Professor Paul Barber

PhD, MSc, BA, UKCP Registered Psychotherapist



Towards super health: humanistic psychology and self-actualisation

‘Health’ in this essay is not a medical condition free from illness but, rather, is deemed a natural state of being, where we are free from dis-at-ease. It is viewed as a striving towards self-actualisation, supported by humanistic notions of living life holistically (appreciative of all of us and everything around us), democratically (in dialogue and service with and to others), autonomously (with personal responsibility and self-support to the fore), so that life becomes experiential inquiry (action learning), informed by a commitment to personal growth.

With this in mind, we can have meaningful experiences in illness that illuminate us, grow through pain and experience healthy deaths! Note, Joseph Zinker (a renowned gestaltist) studied under Abraham Maslow and did his dissertation upon the self-actualisation of a dying person.

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Fear: the most potent of fantasies

Fear is a helpful reminder of the territory we inhabit. Being unable to settle into a pattern, for instance my own academic style, writing this piece I’m fearful of not being able to do myself justice, letting myself down, and all those other little dramas that preoccupy my little ego-inflated self. And this interests me, for although I’ve experienced profound fear in my body, physiologically, and felt it emotionally when my identity was threatened, a part of me, beyond my ego I would suggest, even at these times was fearless and untouched.

So what is fear? I know what physiologists and psychotherapists usually say, something along the lines of an over-agitation of the organism, a reptilian response of the primitive sympathetic nervous system, an experiential state of risk where an individual feels catapulted beyond their social and psychic support systems. And this might well be true, but these signs are not so much causes as symptoms of fear.

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Gestalt as a spiritual discipline

We believe we are an ‘I’ but, many of the mystery schools suggest we are a ‘we’ – parts of a communal soul peaking from out a spiritual-field rather than an individualised self. They suggest we are one with God and that our essence rests in an ‘eternal now’ beyond time and space. From this perspective we are seen as spiritual or soul consciousness having an Earth-bound physical-emotional-imagined-spiritual experience!

This is in stark contrast to much psychoanalytic literature where the ‘self’ is often used synonymously with ‘ego’, which equates with the ‘I’ that connects to individual identity and social reality; although Bruno Bettelheim (Bettelheim 1983) has argued that Freud’s concept of ‘Id’ was widely misinterpreted, and is nearer to that of the soul than the primitive unconscious later suggested. But this said, most therapeutic approaches do little more than see the ‘self’ as a social construct.

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The nature of Gestalt coaching and therapy: a personal analysis

This article describes a reflective inquiry into the respective natures of coaching and therapy through examination of my practice as a coach and therapist. To help capture and compare the influences at play a heuristic inquiry is used to illuminate what I experienced as different in both domains. Intervention styles are contrasted in each area and field analysis is performed to summarise findings. 

Over the past twenty years I’ve spent a good deal of time applying Gestalt to personal development and professional education, facilitation training, organisational consultancy and team-building – areas more commonly associated with coaching. These days as many coaches and organisational consultants employ me as a shadow-consultant and supervisor as do therapists. But I had never seriously considered:  ‘How coaching and therapy differ?’ or ‘How might each demand a differing facilitative presence?’ With these questions in mind I set out about exploring my performance coaching and therapy.  

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Group as teacher: the Gestalt informed peer-learning community as a transpersonal vehicle for organisational healing 

After reviewing Gestalt’s parity with Zen and Taoism, this paper illuminates the evolution of the Gestalt informed peer-learning community emergence from out of the tradition of Therapeutic Community Practice (Main 1946), before exploring the potential of the same to engender development and healing. Running parallel to this review of organisational renewal is a case study of change in a university setting and the fostering of a peer-learning community in an established charismatic organisation.

Within the body of the text four qualitative research methods are integrated, an analysis of organisational culture is performed through the application of a diagnostic tool derived from the Gestalt’s contact-withdrawal cycle (Critchley & Casey 1989), community dynamics are assessed via field analysis (Lewin 1952; Parlett 1993), action research (Lewin 1947) is used to collaboratively inquire into the success the Gestalt informed peer-learning community through the voices of its participants, and a case study approach is employed to illuminate the day-to-day drama of facilitating cultural change within a resistive commercial setting. 

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The present isn't what it used to be: a phenomenological encounter with Joseph Zinker

Joseph Zinker trained with Fritz Perls and worked alongside Abraham Maslow. Besides being a leading exponent of Gestalt, he is a bridge to its earliest roots. I was first awakened to Gestalt through Zinker's seminal work 'Creative Process in Gestalt Therapy' (Zinker 1978), wherein I found an approach to Gestalt which - though clinically aware and gracefully therapeutic - was a celebration of life and an expression of being; an integration of the art as well as the science of psychotherapy.

In this light, in 2001, when casually asked if I would like to interview Joseph Zinker for the British Gestalt Journal, I leapt at the chance. I therefore unashamedly own my bias in this interview as one of enthusiasm, an intention to learn and enjoy, and to greedily squeeze as much from the experience as possible. In the event, I got much more than I bargained for.

