Meet Barry Johnson

Barry first attended an introductory program in Gestalt workshop at the GIC in 1970.  The prior 5 years Barry had been a graduate student at Union Theological Seminary and New York Theological Seminary. During those years, he was living in East Harlem and learning about the lives of the urban poor. He kept dropping out of seminary to be involved in one organizing effort after another. He was involved in the civil rights movement and was the office manager for Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam. He was also an organizer for Seminarians in the Resistance, a group encouraging fellow seminarians to give up their seminary student deferment and face the same choices experienced by those who had no deferments.

After 5 years of dropping in and out of seminary, his wife, Carol, said, “Maybe your ministry is more about what you have been doing than what you are preparing to do through seminary.” Barry agreed and left seminary to learn about systems and being a more effective “change agent.” He wanted to learn how to create systems that were good places to work and live rather than just protest systems that were not.

He wanted to start with himself expand to couples, groups, organizations and nations. He had heard about the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland and decided to check it out.  His first experience was a powerful one both personally and theoretically. It was there that he learned about the paradoxical theory of change. It radically altered his sense of what it could mean to be a “change agent.”

From 1973 to 75, Barry was involved in the first 2 year training in Gestalt Methods conducted by the GIC away from Cleveland. The program was delivered in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Barry was one of 24 participants. The faculty included 2 senior members, Bill Warner and Elaine Kepner, and 2 younger members, Len Hirsch and Fran Baker.

It was at the end of that 2 year program, in 1975 that Barry was in clinical training as a Gestalt Therapist that the first polarity map emerged out of a one-on-one therapy session.  Barry had moved from New York to Grand Rapids and was in the process of learning about systems by starting a number of them including: a collective living arrangement with a small group of friends and families, a 24 hour crisis phone service,  a community newspaper, and a residential treatment program for heroin addicted adults. Each step of the way the question always was, “How does what I am learning apply to larger systems like big organizations, governments, and nation states?”  

When the first polarity map and initial principles emerged out of his Gestalt Therapy session in 1975, it was clear to Barry that there was something important that happened in that session that could apply to systems of any size and that was very consistent with gestalt principles including the paradoxical theory of change.

Eight years later, in 1983, Barry was a participant in the first Organization and Systems Development Program (OSD) at the GIC. The faculty included, Jeff Voorhees, Carolyn Lukensmeyer,  John Carter, Elaine Kepner and Ed Nevis. At that time, he was also pursuing his PHD in Organizational Development at International College under the mentorship of Jack Gibb, the father of Trust Theory.  Barry was combining, Gestalt, Trust Theory, and what has become Polarity Thinking.

In 1992, Barry wrote his first book, Polarity Management, Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems. HRD Press.  

In 2007, Barry was on the Faculty of a GIC program called “Becoming An Effective Organizational Intervener.”  The faculty included: Herb Stevenson, Rick Mauer , Lisa Gaynier, Celia Young, and Jacquie McClemore.

In 2008, Barry was on the Faculty of the second program by the same title.

When the GIC did it’s first coaching program in June of 2012, Barry and Ciff Kayser did a follow-up, Two-day Workshop called: Coaching Polarities - Tapping Polarities to Enhance Your Coaching Practice at the GIC.

Barry continues to combine Gestalt Theory and Practice with his evolution of Polarity Thinking. This shows up in his new book,  AND, How to Leverage Polarity, Paradox, Dilemma. It is due out in June, 2017. Barry is offering advance chapters of his book on line now and an autographed copy of the printed book when it is published. Those interested can support Barry through your “Readers’ Advance” payment at: