Friday, 27 March 2015

Relational Change at the Relational Movement Summit


March 15-20, saw international leaders in the Relational Movement gathering at Esalen to share how we have been collaborating to develop advances in relational theory and praxis. Together we created a programme for the 50 participants that aimed to gather stories enshrining the values of the Relational Movement and translate these into individual and shared actions that would go forward into the world.



Helena Kallner, Martin Capps, Caroline Matters, Barbro Curman, Malcolm Parlett and Sally Denham-Vaughan had the task of representing Relational Change and developments in the UK, Scandanavia and elsewhere in Europe.

We reported on learning we had harvested from our experiences to date of initiating CANs, (Community Action Networks), and COPs, (Communities of Practice). In particular we highlighted that cultural sensitivity and contextual complexity precludes any straightforward ‘roll-out’ of action practices from one context to another. For example, many of the initiatives reported from the American groups focused on the need to ‘deconstruct’ corrupt institutional practices and provide support for not-for-profit/voluntary groups to build alternative services. In contrast, activity in the UK has focused on participating in work aimed at protecting some of our precious public services, (e.g. the National Health Service), and developing supports/competencies to assist in that process.

Our learning regarding differing contexts and projects was facilitated by a series of regular meetings in small ‘home groups’. Here, a process of social mapping supported people coming together around specific and diverse issues, including climate change, youth mental health, LGBT issues, racial and ethnic power structures, anti-bullying practices, gender issues, organizational development, social activism, somatic practices and creative/writing projects. These groups facilitated vital and intimate bonds between participants with shared interests.


In addition, four major workshops highlighted contributions provided by the major practice groups represented at the summit: psychotherapists/service providers, social activists, organizational practitioners and somatic practitioners. These workshops highlighted our essential inter-dependence and the need for strategic/bridging functions between these groups within the Relational Movement: a point that was beautifully brought to life in the closing ceremony when the social activists and organizational practitioners organized a demonstration in support of recognizing the contributions of the psychotherapists and somatic practitioners.

Any conference at Esalen is deeply affected by the amazingly beautiful environment of Big Sur: the Pacific Ocean, the natural hot springs, the richness of wild life and warmth of the sun. All these riches contributed to a growing sense of the incredible preciousness of life and the need to protect the future of the planet and all the diverse forms and varieties of life that inhabit it. Again and again we reminded ourselves that we are ‘of the field’, not ‘in a field’, and that as humans we play a vital role in the field’s health, or destruction. We are thus depending on each other to create conditions where we will all flourish.

We closed the summit with all 50 participants committing to take action to carry the movement out into the world. Many of us recognized that we do that in very many ways every day, so it is not new heroic activities that are needed, but rather an audit of our current activities to see where and how they align with our values, what supports are needed to enable us to sustain them and how we will hold ourselves and others to account. A vital role was seen for community practice groups, specific campaigns, mutual support, organizational development and community building. We ended the summit with a beautiful ritual reminding us that we are all carrying the seeds of the relational movement out into the world and celebrated by sitting together and singing “Imagine’: the song had never sounded more beautiful or inspiring

Within Relational Change, we came away feeling particularly proud of the contribution we have made to developing theory and practice in Organisational Development, (ROG), and committed to looking at ways more groups could access this training. We also confirmed that we will initiate discussions aimed at developing a longer programme for psychotherapists, coaches, consultants and community builders who want to develop their personal presence, embodiment and use of self in their practice.  In the meantime, we would draw our forthcoming residential opportunity to your attention. We discussed the need to spread the word about our relational approach through trainings, writing, supervision courses, psychotherapy and coaching. We also committed to explore a range of ways of meeting to support each other more in the work and to building our community of values throughout Europe.  We would welcome any ideas and initiatives on this topic and encourage you to  “Watch this space”…….

Meanwhile, here are some brief words from Sally, Martin and Helena regarding what the summit meant to them.

Martin: “I am so pleased to have attended The Relational Turn 3.0. Gathering in the grounds of beautiful Esalen was inspiring, moving, challenging and inspirational. I am left with connections made, friendships started and developed, and a strong sense of purpose. I know in my bones that being a Relational Change associate is right for me and am very glad I committed to developing this work.


Sally: “An opportunity to delight in the richness of Esalen as a support for the work we all want to do in the world: to be inspired by the actions and commitment of others. To see again the power of collaborative projects in sustaining and supporting our work”.


Helena: “Those of you who have been to Esalen know it is a very special place – one that holds many stories and that has been ground for many personal transformations. Knowing that this was where the Human Potential movement started, and that we about 50 years later had gathered to build the relational movement, felt very special to me. 50 years ago, many felt the need to break out of norms and collectivism and explore their individual potential. Today our needs are somewhat different, we need to re-learn to listen, feel and connect to each other. I see that both movements aim to reclaim our Humanness, and responsibility for the world we live in.

What I take with me from the summit is feeling re-assured that when we call our work ‘Relational’ that does not mean that we don’t value individuals and differentiation within the community. There is a difference between individualism and individualistic. I greatly valued our discussions on how cultural variations effect how the Relational Movement develops and takes shape in different contexts. I left the summit feeling more clear and committed to the work we are developing in Relational Change as so much resonates with my values and why I once decided to get involved with gestalt therapy: the connection between personal development and social change.”



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