Maira Danni: gestalt therapy and social awareness

Maira Danni: gestalt therapy and social awareness

Our social and economic context is often not addressed in the personal development field. Why is addressing it important? Gestalt therapist and activist Maira Danni combines gestalt therapy and social awareness in her work, creating a unique approach.

What has drawn me to your approach was the combination of gestalt and social awareness. I feel that these kinds of approaches are rare in the therapy field and I see the need for them. Can you comment on that? What has inspired you to take this unique approach?
That is a great question to start presenting my work and thank you for that! So, as far as I can observe, what I offer is unique right now on our planet. My approach is to offer workshops or better, I would call them training where one can train its emotional and sociopolitical awareness at the same time. I offer this because after of many years of desire to stop war, violence and injustice of any kind on our planet, since I cannot take this situation as normal,  I concluded that we, humans, we need those two awarenesses together so we can be complete human beings, being really aware in the present moments of our lives and acting on the more adequate way respecting ourselves and every other being around us.

How is this reflected in your psychotherapy practice?
Also as a therapist with a private practice, I keep the same line, even if the practice of bringing those combined awarenesses up for the client happens in a more delicate way, with full respect towards their stories and awareness levels.  I am aware that for every person that comes to me for therapy, sooner or later if I really want to help this person help itself, I need to explain the sociopolitical conditions that we live in and connect the dots how those conditions, which in gestalt terms are the environment, can and do condition them again and again in their everyday life.

I consider this is a key to solve our personal dramas and at the same time activate our organism with the awareness that brought as there. From my personal and professional experience, I see that solving one’s problem only on a personal level cannot really last for so long. And the point is to know the whole root of your issue so that you can act on it.

Can you explain this to us on a more practical level, so that we can understand more closely how combining gestalt and social awareness works?
So for example,  if in all therapy rooms the main problem presented and intended to be resolved is our relationship with the parents that they were not enough, or they were problematic on this or that way, and I agree that this is a way to start resolving some inner traumas, then it is also not fair to stop there, in the personal deficiencies of each mom and dad. And unfortunately, I can observe that it doesn’t work for the client entirely. So, in this example, I will give the socio-political awareness opening, giving this reflection: what is the socio-political environment that one’s parents parent(ed) and live(d)? Is/was it a nice peaceful one, into personal growth, self-exploration, free time for enjoying oneself, reflecting and healing wounds so can be a conscious parent, or/was is it a competitive capitalistic one where there is a brutal struggle for survival needs? Or even if we talk about middle-upper class is it an environment where one makes a lot of money, shows off, there is lack of authenticity and in this manner rules over real quality living based on the needs as a human being?

The approach that combines the personal with sociopolitical is, from my experience, really rare in the personal development field. What inspired you to take on this approach?
When I was a young girl, the first time I learned there was an actual war on this planet, it was Irak war in 2003., I really freaked out. I couldn’t believe that most of the people didn’t care about that. Of course, we had some antiwar movements at the time, the last big ones against war, but most people would continue life as normal. So I decided to find a way to stop that. I almost accidentally entered the university of International and European law, economy, and relationships, and at the same time, I discovered anarchist movement. In my studies, I learned from the worst people how to help some of the elite practically to destroy the planet better than the others interested in the same. I promised myself to use this knowledge only for the good of humanity and our planet when I realized what I was being taught. Unfortunately in the anarchist movement of Greece, and some European ones I took shortly part, I never felt relaxed enough. As a sensitive person, I could easily observe that most of those people were reproducing the system they were trying to fight in their way of interacting, which we call microcosm. Then I discovered gestalt therapy. It saved me emotionally from all the life traumas I had so far, and some of them were from being a part of this movement.

What happened next? How did you connect gestalt therapy and social awareness?
During my education, I was feeling that the sociopolitical awareness was missing for my classmates and most of our teachers, I was lucky enough to have teachers that were 2nd or 3rd generation from the original gestalt developers, so being an anarchist in the mind and heart I managed to connect the dots. And here we are!  Gestalt therapy was developed form two antifascists and one anarchist among others, and their point was to create a sociopolitical therapy as an answer to the individualistic models of the time. That is a lost spirit today but it is part of my mission to bring it back on a professional, personal and social level. Obviously my background studies and activism help me enormously on this plain. And last but not least, I don’t know if I would have managed to ‘come out’ as I usually say as an activist therapist if I hadn’t met and connected with my favorite gestalt teacher and therapist Bud Feder. He was the only one I met that I was sharing the same vision and life practice of emotional and sociopolitical awareness.  So I managed to put all of this experience and practice in my own words and creation with his unique support. No need to mention that I had even been bullied by other therapists for my approach. It was and still is hard to do what I do in the therapy circles.

