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In this issue we complete the discussion on parallel processes in organizational situations that can impact the coach, consultant, or consulting team. The focus is on the parallel processes and how not only are we part of the field, we are influenced by it as we co-create it, consciously or unconsciously.

Highlighted professional and executive development programs are for programs at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland’s Becoming an Effective Organizational Intervener (BEI), Conflict Confrontation, & Negotiation, (CCN) and the Coaching Program. BEI is focused on increasing the effectiveness of consultants and executives. The basic issue is that to induce change we must interrupt the system or it will continue as it has been designed. Furthermore, BEI increases the effectiveness by enhancing the skills to influence others (employees, clients, etc.) whether you have formal power or not.

CCN is a program focused on how gestalt theory informs us in addressing conflict, confrontation, and negotiation. All three topics have become critical or core competencies of effective executives, coaches, and consultants. This brand new program will be quite exciting.

Enjoy the newsletter, and please forward the newsletter, if you know someone who might be interested. If this newsletter does not serve your needs, just click unsubscribe below.

Bountiful blessings

Herb Stevenson


Bottom Line of Coaching....


Parallel Processes

Field theory and projective and introjective identification connote an interesting possibility—that we have parallel processes occurring between our self and others and that these processes are not limited to a single dyad. "For instance, in supervision it can very easily happen, and frequently does, that what is happening in the [client] situation under discussion gets re-enacted and played in a supervision session." (Parlett, 1991, 79; Clarkson, 2002, 69)

"Studies of parallel that what happens in one system has an impact on another... [As such] parallel process may be seen as the playing-out of experiences that are unresolved and out-of-awareness. Our past experiences cause us to recreate habitual patterns of behavior in our interaction with others that parallel the original" (Davies, 1997, 114). As Gestaltists, this is a source of valuable and insightful information about field dynamics between the self and others. "As a resource in an organisational context, the possibility of using parallel process is of value only if the consultant is sufficiently aware of her experience to identify and verbalise authentically her process as part of the total field" (Davies, 1997,115).

In my experience, the parallel process develops in the background of a discussion between the client and the Gestaltist. Often, it has occurred in the introductory or fact-finding part of a discussion, where the Gestaltist is attempting to collect enough ground for a common figure or theme to surface and be sufficiently supportive to the client's story to not be escorted out the door. The parallel process seems to develop as the content becomes thicker and the client is diligently attempting to clearly explain the situation while the Gestaltist is attempting to make sense of the situation1. At this point, if a parallel process is taking place, it is common to get a clear image or awareness about my internal process. Sometimes, it is as simple as I don't understand what the client is attempting to tell me and then verbalizing the experience. Other times, it is something as simple as noting that "I feel utterly confused and incompetent at this moment" or that "I am feeling highly agitated without knowing why". Interestingly, more times than not, the expression of my internal process triggers a satori experience, an insightful "ah ha", in the client that helps them to understand the situation better and change. Typically my reporting my internal experience triggers the release of a figure that was not formed enough to be able to stay fully in awareness. Often, the source of their "ah ha" seems to be similar to Bollas's concept of the "unthought known" where the client is not conscious that an embedded or parallel issue is hanging on to the perceived facts of the story. When spoken by the gestaltist, the association between the story and an internal known, often not yet spoken, is made.

Unclaimed Culture

For example, in a team intervention with an African-American social service agency, the agency was seeking assistance in re-visioning itself. Preliminary information provided by the team revealed that if the team had not known differently, it could be conceived that it is a Caucasian, euro-centric social service agency. Utilizing this issue, a dialogue was initiated.

The CEO and Vice President were asked to tell their story. The CEO noted that the organization had grown significantly over the 20 years that he had been the chief executive officer. The Vice President had been with the agency for over 25 years and had been the operating officer that implemented each of the programs as they have been designed and developed by the CEO. The CEO described several services, such as the Rites of Passage program, the Adult Development Program, and the Healthy Family/Healthy Start program as examples of how the organization has attempted to meet the needs of the local community. Throughout the description of services, when either officer alluded to the underlying values that seemed to drive the service offering, their excitement and energy around the topic would dramatically increase. In my mind, these values were related to cultural, family, and/or tribal values of taking care of community members from cradle to grave2.

Noteworthy is that when the other members of the team redirected the conversation toward the originally contracted work to re-vision the organization, the CEO and Vice president would refocus, swallow their excitement, and use traditional business management language to discuss the need to move the organization into the next millennium.

