Figure emergenti

Interview "The group and their field"

Sanja Bratina, Gestalt Studio Beograd -interviewed by Piergiulio Poli

Sanja Bratina, Piergiulio Poli

The group and their field – Interview with Sanja Bratina by Piergiulio Poli

 This interview with Sanja Bratina stems from my interest into exploring how the larger field (cultural processes, phase of development of a school) impact the teaching style of gestalt training groups. Discussion amongst colleagues in SGT cover this topic quite a lot, it seemed useful to me propose these same reflections to a trainer of another school. I explore with Sanja some of the issues training schools face when experience transition of leadership. I also ask some questions about the practice of training people: especially about the identification with the group and training value of breaks and residentiality.  

Sanja Bratina is a Licenced Psychotherapist and a OD Consultant with a private practices in Belgrade (Serbia), city were she was born in 1965. She is one of the founders of the Gestalt Studio Beograd, and a trainer and supervisor with the European Accredited Institute for Gestalt Therapy Institute: this international network brings together numerous Gestalt schools from Malta and the territories of former Republic of Jugoslavia. Sanja teaches on a program for Gestalt in Organisations within the network and is associate lecturer in the Mokrogorska School for Management and mental health advisor for SIT Balkan.     


Piergiulio: dear Sanja, it is good to see you. I want to do this interview with you because our school in Turin is going through a time of change, there is a new generation of leaders growing and we are reflecting on what we were and are. We started too look at aspects of our school that we feel are specific to us, compared to other schools. I started to look into the way we work with groups and how our use of theory is influenced by our training practices. As a school I think we have a strong accent on community, we work quite a bit on the identification dis-identification process of individuals in the group, and we started to produce theory quite recently. It would be useful to hear from you what di you think is the specificity of your school, the Studio Gestalt in Belgrade.

 Sanja: our school was born in very turbulent times, we started in Belgrade in 1991, Yugoslavia was breaking down and things started to look messy. In the following years Yugoslavia was going to be divided into separate states through a violent war. The Gestalt society of Yugoslavia ended up to be divided too. Our school was created to keep ourselves together at the time Yugoslavia was falling apart, actually we started to grow when everything previously known was crumbling down. We needed support, knowledge and skills to cope with destruction that was all around us. After the war, we started gradually to network with people from the former Yugoslavian Republics and help establish new schools of Gestalt psychotherapy in region (Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia). The issue for many years was how to survive in difficult times, not only physically, but also as professionals in very complex situation, in complex fields. We wanted to bring together people who were divided by politics, conflict and hatred, to reinvent gestalt society in region. The frustration inside  groups was lo for many years as there was a lot of frustration coming from the outside: we needed and wanted to create a place for supporting and understanding. It took a lot of creative adjustment to set us up as a school and as professionals! For instance, in Serbia was hyperinflation, we were working a month for 5 DM (Deutsche Mark), our currency became worthless, so we started to exchange therapy for services and goods. We lived to ensure experience of enthusiasm and purposefulness, we were learning psychotherapy in very odd times. It was very different from now.

Now our school is 25 years old, we have a stronger structure, there is more internal frustration than before because we are able to handle it. We gave ourselves more regulation too. As field around us became more stabile, we were able to let ourselves in groups feel more differentiated. We, as a school are accredited by EAGT, which means that our structure is now very visible and strong.


Piergiulio: thanks for giving me a picture of the environment you started off, this is very useful. In Turin we might need to look at what circumstances we were born into… Probably our school was created also to comply with training requirement set by the law.

I want to ask you about groups. Did you start training people immediately? Did you do other types of groups?            

 I was member of the first training group in 1991st. The group was led by our trainer Lidija Pecotic PhD. Personally, I started working with groups in 1987, as a young psychologist, not psychotherapist. In 1998 I started to lead educational groups as a junior trainer, exactly when NATO bombing began. Our educational groups in that time were very open, anyone could join the training, but only those with university education from humanistic field could earn diploma in gestalt psychotherapy. We were very practical as well: we did the work and reflected theoretically after, this is still the way we learn and teach. A personal development year was a precondition to access the training course were we provided more theory and later, supervision. At the beginning we had little structure, we didn’t know exactly how many hours we were supposed to teach in training psychotherapists. We were quite traditional in our outlook. Our main trainer was trained in San Diego, Lidija Pecotic, PhD. She also set up educational institutes in Malta and in ex-Yugoslavia; trainees from her institutes are still linked to each other and spread in different countries so we are part of the same training network. As the schools in region grow up we, as trainers, withdraw and open up space for the new generation to continue what we started. We stick around mainly for supervision, but we rarely go back to teach basics. New schools became independent from “old” experienced psychotherapists and more established schools; actually is very important that older trainers give space to younger ones, at least for a certain time before they make connection again. This time we connect with colleges, not with students.


