
Ann Linsten came to the GTA training program in 2003, looking for something substantial to add to her practice as a clinical psychologist. She had been exposed to Gestalt Therapy by a fellow student in her Psychology Master’s program and later by colleagues she worked within Veteran’s Psychiatry. The Gestalt approach appealed to Ann’s interest in going beyond symptoms to explore the whole of the person’s experience. She noticed that Gestalt Therapists that she came into contact with were very respectful of clients and she appreciated their focus on the meaning clients make of their experience.
In addition to her interest in developing her clinical practice, Ann wanted to do some personal development work as this had not been a component of her training up to that point. While initially unsure if she wanted to complete the GTA training or just “dip her toe in” for one year, Ann completed the full program. She says “I felt like I was learning a lot of skills that I was able to integrate into how I was working. It gave me a more personal way of relating to clients and skills to explore their experience in more depth and detail.”
The focus on meaning and working relationally, as well as the Paradoxical Theory of Change, were elements of the theory that Ann really enjoyed. She also found that the training program provided a space for her to explore her own experience as a person and as a therapist, which she refers to as “enlivening”. Ann says that the GTA training program “completely fundamentally changed the way I work and it gave me what I was looking for – a more humanistic, values focussed and spiritual way of thinking about people in a very holistic way that is relational and contextual”.
Since completing the training program Ann feels she has a much richer sense of her own life and what really matters to her. She has always loved bushwalking, being outdoors in nature, and the company of dogs. She reports that completing the GTA training program helped her to follow these interests and bring them into her work with people who have experienced significant trauma. In September 2019 she presented a clinical tutorial at the Australasian Conference on Traumatic Stress titled “The Power of Nature: Nature’s Role in Healing and Recovery from Trauma”.
Ann has worked extensively in the field of trauma therapy including working with veterans, people who have experienced interpersonal violence and those impacted by devastating natural disasters. She reflects that in her work with survivors of the Black Saturday fires in Victoria she intuitively brought nature into the room and found that people’s relationship to nature was often a complex and significant aspect of the therapy. Ann is in private practice and enjoys the freedom to work in a flexible way that is consistent with her values and her interests.
Megan Richards completed the GTA training program in 2017. Prior to enrolling at GTA Megan had been a social worker for 6 years working with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse and Refugee clients in community health and other community agencies. Having commenced a new job as a counsellor, Megan became aware of needing extra training in counselling in order to deepen her work with clients. She chose Gestalt Therapy because the awareness-based practice that also focuses on the development of deep relationships without pathologizing the client’s experiences appealed to her personally and professionally.
Of her experience in the training program, Megan says “I went into the training program expecting to pick up a set of counselling skills and what happened is my whole world turned on its head. I learnt a whole new and deeply necessary way of being in the world. Including being in relationships in ways that are open, honest and true to my experiences”. Megan speaks of the residential weekends as highlights of her experience in the GTA training program as they provided opportunities to “really go deep”. She speaks of her appreciation of the willingness and bravery of the faculty to be radically honest and step into the work with the students.
Megan speaks of moving from the idea that therapy is something that happens between two people in a room, to recognising all moments with clients as potentially therapeutic. She puts this into practice in her varied professional roles that include working in a Psychiatric Prevention and Recovery Care unit, consulting and training staff and volunteers at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre as well as working in a therapeutic farm program with young people. In addition, Megan also has her own private practice. Megan reflects that she could have done each of these jobs with her social work training, however it’s the way she does it and the way she thinks about it that’s changed as a result of the gestalt training. She says “what I love is to take the relational way of being with others and apply it to a variety of real world situations in an embodied way”.
Megan’s advice to people considering the training program at GTA is “if you’re looking for a counselling modality with solid skills to work with people in a deeply compassionate and relational way then Gestalt is a really good option.”
Sean Renehan completed the GTA training program in 2015, having worked as a hospital social worker in psycho-oncology and commencing work as a counsellor in the field of addictions. Sean felt he needed more intensive training to equip him to sit with clients in the complexity of their experiences and Gestalt Therapy was recommended by trusted colleagues who had previously completed the training. Sean reflected on his experience in the training as initially being quite overwhelming as he hadn’t realised the level of deep personal reflection involved. As the first year of the course progressed and Sean engaged with a personal therapist to support his process, he reports finding the program “incredibly engaging and very nourishing in terms of connecting with others that were interested in reflecting in unique ways”. He describes his experience in the training program as transformative, stating it continues to support him in personal and professional relationships and has provided a richer way of interacting with people.
During the first and second years of the course, Sean felt the group process work was particularly important and supported him into the practice work in the third and fourth years. Sean states that his current level of solidity and confidence in his work comes from the graded learning process which enabled him to sit and practice in front of his peers in a grounded way, integrating feedback and reflecting on the work.
In his personal life, Sean states that the training program “changed the way I am in the world, making me more reflective and conscious of why I choose things and why I am interested to pursue certain things”. Sean is now working in a combination of private practice and non-government organisations, including working with young people affected by cancer and young people experiencing mental illness. Sean reflects that without the Gestalt training he would not have been prepared for private practice, and he emphasizes the importance of being prepared for this work both personally and professionally.
With regard to others contemplating enrolling in the training program, Sean does not hesitate to say “this is the best therapy training program available in Melbourne” and he strongly encourages people to do it and “be prepared that it will change things in your life”.