Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Succeeding in Diversity

The trainers barked, “Mill around, get next to people, look for the most desirable person for your Personal Goals group next year. Keep milling around, try different people, see how you feel near them. In the end you will choose one and tell him/her why you did so.”

An expert directions follower, I milled … and wondered how I got here.

My engineering education and skills had served me well. I did technical work well enough and long enough that my employer thought it was time to lead and direct. I immediately took to it, sensing perhaps I had found a hidden skill. Even if true, I knew that, like a diamond, to shine I’d need considerable honing, and possibly some pressure.

I needed to break my addiction to analysis, judgment and all manner of left-brain activity common to engineers.   To explore this, I enrolled in a two-year training program. Each year consisted of six weekends bookended by two additional, longer, residential weekends. It was an intensive program in the Theory and Methods of Gestalt Psychology.

This psychology believes that the whole person is involved in his reaction to and relation with her environment. All change, then, involves the entire person. Awareness is the fulcrum on which everything balances. The Gestalt Institute of Cleveland, and its offshoot organization in the Twin Cities, provided the staff. Its mission: “To create powerful, positive change in individuals, groups, organizations and communities.” I knew and respected some of the staff, and people whose opinion mattered recommended this program.

Diversity may have blessed me; the other students were in the helping professions. I was one in twenty-five. A male, I was another minority. My fellows brought some diversity in their own right, and included a young woman from Duluth, just starting her counseling career; an established male psychiatrist from the VA whose solution to a mental health problem was a chemical; a blind female psychologist hoping to be a management consultant; a male chaplain at Methodist Hospital.

My peers understood psychotherapy, but not the Gestalt approach. And I experienced the approach as somehow embedded in my DNA. It was not easy; I am not saying that. I readily understood, but struggled to implement, individual ideas. I frequently struggled to integrate the many ideas. I hated practicums, practicing the ideas in mock one-on-one therapy with other students. But I both learned and grew.

The head trainer was adamant that, for the best training, everybody must apply the material in a personal way. Thus, each of us belonged to a four-person Personal Goals group, whose purposes were to help us do that and hold us accountable for doing it. Except for purposes and makeup, everything about this group was self-defined.

In the current milling about, I sought the person I most wanted in my group. I milled. And milled again. I finally found someone next to whom I felt good, about whom I felt good, whom I wanted in my Personal Goals group.

To my utter delight and surprise, exhaling, I saw that five students had also chosen me as their most desired. I was elated, humbled, and not a little choked up.

One of the trainer trainees later said, with a hug, “Walter, you’ve broken through, you’ve succeeded here.” Indeed.

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