Meet Rick Maurer

I was getting rusty. I had been practicing organization development for about twelve years. Work was going well, but then two things occurred that pulled me off this path. 

I was doing some work in theater (writing and directing) and a client asked me to write the script for a training film that hoped would grab people’s attention. I wrote a comedy. My client liked it. The actors and the director loved it, and I was off on a journey to see if people would hire me to use comedy as the basis for their educational films. That was a fun and engaging period, but I could feel my consulting skills slipping away.  

I started to look for a place where I could practice and get feedback. I wanted to find the organization development equivalent of baseball’s Spring Training. Before baseball season begins each year, players meet for a month to practice. In many instances, they practice things they have been doing since they were young children. I figured if these major league athletes could benefit from practicing the basics, so could I.

As I searched for a place to take part in Spring Training, a few friends mentioned The Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. I decided to attend a basic weekend called The Gestalt Experience to see if this might be a good fit for me. 

Our trainers that weekend were Les Wyman and Dorothy Siminovitch. They were thoughtful, clear, respectful, and seemed to “magically” know when to say something and when to keep quiet. After almost a day of silence, one participant said something deeply personal. In my experience, a statement like that could cause trainers to salivate. I’ve seen them pounce on their unsuspecting prey and not let go until they got a catharsis out of the poor misguided souls. After all, they were the trained professionals in the room, and who better to tell others what they should want?

But, that’s not how Dorothy and Les responded. Les looked at the participant, and asked, “Is that something that you’d like to work on?” She replied, “No thanks.” I was surprised when our trainers accepted no for an answer. And then Wes said, “Well, we’ve got the rest of this evening and tomorrow morning, so if you change your mind, just let us know. We’ll make space for you.”

Wow is not an official gestalt term, but my visceral reaction to how these trainers worked with us, convinced me that Cleveland was a place where I could learn. (At the time, I didn’t realize that an important tenet of gestalt work was to be there with clients and not try to change them.)

I immediately enrolled in GIC’s 18-month program focused on people who work in organizations. It was a terrific experience. I got what I wanted from Spring Training, and I learned a new theory and a new way of engaging with clients and colleagues.

I began tinkering with the gestalt approach to change (which I love), to try to make it more immediately relevant for my clients who were mostly engineers and IT folks. Two of the GIC faculty members, Elaine Kepner and Ernesto Poza, encouraged me to write about what I was discovering with regard to resistance to change.

In 1996, Bard Press published my book, Beyond the Wall of Resistance. I adapted the gestalt cycle of experience, and created a new way to look at resistance in organizations. Even though my model is a bit different, I am well-aware of the strong gestalt theory that is at the base.

Two years later I was invited to join the faculty. And I’ve been here ever since.

I continue to be influenced by gestalt in my work and my music. The gestalt tenet of being fully present serves me well in my professional work, when I play jazz, and just day-to-day living. 

This profile was adapted from Rick’s article, An Improviser’s Journey into Gestalt, which will appear in The Gestalt Review in early 2018.