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Hank O’Mahoney in Conversation with Sarah Kay

On August 29, 2013 I headed off to Spiddal in Galway to meet with Hank. We sat in a spacious room in the house he had built himself. Through the window I could see a patchwork quilt of fields enclosed by higgledy-piggledy stone walls with the turquoise sea glistening in the distance.

Sarah: Hi Hank. Most people will know you as a therapist, a trainer with the Irish Gestalt Centre and someone well known in your community but I think it fair to say that you are somewhat of a blow in?

Hank: Yeah, I blew in in 1973. I had decided two things. One was that Richard Nixon got re-elected and I found that intolerable so I decided to go to Europe for a year and I hadn’t had a holiday in a long time so decided I’d take a month off in Ireland and enjoy myself. After about three weeks in Ireland I realized there was no other place in the world for me and there were two reasons for this; one was I remember coming down O’Connell Street on a bus, on the top deck and seeing that half the people walking down the street looked like my cousins and I said “Woow” and it really hit me, and then it started to reverberate with what I heard from American Indians who used to laugh at me and say I was the whitest man they’d ever seen and “why don’t you go back to your own people and fix them.” So I decided I didn’t want to leave this country and I’m very glad I didn’t because I felt that some of the things I was trying to do in America I could do here, particularly with regard to change, so yeah I blew in.

Sarah: Forty years ago…if we go back to your childhood….

Hank: I was born in Queen’s in New York City in a very strong large Irish American Catholic family. I had three brothers, over forty-two first cousins and we all lived close by. We spent time in each other’s houses, we went to the pictures every Saturday and as soon as that was over we ran up to confession because that’s the way it was. I hung out with about twenty-five young guys in my neighbourhood, one was Jewish, two were Protestant and all the rest were Catholic. It was interesting when I came here and started talking to people about their childhood experiences. Mine was no different. We said the rosary around the bed every night and I was an altar boy. My first going out with a girl at the age of thirteen was to the Miraculous Medal Novena and we went for a soda afterwards (laughter)…so a lot of things were very much the same as what people experienced here. The explosion and change in America in the late fifties and early sixties never happened here so when I got here a lot of the stuff that I had already discovered had been completed in America, like divorce and particularly birth control – here it was just beginning….

Sarah: Just to go back to your teenage years. You were quite strictly brought up. When did things start to change? When was the explosion for you?

Hank: Well I was in the seminary studying to be a priest.

Sarah: What drew you to the priesthood?

Hank: Okay, well I don’t like admitting this, but one was I got a scholarship so I didn’t have to pay for my education, and then I really enjoyed hanging out with guys and playing sports, and then I didn’t see any reason at that point, not to be a priest.

Sarah: So it felt like a career.

Hank: Yes, but I had no understanding of sex and sexuality and what it meant to be celibate.

Sarah: Similar to what priests here were experiencing.

Hank: Yeah. If you look at the church in America and the church in Ireland it was founded and nurtured by Irish priests and most of the Bishops were Irish. In fact if you weren’t Irish American there were very few dioceses you would be appointed to. You could be an assistant Bishop if you were Italian but you could never become the Cardinal or an Archbishop.

Sarah: Amazing that there hasn’t been an Irish Pope. (Laughter)

Hank: Well once you’re in Southern Italy you haven’t got a hope in hell! So in the seminary I had no understanding of the social world. I did have an inkling about the black community. My father, who died when I was eighteen, he had a very good friend who was black and a lot of my uncles and cousins didn’t think this was a very good idea – you could feel undertones when my father was around with his friend Sam and when he came to my father’s funeral there wasn’t a rush to be with him, in fact people disappeared when he came in to the parlour. I was shocked at that although I didn’t say anything of course. I remember my feelings were that this is a person, this is a man and he’s a friend of my father’s and my family wasn’t making any effort to make this guy feel he belongs. It was only after I became a Capuchin and started studying philosophy, particularly the European philosophers and the existentialist philosophers, that I realised maybe there was a whole different world out there. And of course there were experiential things. I remember being in St. Louis at the University for the summer and having a crush on a woman who was divorced and being so frightened that I was going to be a mortal sinner if I kissed her or something like that. There were shock moments in my life…

Sarah: Aha moments….

