Gestalt Community of Practice
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.
Mirjana chose to study Gestalt Therapy because of she had a very positive experience of personal therapy with a Gestalt Therapist who had been very authentic, real and transparent. These are qualities that Mirjana now identifies as important in her own practice as a psychotherapist. Mirjana completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology and the first three years of a 6-year training program in Gestalt Therapy in Serbia, before coming to Australia as an international student together with her husband and children. She recalls “…when I was planning to come to Australia I looked to see if there is Gestalt Therapy here and I was happy to see that there is…” and she adds “when I discovered the gestalt community here I felt like I came home”.
As part of her master’s in counselling, Mirjana was required to find a placement where she needed to complete 250 hours to meet the course requirements. She saw this as an opportunity to connect with the gestalt community in Melbourne and applied to become a graduate intern at the ConnectGround community clinic. Mirjana reports having felt very supported in the internship through access to individual supervision, training and group supervision with her colleagues in the clinic. She reports having particularly enjoyed being in group supervision with people with different styles and approaches to the work as the interns came from a variety of cultural and professional backgrounds and had a range of professional experiences.
The opportunities to attend training workshops were a great way for Mirjana to learn more about the counselling field in Australia while continuing to develop her skills as a therapist.
After completing the internship and her master’s in counselling, Mirjana accepted an invitation to continue working in the clinic as a volunteer intern. This provided her with valued experience working in the local Australian context, which she believes was instrumental in her being able to secure paid employment in the counselling field.
Mirjana is now working as a telephone counsellor taking calls from people experiencing suicidal ideation. She recalls being worried about trying to find a job in an environment where more structured and short term therapies are highly valued, however, reports that when she was being interviewed for her current position her training and experience in Gestalt Therapy were highly valued and there was a perception that the thorough training in Gestalt Therapy produced staff who are resilient and skilled practitioners.
Karolina Krysinska completed an internship at ConnectGround in 2018 and has been continuing as a volunteer. In 2020 Karolina commenced her private practice at The Gestalt Centre. She credits her smooth transition into private practice to her experience in the ConnectGround clinic which included everything from seeing clients on a regular basis to taking payment and seeking support to respond to challenges that arise.
As an academic with a Masters Degree and PhD in psychology in Poland, Karolina was familiar with the work of the Gestalt Psychologists. When she had the opportunity to do some Gestalt Psychotherapy workshops in Belgium she remembers coming away thinking “gestalt is not only a way of doing psychotherapy it is a way of life. It’s so deep, the whole idea of here and now is just so deep. I have to do something with this, I just loved it so much”.
Karolina was working at a University in Sydney and she found herself wanting something more and started investigating ways of getting involved in Gestalt Psychotherapy. Starting with a 10 week group psychotherapy program, Karolina went on to study the Gestalt Therapy training program at Relational Institute Australia (Sydney). She says “I loved that training. Also seeing clients as part of the training. At the end of the training I wanted to continue seeing clients at the Sydney Clinic, but I had a job offer in Melbourne.”
Karolina moved to Melbourne and continued her development as a Gestalt Therapist as an intern at the Connect Ground clinic. Working in the clinic provided an opportunity to work with clients on a weekly basis over a longer term, of which Karolina says “It’s amazing to see people come and they’re committed to psychotherapy. And also how we develop a relationship. And every relationship with every client is different. I can also see people open up and build trust, and things just happen between us. It really works.”
“[In the clinic]..we work in shifts and everyone is seeing the same clients weekly so there’s a group of us working on a particular shift seeing the same clients, so there’s lots of support in that structure. Also we’ve got fortnightly supervision, either individual or group, which was wonderful, especially in the beginning.
And also what is really good, there are so many Professional Development events here and as a volunteer or intern you don’t have to pay. But it’s kind of nice, you put something in and then you can come and listen to all these amazing people talk about these amazing things they do, this was very important for me too.”
Karolina is committed to her work in psychology research, however is also excited to have discovered Gestalt Psychotherapy, “…as much as I love doing research, and I will continue doing research, Gestalt has opened up something very new and very precious for me professionally and personally. I hope to work 50/50 in research and in psychotherapy. The more I work as a gestalt psychotherapist the more I love it.”
Karolina reflects on her experience of Gestalt Therapy, stating “It’s really changed me a lot, I can feel it. I know I’m different. I’m quite an introvert but through studying Gestalt in our group in Sydney I developed really strong bonds with the people and I’m really becoming more of a people person… discovering people and seeing how we become vulnerable and open and how much we care about each other… it really means a lot to me.
