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Coaching Workshops
Gestalt Institute of Cleveland

Master's Degree in Diversity Management.

Leadership Development
Discovering Our Way: Natural Leadership Retreat

Leadership Development

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MAY 2008

In this issue we open a new discussion on parallel processes in organizational situations that can impact the coach, consultant, or consulting team. In psychology, it is referred to as projective and introjective identification. However, in using Gestalt theory and field theory to amplify the process, we can begin to see that a mirroring effect can occur at the individual, dyad, group level, or organizational levels.

In addition, for those seeking an alternative source of professional development, we will be providing our annual Leadership Retreat at the Blacktail Ranch in Wolf Creek, Montana. In the week-long retreat, besides the panoramic view of the 8000 acre ranch, the opportunity to visit ancient caves that serves as a community during the ice-age, and daily horse rides for those so inclined, we provide hands-on opportunity for personal and professional development. Private coaching is provided each person. Details are below.

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Bountiful blessings

Herb Stevenson


Bottom Line of Coaching....

Parallel Processes in
Organizational Situations

©July 31, 2002, Herb Stevenson


This article reviews gestalt and field theory and the application of parallel processes to organizational situations. Viewing field theory as a literal phenomenon, wherein a field or energetic mass surrounds the individual, dyad, group or organization, parallel processes become an awareness tool for diagnosing the dynamics of any situation within the organization.

The article begins with a brief description of gestalt theory, including holism, and moves into field theory as part of the evolution of gestalt theory. Using the five principles of field theory developed by Lewin, the principles are integrated with similar concepts develops by Perls and others. The development of these theoretical concepts set the ground for discussing field creation, co-creating realities, and parallel processes.

The article shifts briefly to projective identification in psychoanalysis to deepen the understanding of parallel processes. Projective identification tends to be an unconscious transference and counter-transference, an exchange of alienated parts or unclaimed roles of the self. Parallel process suggests that behavioral exchanges similar to projective identification will be acted out between the client and consultant, but not necessarily parallel in linear time as in the case of acting like the client team prior to meeting with the client.

Gestalt Background

The German word Gestalt, in its most basic terms, means the pattern, the whole, the configuration, the constellation. As a theory, it is most known for its holistic approach which connotes that the structure of psychological processes is both different from and much more than the sum of its parts. In psychological terms, the aim of the Gestalt approach is to discover, explore and/or experience his or her own shape, pattern and wholeness, such that the integration of all alienated or disparate parts can occur. As a theory, "Gestalt views the central human activity as people's need to give meaning to their perceptions, their experience, and their existence" (Clarkson, 2000, 1, 5).

The Gestalt approach is deeply ingrained with existentialism and phenomenology. From an existentialist perspective, "each of us is choosing what we accept, reject, think, feel, or how we behave" (Clarkson, 2000, 14). According to Perls, "awareness of and responsibility for the total field, for the self as well as the other, [are what] give meaning and patterns to the individual's life" (Perls, 1976, 49). Phenomenology searches for the truth through concentrating on immediate experience without assumptions or presuppositions. "Perls called Gestalt the therapy of the 'obvious'. Description is considered more important than interpretation. Clients are [supported] to find their own meaning through this process" (Clarkson, 2000, 15).


J. C. Smuts (Holism and Evolution, 1926) developed the term "holism" to reflect that "the world consists not only of atoms, but of structures which have a meaning different from the sum of their parts" (Perls, 1969, 28). Perls applied this concept to psychological processes and created the "insight that the whole determines the parts, which contrasts with the previous assumption that the whole is merely the sum of its elements" (Perls, Hefferline, & Goodman, 1971, xi; Perls, 1969, 27). In dynamic terms, this meant that the individual is more than the sum of his or her experiences, as would an organization be more than the sum of the individuals within it. More importantly, the structure that creates an entity as an individual or as an organization determines the parts that are included in the entity. Hence there is a reciprocal and deterministic relationship between the whole and the parts.

In recent times, Ken Wilber has expanded the concept with his discussion of "holons". In basic terms, holon refers "to any entity that is itself a whole and simultaneously a part of some other whole" (Wilber, 1996, 20). For example, a letter joined with other letters form a word, a word joined with other words, become a sentence, etc. Each level of formation consists of whole/parts. Similarly, when we look at an individual, group, or organization, we see a holon (whole/part) comprised of other holons (whole/parts). In short, the holistic approach used in Gestalt interventions is based on the belief that the person is more than the sum of his or her parts. As such, "by keeping an eye on the context or field or whole in which a phenomenon is embedded, we avoid many misunderstandings..." (Perls, 1969, 29). The importance of this concept deepens when we realize that when intervening, the Gestaltist is a holon (whole/part) joining with the client, another holon, to create a dyad that is more than the sum of the parts of the two persons (holons). The particular dyad determines the two individuals that are included. Hence, the intervener needs to maintain awareness of the self, the client, and the holon that is formed.

Complexity As Structure and Function

To understand the complexity inherent in holism, we can look to two explanations. Wilber refers to this as holarchy. According to him, "virtually all growth processes, from matter to life to mind, occur via natural holarchies, or orders of increasing holism and wholeness—wholes that becomes parts of new wholes—and that's natural hierarchy or holarchy (Wilber, 1996, 28). Hence, holism in many ways is inherently structural. However, Billow in describing group psychological processes, notes the functional dynamic of holism. He refers to the underlying dynamics as multilevel nestings, where each level functions as contained and container (similar to Wilber's whole/parts). "The container at one level of symbolic formation serves as the contained at another. [For example] on one level the structure of the thought, the symbol itself, serves as the object or container; the individual's unformulated ideas and emotions are the contained. On the level of the self, the individual serves as the container of the symbols, which become the contained. On the interpersonal level, the pair and group serve as container, while public expressions of the individual—symbols, emotions, thoughts, self-presentation, and action—are the contained. The nesting process is a developmental achievement. Until the nesting process is intact, the process of meaning-making remains incomplete..." (Billow, 2000, 246).

Note: In the next issue, we will introduce field theory as the article will flow through three issues.

Upcoming Workshops
& Retreats

Discovering Our Way:
Natural Leadership Retreat

Blacktail Ranch
Wolf Creek, Montana
August 9-15, 2008

Join us in big sky Montana for a lived experience in Natural Leadership where you will identify, clarify and claim your natural ability to lead. We will leave life and work's familiar routine, complexity and technology to retreat into the clear open space of the natural world and the rich interior of our inner world.

Take the lead for an unforgettable experience in which you will create sustainable leadership and life changes. You were born a natural leader trusting your senses and responding in an authentic and natural way. Natural leadership begins with you being uniquely you and leading truer to your nature.

Find out more...

Coaching Workshops
& How to Earn Coaching Certification

The Gestalt Institute of Cleveland specializes in coaching training and offers a wide selection of workshops throughout the year, including certification. Find out more on the Gestalt Institute's website at .