Hank: Yeah, aha moments, and I had to grow up and realize that there was this bigger world out there than this Irish American community in New York, and which continued when I joined the seminary. That was the beginning of the tension between me and the religious order that continued until I walked out.

Sarah: So were you a mortal sinner?

Hank: Well I had decided that being celibate was a good idea but it wasn’t necessary. You were supposed to be celibate and you were supposed to be chaste and my attitude was that as long as you were trying that was good enough. I fell in love with a nun when I was doing theology…

Sarah: Did she fall in love with you?

Hank: Yes she did, but she was a little bit older than me and had a little more schmaltz, thank God, because after about a year she wanted us both to leave and then maybe, we might get together…

Sarah: It was sounding precarious…

Hank: Well it was worse than that – it was an infatuation – although I was about thirty-three I was only about sixteen sexually in terms of experience and understanding what was going on in my head and my genitals.

Sarah: Do you think the Catholic Church shares some responsibility around this in taking in young men and not making sure of their maturity?

Hank: Oh yeah, and they’ve changed that.

Sarah: Do you really think they’ve changed that?

Hank: They have, but whether or not the people they are bringing in are any more mature, well I’m not sure. To go back to your question: yes, they do have a responsibility and part of the whole paedophilia thing and all the sexual excesses that priests were involved in had to do with the lack of education and experience before ordination which took place when you were twenty-five – so we were the equivalent of high school students aged seventeen. We had no experience of the opposite sex, physically or even to meet socially and no discussion as to what might happen if you did fall in love. I remember when a woman had a crush on me the only advice I got was to pray. Psychologically as therapists we learn that people do get crushes on you and there is nothing wrong with that and we have to deal with it and enable the person to be in a relationship with you without the prize of having a sexual relationship. If that kind of teaching had gone on when I was in the seminary I might have been able to do something else other than just pray! And that’s just a simple example of how little training and understanding we had of what it meant to be a sexual person in the world – to be a celibate in a world of men and women meant you were a sexual prize. In other words a priest was something to be got. And don’t forget this was also the sixties when casual sex was cool.

Sarah: I think we are getting close to the time when you might be cutting your ties with the priesthood.

Hank: Yes. I just want to go back to the last three or four years when there was a serious tension in my life about wanting to be a priest and not wanting to be a priest. I wanted to make a difference in the world and seeing the priesthood as a possibility for that. I wanted to get ordained but I wasn’t going to give up my ideas. I was going to challenge them and I was going to use my ordination to see if I could change the church and even more. I remember that time and I was really serious about it. And I haven’t changed on this. I’m still the same around changing the world, changing people. I’ve just developed different ways of doing it. I got ordained in sixty-six and there was a group of us priests who were doing quite radical things – we were at a conference and one of the things we talked about was ‘how could we infiltrate the church’ at a serious level and one of the proposals was that about fifteen of us would burrow into the church – which would mean that two-thirds of us might become Bishops and so create the change. I was offered one of those positions and I remember an older priest saying to me “if you do this for ten years you will be a Bishop.” Well I thought about it but it was just too tough to knuckle down and keep my mouth shut – thank God I didn’t because the next Pope would never have selected me or anybody like me to be a Bishop.

Sarah: We’re talking about Pope John Paul, the Polish Pope, who was 6 very conservative.

Hank: Yeah, it wasn’t going to happen with both Paul VI and John Paul the Polish Pope. Your conservative bona fides would have to be very strong. The whole thing was falling apart just before I left to come to this country.

Sarah: Were you falling apart or the church?

