We tend to use the immediacy of the BGJ website as a way of sharing ideas and perspectives from those practising Gestalt around the World. On this occasion, we asked Sheila Maria Da Rocha Antony about the history and current state of Gestalt in Brazil, key figures who influenced her own career, and her current work with children...
The beginning of the Gestalt movement in Brazil took place in 1972 with Thérèse Thellegen, who is of Dutch origin. Thellegen went to London in order to advance her knowledge of working with groups from a Gestalt approach, and returned to São Paulo enthusiastic about the workshop she had taken part in there. Along with Jean Clark Juliano, they sought out those representatives from the American Gestalt scene to contribute and mobilise their own training.
In 1973, Thellegen brought Silvia Peters for a 12-hour workshop in São Paulo. Then, in 1976, with a group of professional friends, which included Walter Ferreira da Rosa Ribeiro, Paulo Barros, Abel Guedes, and Lilian Frazão, they managed to bring American Gestalt therapist Robert Martin of the Los Angeles Gestalt Institute, who led two small workshops. Thellegen reported that what they saw in the work of Martin was the image of freedom, permission to be creative; where the therapist was fully engaged in the use of voice, body language, music and a variety of materials such as paint, clay and paper. In short, everything that provided them with a gateway to the inner world of the person. The therapist was his own instrument in the words of the Polster’s and Zinker. In 1981, Thellegen, Frazão, Guedes and Juliano founded the The Centre for Gestalt Studies of São Paulo (now the Gestalt Institute of São Paulo). Earlier, in 1977 in Brasilia, Walter Ribeiro, who participated in the same group in São Paulo, began a small group (of three people) in order to carry on the Gestalt approach. In 1978, this group expanded and then created the first training group which would eventually become The Centre for Gestalt Studies of Brasilia (CEGEST), a task which was assisted by Maureen Miller, Gestalt therapist of Rogerian origin, who resided in San Diego, California.
In February 1987, The Centre for Gestalt Studies of São Paulo brought Gary Yontef, one of the greatest theorists of American Gestalt therapy with a truly solid background in phenomenology and existentialism, to Brazil for an advanced study group. In the years following, several American theorists came to Brazil to hold workshops, teach courses and lectures, amongst them were: Miriam and Erving Polster, Joseph Zinker, Richard Hycner, Lynne Jacobs, Michael Vincent Miller, Gary Yontef, and other international figures such as Serge and Anne Ginger (France ), Gilles Deslile (Canada), and Jean Marie Robine (France). Consequently, the Gestalt approach practiced in Brazil has a humanistic and phenomenological basis and adopts the dialogical approach of Martin Buber, as the foundation for the therapeutic relationship.
During a clinical internship as a Psychology student I met Dr. Jorge Ponciano Ribeiro, a supervisor in Gestalt Therapy at the time. I immediately fell in love with the Gestalt approach, particularly the focus placed on the human relationship between therapist and client, as well as the theories and philosophies that presented a holistic vision of the human being in the World. In 1984, after finishing my undergraduate studies, Ribeiro invited me to train in Gestalt Therapy. I continued with him and completed another specialised training in ‘Gestalt therapy for group therapists’.
In 1996, Ribeiro founded the Institute for Gestalt Therapy of Brasilia (IGTB) with nine other psychologists, including myself, with the mission of spreading the Gestalt approach throughout training courses for psychologists.
In 1972, Vera Felicidade Almeida Campos wrote the first book about the Gestalt approach: Gestalt Psychotherapy – Concepts (despite not being part of any group of Gestalt). In 1984, Thellegen published Gestalt and Groups: a systemic perspective. In 1985, Jorge Ponciano Ribeiro published Gestalt Therapy: Retracing a Path, marking the first Brazilian book to address the epistemology of the Gestalt approach and its theoretical and philosophical field (Ribeiro has authored a total of nine books in Brazil on the topic of Gestalt Therapy). It was not until 1997 that Gestalt Therapy, by Perls, Hefferline and Goodman was translated into Portuguese, with the assistance of Walter Ribeiro from CEGEST of Brasilia as the technical editor. Although other American books on Gestalt therapy had already been translated, such as: Becoming Present and Gestalt Is by John Stevens; The Gestalt Approach and Eyewitness to Therapy; In and Out the Garbage Pail; and Ego, Hunger, and Aggression: A Revision of Freud's Theory and Method by Frederick Perls; Creative process in Gestalt Therapy, by Joseph Zinker; and Gestalt Therapy Now: Theory, techniques and applications, by Joen Fagan and Irma Lee Shepherd.
Psychotherapy with Children
In the field of psychotherapy for children, Myrian Bove Fernandes is considered a pioneer followed by Rosana Zanella. Both are from São Paulo and are strong representatives of Brazilian Gestalt. It took a while before a practice with children could establish itself in Brazil. The movement flourished with the arrival of Violet Oaklander to São Paulo, who in the 1990's held an intensive course on the topic.
I began working as a clinical psychologist at a Mental Health Hospital in 1986, where I stayed for 4 years. In 1990 I became a civil servant and started to work atthePsychopedagogical Medical Orientation Center of Brasilia-DF (COMPP/SES/DF), a mental health unit with a multi-professional team, that assists children, adolescents and their families with psychological, pedagogical, and psychiatric disorders. In this Centre, I worked as a clinical psychologist with children and adolescents, coordinated group therapy and orientation and support groups with the family members of patients, as well as coordinated the Clinic's Psychology sector for5years. In 2002, I obtained my Master's degree in Clinical Psychology at the University of Brasília (UnB) with the thesis ‘The Hyperactive Child as a Totality in Action: A Gestalt Therapy Vision’ with Jorge Ponciano Ribeiro as my graduate advisor. I continued to work at COMPP/SES/DF for 23 years until my retirement, in 2013. At this Centre, I acquired all of my experience as a clinical psychologist working with children, adolescents and families.
There are few books published in psychotherapy for children in Brazil, the first book being written in 2005 by Luciana Aguiar, Gestalt Therapy with Children: Theory and Practice.
Since 2007, I have created a 60 hour course entitled ‘Gestalt Therapy with Children: Theory and Art and have published a compilation titled: ‘The Gestaltic Clinic with Children: Paths of Development’ in which I authored a chapter and collaborated on the book: ‘The Gestaltic Clinic with Adolescents: Clinical and Institutional Paths’ as well as authoring 8 articles for scientific journals in Brazil (3 of them on ADHD). In 2010 I edited The Gestalt Therapy with Children: Growth Paths, a collection of articles and more recently authored Taking Care of Children: Theory and Art in Gestalt Therapy which was translated and published into English in 2014.
At present, I teach at the Gestalt Institute of Brasilia. I lecture throughout Brazil on clinical Gestalt approaches with children, the drama experienced by children living with ADHD, and disciplines in Gestalt Specialisation (Humanism, Psychopathology, Gestalt Psychology, Field theory, Organismic theory and the contact cycle theory).
In addition to lecturing, I give experiential workshops and have a private practice where I counsel individuals (children, adolescents and adults) and supervise group and individual sessions. In my private practice, I work with puppets, sand play, fairy tales, masks, clay, mythological figures, drawings and Playmobil as expressive and projective techniques.