Gestalt facilitation places much emphasis on being present in the here-and-now of a team or organisation. I don’t see it as my role to direct change in a preconceived direction, but to expand the perceptual resources of the participants. By doing so, they’re freer to use their energies to proceed differently, but the choice is down to them.

Figure and ground often seem static: yet what we take to be “reality” is a perceptual construct that may be individual or shared. From the infinite array of elements comprising the context (ground), we “see” the “figures” that convention has taught us are simply “there.” However, when people are invited to play with the boundaries between figure (fact) and ground (invisible, unseen presuppositions), new figures can be given permission to form.

Professor Paul Barber, an esteemed Gestalt therapist and consultant, gives the example of listening to a team of junior staff beginning to discuss their experience of day-to-day life in their organisation. He sensed a simmering but barely articulated sense of resentment and hurt, an assumption that what was said wouldn’t matter because management wouldn’t listen anyway. Talking about “it” directly, whatever “it” was, seemed fraught with danger, leading participants to tiptoe around, dropping veiled hints.

Barber invited a metaphor: “If this organisation were an animal, what type of animal would it be?” Suddenly, the previously defensive conversation erupted into animated life. People immediately began spontaneously creating metaphorical analogies such as “an animal in a zoo, caged and going around and around” and “an animal that has lost its sexual energy and never has any fun.”

This was an intensely powerful movement, transforming the atmosphere of the discussion and generating a sense of collaborative fellowship, a wish to explore and a new sense of being listened to.

The sheer potency of the creative use of metaphor in facilitation is not to be underestimated.

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