Hank: The church structures were falling apart. There was a church in Milwaukee where we decided to give the church back to the black community and we selected this black priest to take it over. We went to the Bishop and told the Bishop and he said “fine” – and then this black priest took it over and became as conservative as the German who would have taken it over. That and some other things became the fertile ground for me becoming a therapist, the reason being that I was very involved in change, radical change. I studied with Sol Alinsky in Chicago.

Sarah: Tell us about Sol Alinsky….

Hank: He was a union organizer, a community organizer who worked with communities in the thirties – he was the only person in training who was doing anything in the black community around change. I studied with him for two years and worked with him on a couple of projects. Unfortunately the people from the community we trained to run the organizations became just as narrow-minded and autocratic as the people we toppled…

Sarah: Plus ça change…

Hank: Exactly. So a part of me was ripe when I met Eoin O’Leary because he came through the same experience in South Africa. He was born in Cork and I met him in Dublin once I’d decided to come and stay in Ireland. This friend of mine from Milwaukee who was working in London called me up and said “you’ve got to meet this guy, you’re going to love him”. It was one of those things that have happened in my life a couple of times – I took one look at him and said “I don’t know what the hell this guy does, but I want to work with him.” We sat and talked for a couple of hours and decided to do a project together.

Sarah: So you are now in Ireland and you feel this is your ‘soul’ place.

Hank: Yes, this is where I belong; this is my family.

Sarah: Before we stay in Ireland can we just go back to the radical times in the black community? You knew Martin Luther King.

Hank: After I was ordained I was sent to a parish, probably to get me out of the way, but it had a small black community and one of the first things I did was to ask my superiors if I could get involved, and they were fine about it. It was a very well-off, middle-class parish and I would go down and work with young blacks to get them jobs and an education. It’s interesting now with the fiftieth anniversary of Martin’s death…I happened to be in the parish at the time when there were riots all over America. I went down to the riots on the first night trying to stop the kids from doing what they were doing because it wasn’t very productive. I came home because that night was really bad. The next night I went to go down and asked the superior for the keys to the parish car and he looked at me and said “what are you doing, where are you going to park it?” and I looked at him and said “you don’t give a damn about me; you’re more worried about the car.” Anyway, that night the police chief came over and told us that he couldn’t seem to stop this riot. There were two black guys there that I worked with and they told him to “put their police cars back and if we need you we’ll call you” – we had already told them this last night. Well he said “we couldn’t do that”, so I piped up and said “I’ll give you my word that it will work.” So they pulled back their cars and we talked to the kids and that night it stopped within an hour. Well, the next day there was a big headline in the papers: ‘White Priest Stops Riots’. That afternoon a television crew came to ask me how I did it – well I did it because I knew the racist chief of police wouldn’t listen to the black guys who had told him what to do the night before, but they listened to me who was white. Well I got moved a few days later….

Sarah: Interesting that paedophile priests and radical priests seem to get moved around!

Hank: Yeah, I got moved around quite a bit until I said I wasn’t going to be moved anymore. The next place I went to after that incident, I remember going to this reception and this really good looking Irish American priest, about six-foot-four, baby-faced and butter-wouldn’t- melt-in-his-mouth, walked up to me and said “I’ve got a message for you from the Bishop – If you try any of that crap up here in Connecticut you’ll be out of here faster than…” Well, that was the reality in those days. So I ended up working in Milwaukee and different parts of the country and that’s when I got to meet Martin Luther King and worked with him, the Reverend James Bevel, Andrew Young, who became the Ambassador to the UN, and Jesse Jackson.

Sarah: Jesse Jackson is still holding the radical line, isn’t he?