Piergiulio: tell me about your theory of groups, the way you made sense of the group work…

Sanja: at the beginning we didn’t look at the group dynamics, we did classic hot seat work. Trainers were working with one trainee at the time within the group. We didn’t look much at the group process, it was more like individual therapy with a group in the background. The group was there, members of the group were present, they were excited, sometimes frustrated, but this fact was rarely figural. The focus was the individual personal development. And then as we grew we learned new things from new trainers, for instance we had training with Douglas Davidov member of the New York Gestalt Institute (he was very brave to come over since 1992, when things here were very bad, when we were under the sanctions from UN; it was very difficult for an American trainer to get into a highly militarized country). Than, we owe big gratitude to Bertram Muller from Germany who also was present to teach us when time for presence was hard. Different trainers came in afterword (Ken Evans, Serge Ginger, just mention some) and we as trainers developed very different styles of working with group. We have 12-14 trainers now, and everyone has her own style, we handle the group very differently with the same theoretical background. Trainees joke a lot about how different we are: if you want group dynamics to be figural, go to this trainer, if you want to be confronted go to that, if you want to cry a lot go to another one… Theory-wise all of us take into account group dynamics; we developed workshops to teach the specific skills you need to work with groups. We use theory of self, cycle of contact ad field theory, we do experiments, too. We use field theory a lot: everyone is part of the field, even a person that is physically far from the group.


Piergiulio: identification with the group is very important for our school, we often find ourselves asking “am I part of this group?”, “Who am I for this group?”,  “are there subgroups?”. Is it the same in your school?

 Sanja: I don’t think so, not so much. We adjust to the needs of the group… in past 26 years of training this rarely emerged as a primary theme. Some groups are more interested in looking at this, some other groups not. Some groups want to look at their own dynamics and spend time on it, others do not. We have some exercises we do to make these dynamics more visible (drawing, setting up people in the physical space, giving feedback, moving, touching, grouping…). We do not use them often, (once a year is obligatory), if the group do not have an interest in exploring group dynamic.


Piergiulio: maybe identification with the group is a parallel process; this is very important for the staff..  

Sanja: yes, yes, yes… that happens. I think that we as a group know each other very well, most of us from Gestalt studio Beograd are colleagues from the course in 1991… we have very few senior trainers from a younger generation. We are harmonious, we deal with each other easily. So, we do not look at our group dynamics, evidently we do not influence trainees to do that either.

There was a time when the energy of the School was very low, in that time we were negotiating how much interest we have in supporting each other and developing School. We were reconstructing ourselves, the initial enthusiastic phase was fading; we established successful private careers and did not have same energy to devote to the School as previously. We discussed who gives more, who takes more, we were making new rules, more transparent and visible from the outside. There were lots of questions and not too many answers: we managed to make this new structure with the help of the leader Lidija Pecotic. This atmosphere had an impact on the training groups, they were low in energy, with lot of questions and doubts. When we restructured ourselves and school, all these issues went into the background. The groups obviously are influenced by the culture of the wider professional community, there are unspoken rules that are active in all the subgroups of a community.


Pg: one more question. The trainer of our trainers was Isha Bloomberg, he said “most learning happens out of the training group”, so we structured the school around this indication. For instance in the past we did residential training and we have always supported trainees to become involved (and if needed critical) of the School. 

Sanja: there is a lot of research on how extra-therapeutic activities are very important for the success of psychotherapy! It’s not just a Gestalt thing. Lots of things happen in the breaks we say, and these breaks are counted in the curricula. In these “mean times” a group dynamic is also processed. We, as a community and as a School nourish a friendly approach to our students. The training is often conducted in the trainers offices and all of them have facilities to encourage people’s socialization. People can eat, rest and even sleep overnight in the office, it’s important to make people feel welcomed. The main center of the school is located a house; that place is open to a lot of initiatives of the wider field, not necessarily education or therapy. We did celebrations there, poetry days, information day, all sorts of cultural events. We do work in the nature, we conduct workshops outside of Belgrade. We spread information on work opportunities in the social sector. We support a lot of independent projects, even sport projects. We organize multidisciplinary, international conference on Gestalt therapy to support networking of our students and colleagues. In this way, I want to invite you all to come to the ll International Interdisciplinary Congress of Gestalt therapists on the theme: "The man in the processes of change and Gestalt psychotherapy "Belgrade, Serbia. The Congress will be held from 15th to 18th September 2017 in the center of Belgrade, at the Kolarac People’s University and the Museum of Yugoslav Film Archive.


Pg:  thank you very much for you time, it was very useful and pleasant to talk tonight!