To verify this process, I noted the differing behaviors between the "business of the organization" as advocated by the white team members and the references to story telling, managing life cycles, the African artifacts throughout the building, etc. by myself, a native American. Both officers immediately indicated that indeed the underlying purpose and driving force (spirit) of the organization related to such values. They added that they were unaware they had altered their behavior when redirected by the other team members. The discussion continued with the team seeking to refine this insight of cultural values into a clearer picture of "what is" this organization. It was asked if it would be more accurate to say that the organization is a social and cultural services provider. Again, both noted that the inclusion of culture is more accurate than just a social services provider. The officers were asked why none of the cultural aspects of the services were included in the printed materials. Neither had an answer, except that the values were simply something that was understood by everyone. Instead of talking about them, everyone simply lived them. Both officers were asked to reflect on the exclusion of these cultural values in printed materials about the agency.

The parallel process surfaced in this case through my acknowledging my internal experience of the situation. I became aware that I was feeling constrained and that unless I expressed more fully who I was as a native American, it would not be known that much of my community oriented values were the same as those of the CEO. As indicated, I censored or filtered my internal experience into an inquiry about the client instead of a statement about myself. Nonetheless, it was clear that my internal process was providing important data about the dynamics occurring between the client and myself. By remaining present-centered throughout the engagement, I was able to maintain an awareness of myself as a source of information while simultaneously tracking the client's story. Furthermore, in a subsequent meeting with the client, I shared my initial reactions with the CEO. He was a bit shocked at my comments and then stated that my reaction was nearly verbatim to his internal frustrations between fitting into the larger business world and fully engaging the cultural heritage of the organization.

Rae Davies provides a detailed example of a similar situation she found herself. She was in the midst of a consulting assignment that created tremendous anxiety. Instead of covering up her anxiety she voiced her reaction, trusting in the knowledge that whatever she was experiencing was valuable and relevant.

"My words were: ‘I suddenly feel very alone and exposed and now I feel quite scared with everyone looking on.' The client looked to me and exclaimed ‘That's it. That's exactly what's happening to me' Now I realise what has been holding me back, it's the fear of being alone again.' Although I knew my experience was relevant I had not expected the strength of his reaction. The ‘ah ha' experience changed his perception of his difficulty, realising that the fear of finding himself alone and unsupported was the root of his inability to make a decision. From that point of view he could take on the necessary action to resolve his dilemma. Contact was made and the field changed" (1997, 115).

Colluding with the Client

A similar yet more complex internal response involving a parallel process is to become aware that I am colluding with the client by not revealing my internal experience or by not revealing something about or to the client that is pertinent to the situation that I sense to be true. For example, when the child spoke the obvious that "the emperor had no clothes", it revealed the unspoken collusion that had occurred between the emperor and his subjects. The emperor at some level chose to ignore the facts that presented themselves, which in turn was projected into and accepted by the subjects until the child spoke. Beyond the obvious consideration of how innocence often speaks the truth, it reveals that some other process occurs that is passed from person to person and creates a collusion of illusion. What exactly is this energetic communication, that is unspoken but clearly understood, is not clear. However, it has been noted that "experiencing oneself as somewhat "out of character," or acting in ways that seem slightly odd, is indicative of unconscious communication from the client system" (Krantz & Gilmore, 1991, 327). In such situations, the consultant is being beckoned to alter his or her perceptions to match the picture being presented by the client. By staying present-centered and aware of one's internal processes, the consultant is able to recognize that something might be out of kilter. Checking it out with the client often foils the illusion that is being presented and creates the insight that enables the client to move beyond its impasse.

Team Processes

Noteworthy is that parallel process is not limited to a single person as in the case of a consultant and a single client. The identical process can occur between a consulting team and a client team. Typically, when a group dynamic of the consulting team begins to become more figural than the client's problem or situation, it is likely that the consulting team is unconsciously playing-out the unspoken, group dynamic of the client team. In this case, the consulting team has assumed the roles of the client team. "In terms of the consulting relationship, this process can pull the consultant powerfully in and out of roles that are much more appropriate for actual members of the organization. The over-functioning consultant often takes on a kind of executive staff role that unintentionally reinforces fantasies of internal incompetence and efforts to sidestep responsibility for difficult actions" (Krantz & Gilmore, 1991, 326).