I have also learnt so much about my own growing edges, in the last four years I have really shifted. Getting out of the comfort zone, and finding another comfort zone, that’s been a big insight for me. Being more daring, I dare to get out of my comfort zone and experiment and having the courage and confidence to try things.”
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”.
Cameron Baker was teaching English as a Second Language with students from all over the world, some of whom were unaccompanied minors. His natural tendency to help others meant he would often extend himself beyond the role of teacher, helping students with psychosocial needs and providing emotional support. He enjoyed forming strong relationships with his students, however, he found himself working in ways that were beyond his training and skill level. Alongside his work, Cameron was engaged in a personal development process by attending various workshops and courses. It was through this network that the GTA Training Program was suggested to him.
Cameron completed the training program in 2014. He reports that the program “shook him up”, challenging him to examine the personal themes that compelled him into helping others. Cameron also speaks of learning essential processes such as the importance of self-care, the necessity of boundaries, how to hold the therapeutic frame, titration of interventions, sitting with clients in their experience rather than being an ‘expert’ giving information. Cameron loved the structure of the training program, specifically the attention to group process as well as studying the theory and practice of Gestalt Therapy. Cameron reports that he “learned so much about [himself] and other people and how to stay in relationship”, stating that “a small piece of feedback by the facilitators would have a huge impact that could have taken hours of therapy to achieve”.
During his 3rd and 4th years of training, Cameron undertook an internship at the ConnectGround Clinic, seeing 3 clients each week and receiving both group and individual supervision. Cameron enjoyed his time at the clinic immensely. Through his supervision he was provided with useful feedback that enabled him to examine issues of power and confidence, he developed his capacity to sit in the vulnerability of uncertainty and subsequently found his work became more relational. After completing the internship and the training program Cameron continued with teaching and took some time overseas while he considered what he wanted to do. He later returned to working at the Connect Ground clinic as a volunteer. Through the clinic, Cameron took up an opportunity to work as an outreach volunteer at a local Melbourne secondary school and was offered paid work as a counsellor at the school within 6 months. Cameron reports that he was able to gain enough client and supervision hours to achieve clinical PACFA registration, which has opened up further opportunities for him. Cameron continues to work part-time at the secondary school and is also now in private practice. He has recently accepted a position providing EAP counselling through an agency with a number of contracts with government departments. He has continued his involvement with the Gestalt community through individual and group supervision as well as participating in an emergent leadership program in 2019.
Craig Delphine graduated from the GTA training program in 2017. During his 3rd and 4th years in the course Craig undertook an internship at ConnectGround, seeing clients and receiving individual and group supervision to support his development as a therapist.
Prior to studying Gestalt Therapy Craig had been a practising lawyer for many years. He had travelled to India to pursue his interest in meditation and returned to Australia with the intention of becoming a meditation teacher. While undertaking teacher training in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Craig found that he needed greater skills to work with the emotions that are often brought forth in teaching mindfulness. Craig researched the many options for training in counselling, including attending the information session at GTA. The training program at GTA appealed because “I was looking for personal development as well as the clinical training and GTA fit those criteria”. Craig strongly believes that a therapist needs to have done their own therapy work.
Reflecting on his experience in the training program, Craig reports that “it was initially a bit scary being in a group of people who would give you feedback”, and “while it’s not group therapy, it was the attention to group process that felt most powerful…” and where a lot of growth occurred for him in the program. Craig recalls finding early in the program that “the readings were quite sympathetic to my own way of thinking about the world”, however he wanted to know more, and, after completing his studies at GTA, enrolled in a Master’s program to extend his knowledge of the influence of psychoanalytic theories on Gestalt Therapy theory and practice.
On the contribution the training program has made to his development, Craig reflects that ‘there is no question that I feel much more comfortable being with another person in whatever emotions are going on.” Craig reflects that his experience as a student intern at Connect Ground also played an essential role in his development as a therapist, stating it was a very positive experience for him. Through the internship Craig was able to gain experience working with clients in the clinic as well as on site at Thornbury High School. He also undertook voluntary work at the Victorian Aids Council, (now Thorne Harbour Health). He reflects fondly that he loved this work and felt that the clinic was really well run.
Craig is now working in private practice as a psychotherapist and facilitates a group program at ConnectGround that integrates his experience with mindfulness meditation and relational Gestalt Therapy to support participants to learn more about their own relational themes.