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Presenter: James Battaglia
This presentation’s focus is on enhancing one’s own experiences of aging, illness, and loss and to regard these experiences as an essential part of being a fully human and authentic therapist. The assumption is that by confronting these issues in our own lives, we can be more present with our patients as they confront these issues in their own. This sensitivity is not without its challenges. A therapist may desire, or may not have a choice, to disclose one’s own illness with patients – a choice that may be fraught and lead to unexpected consequences in the treatment. This presentation provides a place of safety in which participants may choose to share their own experiences and the expectation that all will be received with compassion, respect, and confidentiality. Aging, illness, and loss are present throughout the lifespan, so all are welcome irrespective of age or health condition.
During this presentation, I will share my experience with aging, illness, and loss especially in the context of my own recent history. During the discussion, the three pillars of Gestalt therapy will be addressed – phenomenology, field theory, and dialogue. During the breakout groups, participants will be asked to discuss their own experiences with aging, illness, and loss and how they may (or may not) impact the therapeutic work. One major goal of the presentation is to enhance awareness and acceptance of our own experiences – and those of colleagues – as therapists so we can be in a better position to recognize them and address them with our patients.
James (Jim) Battaglia, PhD, is a school psychologist by training, now licensed in NY and NJ, who was the teaching assistant to Iris Fodor, PhD, at NYU’s School Psychology program in the mid-1980s. After some 30 years of doing psychoanalytic-oriented psychotherapy with children and adults, he wandered into the Gestalt therapy world at Iris’s encouragement by attending a GATLA European Residential in Buffalo, NY, in 2009. He studied at GATLA for four years before turning to the Pacific Gestalt Institute (PGI), where he attends annual residential training – now as a more senior trainee and party organizer. Jim also has been a noncontinuous member of NYIGT since 2013 and has had leadership positions in AAGT.
His medical history includes HIV, cardiac disease (including a heart attack in 2010 while in LA), COVID, and prostate cancer – diagnosed in 2021, for which he was treated with surgery and 37 radiation sessions in 2022. Two significant losses include his “big brother,” Bud Feder, in 2018, and his “big sister,” Lynn Smith, in 2023 the day after his 62nd birthday. Lynn was his high school guidance counselor, who became his friend, and both were diagnosed with cancer around the same time.
Jim has found he cannot ignore his aging, illness, and loss because he is heavily engaged with treating practitioners, his friends talk of their own experiences, and his patients invariably bring up their own during therapy sessions. When it becomes too much, Jim turns to his husband, Jonathan, who, thankfully, is younger and healthier but who, not unexpectedly, has his own losses that are now part of their shared experience. Jim is an advocate of early PSA testing (starting at age 40), and he will be offering in-person and online therapy groups for gay men diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Presenter: Jon Blend
The renowned child and adolescent therapist Dr. Violet Oaklander posited that two common reasons for young people entering therapy are a) difficulty with using one or more contact skills and b) low self-esteem. Many have also experienced difficulties with play and playfulness, especially since COVID. Working with young people requires an awareness of maturational processes and of the changing fields of family, school, and community. Young people differ from adults in terms of their awareness, responsibility, and response-ability. As children develop, some extend their lifespace with relative ease while others struggle with the process of “disembedding” from their family of origin (Mark McConville, 2013).
What helps a nervous, troubled youngster join the relational dance, crossing the threshold into therapy? In answering this, I will first share a memory of an encounter I experienced in therapy as a child. Next, I’ll introduce some “icebreaker” activities that I find help many young clients feel at ease and met in a relational dialogue. Then, a few vignettes from clinical practice will illustrate an arts-based therapy approach. Arts modalities often function as “experience-near” vehicles for children and adolescents, helping them explore issues of complexity and “unfinished business.” The arts may also operate as a “relational third,” enabling therapist and client to find their unique co-regulatory rhythm.
Breakout session – some topic options:
Jon Blend, MA, is British, of Austro-Russian heritage. He is a UKCP and ECP registered Gestalt psychotherapist, child psychotherapist, clinical supervisor, musician, and Playback Theatre performer (www.londonplayback.com). He maintains a psychotherapy practice in London seeing adults, children, and supervisees.
Jon is a faculty member of the Institute for Arts in Therapy and Education and an approved trainer with the Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation. Since 2002, he has taught the Oaklander model of projective arts therapy to psychotherapists and other professionals. His career in adult and child mental health began 40 years ago, as a social worker in various hospital and community-based settings.
Jon has delivered Gestalt training workshops and presentations to institutes and organizations in Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Poland, Romania, the USA, and the UK. His interests include animal-assisted therapies, interfaith working, and transcultural and intergenerational dialogue. For nine articles and training information, visit https://www.gacp.co.uk.
Presenter: Chiara Sovegni
My presentation is about my experience as a Gestalt therapist working with adolescents and people who use drugs on the street from Venice to the Bronx. My observation is of the street as a therapeutic setting and the therapist’s body as the space of creating the here and now of a relationship that tries to overcome the trickery of institutions in order to deliver care.
I would like to present this topic because, after almost 20 years of working on the street in two different countries and with hundreds of different individuals, I am aware of the importance of how “giving voice to those who don’t have one” is part of my responsibility as a therapist and human being.
Through books like Growing Up Absurd by Paul Goodman and Harmonizing Psychotherapy and Community to Enhance Everyday Living by Erving Polster, I learned that the Gestalt approach is about responsibility, and how psychotherapy can be used in a creative way to be accessible to a greater number of people.
The extraordinary flexibility of the Gestalt work allows you to exit your office and go wherever people congregate, taking care of the quality of the contact and experiencing new ways of staying together.
I will discuss how meeting a person where they are at, having a non-judgmental approach, and considering the life they are living as the best they can do in the here and now are the only ways to promote the change that can save a human life, and I will share a couple of clinical cases.
Chiara Sovegni is a Gestalt therapist with a five-year bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Padua, Italy, and a four-year master’s degree in Gestalt therapy from GTK Institute, Italy.
After years of private practice in individual therapy with kids and families, she started in 2004 to work with adolescents and people who use drugs for the Department of Health and Social Services in the metropolitan areas of Venice and Padua. In 2018, she moved to New York City, where she worked as a life coach with Italian women until COVID happened. Since 2020, she has worked in the South Bronx, NYC, with a nonprofit organization, where in 2021 she became the co-director of programs, taking care of the clinical staff’s supervision.