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Keeping psychotherapy trainees in their place: how training institutions can stifle love and breed compliance

This paper pays homage to a paper by Otto F. Kernberg entitled 'Thirty Ways to Destroy the Creativity of Psychoanalytic Candidates' (1996) which echoes much of what I have met as a consultant and practitioner-researcher. In this article I first review major critiques of psychotherapy we have received over the years, introduce principles I associate with healthy psychotherapy, list the ways shadow-driven behaviors can flower in training institutions that forsake healthy principles, before considering what the shadow of psychotherapy and its training may be ‘selling’ its clients and trainees at a subliminal and shadow level.

As a supervisor and community facilitator in my time to several training institutions, some humanistic others psychodynamic, I have ceased to be amazed by how many organizations simultaneously undermine the principles they espouse. Fermenting conditions that promote the exact opposite of their stated intentions, such bodies informally end up acting against everything they formally hold dear. 

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The British Gestalt Society conference: a reflective inquiry and ramble

I write this account in a ‘continuum of awareness’ mode, respectful of sensory and emotional impressions. I may use linear reasoning later when I’ve surfaced data to shape or have a message to give, but for now I will use free association to inquire into my experience of the BGS conference (20th - 22nd July 2007). I hope through this process to distil my impressions and illuminate a clearer gestalt.

An image comes to mind of a fisherman casting his hook into very deep waters – awareness is my bait, my mind the water, and the fish I’m after is illumination. When I want to understand something I write about it. So I don’t know where I am going with this paper – let alone where I’ll end up – but I’m up for the experiment.

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Gestalt in coaching and consulting: a dialogue with holism and the soul

This paper examines the need for a holistic approach to coaching and consultancy, and suggests that a Gestalt-informed vision is essential if organisations are to prosper and to become fit environs for the human spirit. The model described here has already been practically applied to group facilitation, research, organisational consultancy and coaching (Barber 1996; 1999: 2001) within masters and doctorate programmes within the University of Surrey. The model presented is not meant to replace or compete with other approaches to coaching and consulting but to build upon and complement other influences.

Work has the potential to be a mundane pursuit for survival, a social addiction (Harrison 1995), a drama of our own making, a self-actualising or spiritually up-lifting experience. At different times it is all of these things. In this essay I will raise to awareness the various realities we flow between in the workplace, so that you might deepen your understanding and broaden the way you intervene within coaching and consultancy.

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Gestalt - the origins

‘Gestalt’ is a German word meaning pattern or constellation. As an approach it encapsulates a wide ranging holistic vision focused upon direct perception of what a person is sensing, feeling and projecting out upon the world ‘now’. In this way it focuses upon the wisdom inherent in direct experience.

Historically, Gestalt is associated with Frederick (Fritz) Perls, a renowned psychoanalyst who grew disenchanted with its interpretive and passive nature and sought to incorporate aspects of theatre and drama, humanism and oriental philosophy to psychotherapy. In the growing humanistic spirit of his time he sought to create a new vision of the human being, one determined by social responsibility and compassion for others. Creativity, art and healthy living were all seen by Perls as evolving out of immediate inner experiencing, emotional expression and a valuing of feeling. 

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Philosophical review of the nature of love: implications for therapists and therapy and the roots of knowledge

As psychotherapy is often seen as concerning itself with ‘care’ and the cultivation of a loving regard for the self and others through positive professional re-parenting, love is subject to philosophical inquiry in this paper. To help us appreciate how the philosophers cited here developed their philosophy, I have attempted to provide a thumbnail sketch of their location in their time, culture and their family of origin. While reading about each philosopher’s life and work, consider what is the origin of their knowledge and how does this resonate with your own? At the close of each themed section I include critical reflections and questions to help you illuminate your own philosophy and practice. 

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Are we the true Freudians? Humanistic psychology and Gestalt therapy’s honouring of Freud’s legacy

The history of psychotherapy describes a history of forgetting and remembering, a process where problems and ideas once venerated fall out of sight only to resurface at a different time and place to be heralded again as novel and new. What was well known to Sigmund Freud is now only half remembered by the neo-Freudians, largely unknown to their successors, and — if this paper is to be believed — has ended up being re-interpreted and integrated with humanistic psychology! Although humanistic psychologists and therapists have a tradition of railing against Freud, it is my contention that we share much in common with him, and indeed, that in some respects we honour his core philosophy much more than the so-called neo-Freudians. 

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Organisational health and burnout

Health is often spoken of in relation to individuals but rarely in terms of organisations, yet these also often suffer from disease.  This article explores the role of organisational health in consultancy and its impact upon and within the facilitative agenda.

Before I intervene in a client-system I consider not only client readiness but also organisational health, to gauge whether there is enough free energy to support the ‘change’ a client envisages.  Health in this context is an ability to let go of the tried and tested, to deepen contact and risk a meeting with ‘difference’ – a prompt for freedom to learn.  

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Building a healthy foundation for organisational transformation: a reflective inquiry

Before I intervene in a client-system, be this a team or organisation, I consider not only my client’s ‘psychological readiness’ but whether the organisational field is healthy enough to support ‘the change’ they envisage. Health, in this context, represents an ability to open dialogue, to deepen contact and to risk a meeting with ‘difference’.

Indeed, I also look to what I am bringing in terms of 'health' as a facilitator, for I believe to be effective I must embody and demonstrate relational and psychological ‘health’ if I am to stimulate the same in a client system. In this sense, as facilitators, we have a duty – I am suggesting, to maintain in ourselves optimum levels of health.

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