Hank: Jesse started his own movement. When Martin died, Ralph Abernathy took over but he didn’t have the charisma. Now Jesse Jackson had charisma, big time. They were part of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference which was made up of black ministers from the South and Jesse was in Chicago, the North. He really had something going in Chicago. He would have three or four thousand people in that church full every Saturday at nine in the morning and at ten he would have a gospel choir of well-known singers from Chicago, like Martha and the Vandellas, and the Supremes, and then Jesse would give the forty-five minute sermon dressed in the black leather pants and jacket…Mr. Cool. Then they would do a collection. You know those big rubbish bins, well two guys, one on each side would walk around and you wouldn’t hear anything but paper hitting those dustbins. So he stayed in Chicago running Operation Breadbasket. My belief is that he was much more political than any of the guys in the Southern Christian Leadership. And to some extent there was some tension between the two groups. So I was doing things with these groups. I was about twenty-six and having a ball, travelling around. I was in St. Louis, Mississippi, New Orleans, Alabama, Tennessee and always in the front line.

Sarah: So you had a real first hand sense of what was going on at that time.

Hank: Yeah.

Sarah: Given that it’s fifty years since the famous Martin Luther King ‘dream’ speech and that Obama is in the White House, do you think there’s been a lot of progress or do you think there’s a long way to go?

Hank: Yes and no. I was so thrilled when Obama got elected. I was so excited and the place in Chicago where they celebrated his election was the same place where I had been arrested fifty years before when we were protesting Richard Nixon’s democratic convention. It was just so exciting. I’m not so excited now. My own feeling is that the death of Ted Kennedy was the undoing of Obama. Ted Kennedy was a brilliant man in terms of getting things done and he was the most influential Senator in the Senate and was able to negotiate with both conservatives and liberals. His biggest project was the Health Plan and if he’d been around to mentor Obama and show him how to work with Congress, I think Obama would have been a better President. The Democratic Party was in bad shape at that time and there was no one around, he was on his own. He’s made mistakes and he’s become frustrated but I’m not sure he was really that radical. He sounded it when he spoke but I’m not sure. So I’m disappointed in him, particularly with regard to his foreign policy. There was so much goodwill for America after the Bushes but he’s used that all up and hasn’t done anything. He could have done a lot with the goodwill that he had.

Sarah: I’d like to go back to when you got arrested.

Hank: I was arrested five times. 10

Sarah: (Laughter) You sound quite proud of it.

Hank: Well, three of the times I was very proud of, two of them I’m not so proud of. I ended up in jail in Illinois but that was very simple, I was only there for about six hours. I ended up in jail in New Orleans and that wasn’t so good. I was only there for a day but that was a bit frightening. I was in jail in Wisconsin twice, one was for a welfare rights, civil rights demonstration and the other one was for an anti-war rally.

Sarah: You’re talking about the Vietnam War.

Hank: Yeah. Sol Alinsky’s idea of protesting was that you did it in such a way that you turned things on their head. For example, when he was fighting for money for education, what he was going to do at O’Hare airport was that he was going to take a hundred blacks and poor people and feed them as much gas-inducing food as he could and then he was going to take them out to the airport and put them in the toilets for four or five hours at a time. He said what would happen is that when people are on planes for a short trip they don’t go to the toilet, they wait till they get off because its too much trouble on the plane, so imagine if you arrive at O’Hare airport and everyone of those toilets is full, you are not going to be very happy. Well, we explained this to the Mayor and within half an hour we had a whole different meeting with them and we got everything we wanted because as Sol said, the threat of the possibility of what might happen is worse – and we know this in therapy – it’s worse than the actuality. He also said “don’t ever claim to do something, if you can’t do it.”

Sarah: In other words, don’t draw red lines in the sand if you can’t follow through.

Hank: Most of the time we never had to do anything because people were scared. I used to do this a lot in demonstrations. At a Vietnam rally I was attacked by a small number of people who were watching the parade – veterans probably. When I went to court and the judge asked what had happened, all these guys said I had done nothing wrong, I was just peacefully marching but I still got beat up. I was found guilty because the judge said I was stupid enough to walk into that situation. So it was my fault and I got fined. The one in New Orleans was very frightening because it was in the South. The North was used to ministers and priests protesting. The South wasn’t. So when I got arrested I had my hair long – not as long as it is now – but they dragged me out by my hair and there was a policeman kicking me who happened to have a heart attack while he was kicking me so I was charged with attempted murder!

