|dc.description.abstract||Gestalt therapy is a form of psychotherapy founded in the early 1950s as an approach to enhancing the health of its clients within a supportive therapeutic relationship by enhancing their self-awareness, choice, and spontaneity. The provision of Gestalt professional education for Gestalt therapy practitioners is closely linked with the beginnings of Gestalt therapy. It mainly occurs in private training institutes. Gestalt professional education providers are under pressure to respond to the demands of a changing cultural context such as through the provision of credentials endorsed by national regulatory authorities. However, only limited empirical research has been conducted on that situation. The goal of this research project, then, was to explore the key understandings, dilemmas, experiences, and decisions of major players within Gestalt professional education institutes in relation to what they saw as the demands of the contemporary cultural context. Three research questions were formulated to address that goal:
(1) What are the understandings and experiences of the directors, academic staff, and students of Gestalt professional education institutes regarding the issues arising in their institutes from the contemporary cultural context?
(2) What are the understandings, choices, and directions informing their programs in response to those issues? and
(3) How are the institutes responding to the issues?
A qualitative multiple case study methodology was employed involving five institutes from Australia and New Zealand. Three sources of data were used to build each case: qualitative individual interviews; focus group discussions; and formal and informal documents. Participants were the institute directors, a selection of academic staff, and a selection of students. A peer-reviewed article has been published as part of the PhD project (O’Regan, Bagnall & Hodge, 2017). That article identified three common modes of Gestalt professional education in Australia and New Zealand. This study refined these modes as non- accredited, professionally accredited, and higher education. Following an interpretive and reflective analysis of the data, seven dimensions were constructed to articulate a cohesive response to the research questions:
(1) philosophical integrity, as the extent to which the given mode was seen as either facilitating or inhibiting an institute’s ability to conform to the underlying philosophy of Gestalt therapy;
(2) curricular quality, as the extent to which the mode was seen as influencing the rigour and quality of an institute’s curriculum;
(3) institutional autonomy, as the extent to which the given mode was seen as either facilitating or inhibiting an institute’s ability to make decisions freely and without external restraints;
(4) compliance costs, as the extent to which an institute was seen as being required to expend resources in order to join or stay within the given mode;
(5) student access, as the extent to which the mode was seen as promoting a diverse student population within an institute;
(6) institutional sustainability, as the extent to which the mode was seen as enhancing the ongoing financial security of an institute; and
(7) graduate marketability, as the extent to which graduates from the given mode were seen as being attractive in their professional field.
The study revealed that relevant stakeholders were faced with ambiguous and paradoxical demands in maintaining the integrity, rigour, and sustainability of their institutes. The major tensions centred on how institutes managed the threats to their sustainability while staying true to the philosophical underpinnings of Gestalt therapy. It was found that the mode of Gestalt professional education reflected how the institutes responded to the tensions inherent within each dimension. Each modal position presented advantages and disadvantages in managing those tensions. The study further highlighted the point that those within higher education risked their philosophical integrity by engaging in the performative and instrumental practices required by the regulators. Those institutes in the non-accredited mode (and to a lesser extent the professionally accredited mode), while complying with the existential and humanistic strivings of Gestalt, presented barriers for potential students from low socioeconomic backgrounds to join their institutes, aligned to the institutes’ user-pays model.
The research makes a unique scholarly contribution to the field, both in its substantive findings and in the modal and dimensional frameworks developed in the study. The substantive findings are expected to inform providers of Gestalt professional education in their reflections and deliberations on their own experiences, the options that they face, and the choices that they make. The modal and dimensional frameworks may serve as a model for future research into the field. The issues identified and examined in this project may have interest and value also for those from cognate educational settings.||