Regarding therapy and social awareness, what I personally often notice is that various forms of therapy do not pay sufficient attention to a person’s economic reality. This is something that very much influences one’s basic social and personal reality, to the point of (not) having means to afford therapeutic work altogether. What is your opinion on this?
I totally agree with you. But let me explain this professionally. In psychotherapy there is the background “theory” that everything happens on the personal level, e.g. is a personal deficiency, since it happens to you and not the other. So if you are poorer than the other and consequently you can’t access therapy, this is regarded as your personal problem, not the high price of the therapy. The truth is more complicated, though. Basically, when people start from different sociopolitical levels, the ones with fewer privileges have to run more to reach others that started in a more advanced position. There are many possibilities of how people we will make use of our privileges and the lack of them ,so there are no determined results of where one will arrive, but it is at least unfair to deny the difficulty for example of a person from a poor family to be able to study after school in comparison with one from a middle-upper class family, just to mention an example. So yes, I consider that pricing of therapy should be according to one’s condition and background, while simultaneously it ought to be checked if someone is not using his or her condition as an excuse for cheap therapy. This is not an easy balance, but I consider it is important to join the effort of offering a balanced price, rather than excluding people from our practice and making therapy another luxurious item to buy. If treating ourselves nicely, and that is what therapy is actually about, doesn’t reach all of the society, then it doesn’t really make sense. No one can really feel “good” in a sick environment.

On your website, you offer various services, among which are also webinars on the sociopolitical aspect of therapy.  What are these webinars about?
All of my work is about emotional and sociopolitical awareness combined. So my first beloved training is called Gestalt and social change.  We open up topics that are crucial for humanity, such as: what is power, money, community, solidarity, love, freedom and some more and we explore them experientially, personally and existentially and decide what they want to do with that here and now. Also, I offer training mainly for therapists of any kind called the sociopolitical side of (gestalt) therapy, where I link therapeutic context to the system of violence, explain how it works and what needs to be done about it on a holistic level. Last year I started offering women empowerment training since I consider women having a difficult time living in this sociopolitical structure of patriarchy, and it is critical that we get our power back. I also offer the webinar Healing civilization and patriarchy based on Claudio Naranjo’s Healing civilization which, combined with gestalt and social awareness practice gives a unique powerful result. My new webinar is called Sexual health in patriarchy and it’s like a sequel of the first one since the sociopolitical structure of patriarchy is so connected with the way we interact with each other that this largely affects our intimate interactions as well. Last and not least, I offer private sessions online, based on gestalt therapy and sociopolitical awareness practice. Online therapy is very powerful and more easy-going since it’s done at one’s own place and there is no rush to arrive to therapist’s office needed. Also, it fits traveling therapists and clients like me perfectly.  I couldn’t believe it can work so much when you have the right person in front of you that deeply respects you until I did it myself with my last beloved therapist and supervisor Bud Feder.
And for the end, would you care to explain to us how to find areas of freedom within oppressive systems?
Well this system is suppressing humans for so long that it is very clever in doing so and very efficient. The way it works is through violently forcing its values onto the society through media and their propaganda and the social power structures, which are the state that wants to help our life but ends up rulling it in an unfair fair, and the reproduction of this in the family, education and work system, and also parts of our lives such as love relationships, friendships and co-citizenship. So of course when one realizes all that and wants to change this structure and liberate oneself from this is a great first step. Though it is important to understand the internalization of the system’s values inside us, that are there for a long time, so it is not so easy to undo them. Unfortunately, this cannot happen just on the level of the head, just through thinking about this and having a logical agreement with ourselves and others. Psychotherapy is here to explain to us more about this. Shortly explained, inner patterns of behaviour cannot be overcome in a mental way but need a whole body-present process and repetition of the new learning usually in a safe space of respect and trust, in the intuitive presence of a respectful human being. This can be a therapist or a friend, a partner or just someone we interact with in a fully-present, respectful way. So, without the inner process of addressing introjections of systemic values, it is quite impossible to stop reproducing it, and this is why I dedicate my therapeutic ability in social change, and why I have created the training that combines gestalt and social change. In my book under the same title, I explain how practicing gestalt therapy as a way of life can really help us undo the damage that capitalism, patriarchy and this totalitarian system has in generally done to our organisms.
So the good news is that wonderful humans are dedicating their life to help humanity undo this damage, and it is only a matter of giving them attention, space and time. I think that in the context of humanity and so many species under threat of extinction and our planet getting destroyed more and more every day we really have nothing better to do.