Sarah: What!

Hank: Yeah, charged with disturbing the peace, causing a riot and attempted murder.

Sarah: That is frightening.

Hank: Also they decided to teach Father a lesson. They put me in a cell with two predatory criminals. I never talked so much. I never left the wall all night. I was very frightened. The next night they put me in a cell with a guy who was high on drugs. I still believe the system has to be challenged through direct action rather than trying to petition. There were two things going on – those who lobbied for new laws and direct action which I was a part of, which was either violent or non- violent, where you challenged the law.

Sarah: I suppose petitions can get put into in-trays whereas direct action is in your face.

Hank: Well I was mostly non-violent until I went to Mississippi and there it was impossible to be non-violent unless you were okay about being killed. You were confronted with people with weapons, you were shot at and you had guns put in your face. Having a gun on the dashboard of the car somewhere visible when a policeman stopped you made a difference so I wasn’t non-violent there and if I didn’t have a gun available to me then I had someone with me who did.

Sarah: The film that always stays with me about that time is Mississippi Burning.

Hank: Yeah I came back from Mississippi about a week before Easy Rider came out and I went to see it and threw up half way through it. Remember the guy who was afraid to leave New Orleans because of the police and they got shot in Mississippi. That was not a fairy tale that was fact. I ran into the Ku Klux Klan.

Sarah: And they hated Catholics.

Hank: Yeah and priests, especially Catholic priests, same in New Orleans. We’d be in places for about three weeks around the demonstrations and you’d get nothing to eat but beans. But you just did it. It was a very different lifestyle from what I grew up with in New York.

Sarah: As you reminisce about those days what feelings does it evoke?

Hank: Well I’m really glad I did it. I have no regrets. In fact I have no regrets about most of my life. I think it’s informed me a lot in what I do now and how I do it and it underpins my philosophy as a therapist and particularly a trainer. I did a lot of training during that time and organising and I still believe that if I can train ten people to do something that would be more important than me doing it. This is what led me to help in setting up the Irish Gestalt Centre and getting involved in the training. In fact, when Eoin O’Leary and I were trying to get funding over in England, we were encouraging the students to confront the church and the British government around racial issues at that time.

Sarah: Was this in the seventies?

Hank: Yes, and I knew nothing about Gestalt but I knew a lot about Paul Goodman. Paul was a New Yorker and I was involved in existentialism and anarchical ideas and he was the guru, particularly with regard to education in New York, and he was a really interesting guy. So that’s how I came to Gestalt, not through Fritz Perls. Eoin and I set up a programme called G.O.A.T. (Gestalt Orientation and Alinsky Training). Eoin had been very much involved in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, funded by the Church of England, and we were both disillusioned. We came up with the idea of a programme of personal development through Gestalt and a training that could change people. Then maybe we could change the world!! We got funding for it and Eoin and Joan (his wife) and I worked on it for about a year-and- a-half until Eoin died. We were making some headway in places like Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and Hull, and then it came to an abrupt end which was sad. I can feel my sadness. It was exciting and different.

Sarah: And his death was a total shock and unexpected.

Hank: Yes he had a massive heart attack. I was in England at the time and instead of going to London I took a train somewhere and spent the day walking around by the water because I felt so lost and bereft. But I had a great feeling for Gestalt and saw it as a way of how you could live rather than just changing an individual. These are basic ideas which now permeate a number of psychotherapies. The ‘here-and-now’ awareness. These concepts were nowhere then.

Sarah: Mindfulness is the catchword now but it’s really about awareness.

Hank: Yes, and the practice of awareness is called meditation and it has been around for thousands of years and for some it can be a frightening concept. However mindfulness just flows and you can be mindful but you don’t have to meditate. So when we were looking at designing the G.O.A.T. training, we decided we would use Gestalt to create an integrated person and Alinsky’s programme to bring about community change.