Similar to the disclosure of the process within a dyad, the consulting team could disclose its internal process to the client. ((Krantz & Gilmore, 1991, 322) One method of disclosing this phenomenon in Gestalt teams is to discuss the actual process amongst the members of the consulting team in the presence of the client team as juxtaposed to the more normal process of holding a meeting with the client as a full participant and not an observer. If it is a parallel process, the client team will suddenly become aware that the consulting team is mirroring the client-team's process. Typically, this results in the client team shifting its focus to its internal process as a means of resolving whatever issue has brought them together.

Non-linear time

In the team intervention at the African-American social service agency noted in prior paragraphs, a parallel process developed around group dynamics prior to the first meeting. At a large group level, the parallel process was the consulting team's initial unwillingness to deal with racial differences between the team and client directly with the client. This resistance surfaced prior to visiting the client. I deflected the discussion, only to later discover my unwillingness to openly claim my own heritage was mirroring the client CEO and organization. This process indicates the inability to easily and/or openly discuss race, culture, or ethnocentricity outside the confines of the self-contained groups was being mirrored at the individual level, as noted in a prior paragraph, and at the group level of system. Moreover, it suggests that once the field or holon is formed between two individuals or two groups, even though they have not met, the parallel processes could be occurring.

The experience made it clear to be mindful of team dynamics and to remain enough of an observer to constantly see if the team is mirroring the client team through a parallel process. Moreover, it also suggests that once client information has been provided and work has begun to focus on the client, the field has begun to be formed. Hence, paying attention to individual and group dynamics may provide clues to client issues that may never be spoken, only experienced within one self or one's team.
Some Thoughts

This article attempts to bring together the holistic aspects of Gestalt as developed by Perls, et al, and the field theory of Lewin. In doing so, it creates a sense of a set of dynamics that occurs in any situation. The dynamics seem to be fluid, ever-changing, encompassing, and not always seen. Nonetheless, through staying present-centered and constantly acknowledging and verifying internal experience with the external environment, the consultant is able to bring new data that can be extremely valuable to the client. As a process, the consultant is constantly asking him or her self the question, "is it real or is it memorex" as used in a television commercial on tape recording quality. As a consultant, the internal sensing could be a parallel process or a client replaying unfinished personal business. Checking it out with the client determines the reality.

Herb Stevenson, MA, CDP, CPC
Cleveland Consulting Group, Inc.

Herb Stevenson is President/CEO of the Cleveland Consulting Group, Inc., where he focuses on organizations that recognize that business is more than a problem to be solved.

Herb is on the professional staff/faculty of the post-graduate Gestalt Institute of Cleveland, where he teaches in both the clinical and the organizational centers. Herb is on the graduate faculty of Cleveland State University where he teaches assessment and diagnosis, facilitation, change management, and conflict settlement in the Master's degree program in Organizational Psychology with a diversity management specialization. He is adjunct faculty for the post-graduate College of Executive Coaches, which certifies executive coaches in affiliation with the International Coaching Federation (ICF). He is a member of the Organization Development Network (ODN) and the International Coaching Federation (ICF).


"In the understandable wish to join successfully with the client organization, the consultant tries to be helpful and sympathetic. If this is done uncritically, he or she runs the very grave risk of colluding with the distorted image of the situation the client conveys...Yet, in doing so, and becoming an uncritical mirror of the client's projective process, the consultant can easily help undermine the conditions necessary for organizational change and development." (Krantz & Gilmore, 1991, 325)

At this time, it became clear that a parallel process might be occurring between my self , the CEO, our team and the executive officers. However, unable to overcome internal inhibitions and express this suspicion, I withheld it.


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Bollas, Christopher. (1989) Forces of Destiny, London: Free Association Books.

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Clarkson, Petruska. (2002) The Transpersonal Relationship is Psychotherapy. 2002. London: Whurl.

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Becoming an Effective
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For over thirty years, the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland has acknowledged and taught that successful leadership requires an indepth awareness of oneself coupled with the capacity to understand organization and system dynamics sufficiently to create effective personal and organizational interventions. Therefore, the basic premise of Personal & Organizational Effectiveness: Becoming An Effective Organizational Intervener is that through better interventions, individuals become more effective leaders.

Learn more on the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland's website, or download a PDF brochure here.

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The Introductory workshop is a prerequisite for attending the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland Executive & Organization Development Program, Conflict, Confrontation, & Negotiation (CCN). This three-day workshop provides an opportunity to experience the "gestalt" approach through learning basic concepts and applying them through structured conflict, confrontation, and negotiation exercises. Unique to our approach is that each workshop is a balance of direct teaching and immediate application.Find out more on the Gestalt Institute's website at .