Sarah: Many people have criticised Gestalt for the confrontational piece. Do you think it still works or have you changed on that one?

Hank: I think one of the problems with Gestalt then was there was just the challenge and you needed the relationship. There was no ground for client and therapist to jointly work through, say, the undoing of a held emotion. You pushed the person and demanded the undoing.

Sarah: This could traumatise someone.

Hank: Yeah. What I saw was an emotional release. So for example every time I deal with my anger I feel a bit better but I haven’t really dealt with what was really there. I think a lot of the Gestalt process at the beginning was based on this way of working. It was exciting and a lot of people started taking up the techniques of Gestalt without understanding the whole philosophy behind it. And Fritz himself was a theatrical freak – he loved the adulation of the crowd and there was no relationship there.

Sarah: It was a performance.

Hank: Yes.

Sarah: But he was very intuitive.

Hank: Yes, he could read the body and spot the breathing and interpret it, and he was right most of the time. But you can’t train people to change – they have to go through the process. Change happens and we need to understand this. This has been my aim: to create authentic change in myself and others.

Sarah: After Eoin died, you and Joan picked up the baton.

Hank: Yes, that was four years later. I have to admit that my interest was not so much in Gestalt theory at the time but more in the experiential practice where I picked up the theory pretty quickly.

Sarah: Confessions…

Hank: (laughter) I think if you talk to some of the people who were around in the first training I did I think they were very, very patient and kind to me – because one of my favourite phrases was when asked a question, I would say “and what’s your opinion on that?”

Sarah: In other words “I haven’t a clue!”

Hank: Well, I didn’t say that and hoped they weren’t thinking it but I have a funny feeling they did… (Laughter)

Sarah: I think most people will relate to that one. I think the greatest value for me in training in Gestalt was learning the theory through experience – I’m not sure how many training programmes do that. It’s a great way of learning skills, although very tough.

Hank: Yes, you were talking about the issue of traumatising and confrontation. You’ve got to allow risk around trauma and re- traumatisation. The only solution to trauma is to confront and be with it, because if we go back to the theory, the trauma is not half as bad as we imagine – I don’t mean the event, I mean the catastrophic expectation that follows the event, like I’m going to disintegrate or I’m never going to be loved. The fear holds so much power over us and usually it’s embedded so deeply within us that we don’t visit it. At some point the fear will surface, maybe through dreams or events that trigger it. Once people experience the trauma they can become like newborns: you can see the difference in their faces, their bodies and in the physiological changes, particularly in the blood flow and the movement. This is one of the problems of relational therapy – the relationship can become more important than the journey – and relationships can’t stay static – so if we use the relationship not to challenge each other and confront each other, then the relationship isn’t going to grow, because if we really believe in the Gestalt concept that both of us (therapist and client) are going to change through our relationship, then we need to challenge each other at times.

Sarah: So we have to take risks.

Hank: Yeah, sometimes. Looking back over my seventy-something years, I’ve noticed that as people get older they get more conservative – I think I have and part of it is….

Sarah: Conservation.

Hank: (Laughter) You want to keep certain things. When I came to Ireland, and up until quite recently, I had a principle that whatever didn’t fit into the cover of the bed it went. Now Jesus…

Sarah: Can we get you to throw anything out of this house?

Hank: Exactly, you can’t. I mean, I have a coffee machine that I want to keep. Young people want to change things, want to make things different. As you get older it’s different. Anyway, another Gestalt principle is that change happens whether you like it or not, so it’s about awareness. I choose to have a car and a house. I haven’t just fallen into it and then felt guilty about it. So I no longer feel like picking up and moving on next week. If you meditate you start to realize how many ‘nows’ there are in ten minutes. I’ve meditated for fifty years now but I could still be away every ten seconds. Sometimes I’m in the ‘now’ for a while, but a lot of the time I’m not. If I’m aware I can have more influence on change in myself – I can choose. Of course there are times when I just fall into a reaction.

Sarah: Rather than a response.

Hank: Yeah. I think one of the mistakes we made on the training (and you were on it) was a belief that if you worked really hard and went to therapy that you would become perfect! Or close.

Sarah: That certainly wasn’t my experience… (laughter) …but you did demand change and I certainly felt that pressure and intensity.

Hank: When I first started training in Cork I remember how frightened I was. After the morning session I would go into a corner and put my jacket under my head and lay down and breathe. And that’s all I did for an hour and a half to calm myself down. I was so frightened. I think most of us get frightened when we start training – anyway the next day it got better…

Sarah: In at the deep end.

Hank: Yes. I came in as a helper and then found a niche with the dream work and really liked it. I’m hoping to write a book on it. I loved training and I think we’ve made a difference to the people we trained and that they are changing things. I’m leaving the training now and part of it has to do with my health. I’ve had a number of health issues which are now under control.

Sarah: Has this experience changed your outlook in any way?

Hank: One of the things I would say is that the number of years I’ve been working as a therapist and trainer has contributed to my lack of health. It’s interesting I think there’s a difference in the type of dis-ease in the health of men and women. Men seem to develop more physical illnesses at the end of their therapeutic careers whereas women seem to end up with more mental or burn-out distress in their dis-ease.

Sarah: Do you think we are bad at self-care or do you think it’s the nature of the job?

Hank: I don’t know. I felt I took care of myself quite well. I don’t think we realise how deep things come into us but I’m beginning to see that now. I’ve stopped doing a lot of therapy with people because I see it as a burden, not actually in the therapy but thinking about it and perhaps taking on too much responsibility towards the other person.

Sarah: Do you think at the end of the day we cannot help but be touched in some way by our clients?

Hank: If we are opening ourselves up in the relationship with our clients and also being fully present in this, then there can be unforeseen consequences. I think both of us are changed by our encounter but we might become over-invested in the relationship, or taking responsibility for more than is needed. This is the central challenge that I faced in developing the training programme and why the IGC combines the usual academic rigour and skills training with the emphasis on the trainee’s personal development. I am convinced that we need to be honestly aware of our own process. I hope to do this by meditation and a commitment to continuous personal therapy. I have also believed in having outside interests. I believe that I did look after myself, and still I got sick. Yet I believe that I have the resources to accept this – AND I still frighten myself about what is or might happen.

Sarah: Well you were facing mortality which is the big challenge.

Hank: Yes I did.

Sarah: Now you are facing the end of your training life.

Hank: Yes I decided that if it was to continue it would need to continue in a different way. Joan, as you know, is no longer training but we have a number of people who are very capable and have the same vision as I do about using Gestalt as more than a therapeutic tool – it’s about who you are rather than what you do. So we are setting ourselves up as an incorporated entity so we can continue.

Sarah: And of course new people are going to bring in new ideas. Hank: Yes, but the core issue that you can only learn by experience will continue.
Sarah: I’m delighted to hear that. Hank: So I’m ready to hand it over.

Sarah: Are you sad to let go of the training?

Hank: No. It had become a burden and life was very stressful. Sarah: So what lies ahead?

Hank: Apart from the book I’m working on on dreams I’m going to have a great time with my grandchild. I’m a father of two children but when my grand-daughter puts her hand in mine it gives me the feeling, like the therapist and the client – and that’s what the client does – it’s the joy and the love and someone coming to you and giving you their hand – it’s the most exciting thing in the world. I feel rejuvenated by it.

Sarah: She is your legacy, isn’t she?

Hank: I held my children’s hands of course but this time I’m really affected by this relationship.

Sarah: Being a grand-parent is a different relationship than being a parent, there’s something special about it.

Hank: It’s a gift that I’ve been able to live long enough and to be aware of all the feelings and the connections – and to make sense of life – it’s such a gift and I’m so happy that I’m still compos mentis to enjoy her. Just to hold her hand and go for a walk with her.

Sarah: What a lovely place to end our conversation…thank you so much Hank and all the best for the future.

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