Welcome to this podcast discussion that explores the integration of the Windhorse approach with Dialogical Process that derives from Finland’s Open Dialogue treatment approach. We are also fortunate to publish here an original paper by Phoebe Walker, The Evolution of Dialogic Practice within the Windhorse Project, that provides substantial background for this exploration. Chuck Knapp and I recently hosted this discussion with Phoebe Walker, Cat Sargent, and Elise White. Phoebe, Cat, and Elise have each received extensive training in Dialogical Process while working as clinicians with Windhorse Integrative Mental Health, Northampton, MA. They and others in their home center have been working on the integration of these two clinical approaches for the past twenty years. We appreciated their willingness and readiness to accept our invitation to explore their work with such enthusiasm.
Both approaches to healing communication have areas of deep overlap. Both place a high value on authentic human dialogue that tolerates uncertainty, is open to hearing all voices as distinct yet interrelated, and intends to clarify the truth of emerging social realities. Both are an intentional shift from “doing to” a person in mental extremes to “being with” the person with one’s embodied, responsive presence. This shift in stance frees the therapists’ awareness to be more in the on-going process of communication, rather than fixed on preconceived goal ideas of what should and shouldn’t happen. Both Windhorse and Open Dialogue share an abiding conviction in the inherent health in all people. This provides trustworthy ground for shared open inquiry that helps everyone involved to change and grow toward health.
Thank you for your interest in the Windhorse Journal. Our team hopes you find this podcast and paper engaging and stimulating. Initially, you may feel you are passively absorbing the information and emotional energy of the five of us from a distance. As you go on, you may begin to naturally resonate in the dialogue field with us. We are all then changed by this encounter.
May we listen well and read well,
Phoebe Walker, LMHC is the Clinical Director at Windhorse Integrative Mental Health. Pheobe received a Master’s in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling Psychology from Antioch New England Graduate School in 2003. In 2001 She was the first graduate student to intern at Windhorse IMH. In her 9 years at Windhorse IMH she has served as a Team Counselor, Clinical Mentor, Team Leader, Intensive Psychotherapist, Community Yoga Teacher, Addictions Group Leader and Admissions assistant. Phoebe’s Bachelors degree in Philosophy from Kenyon College and years of training in body disciplines inform her daily practice of developing compassionate awareness, action and relationships within the community of Windhorse.
Cat Sargent, LMHC is the Assistant Clinical Director and Clinical Team Leader at Windhorse Integrative Mental Health. Cat received her Bachelor’s in International Studies from the School for International Training and Master’s in Counseling Psychology from Vermont College. She has worked in gerontology and in public mental health as a therapist and/or outreach team supervisor for over 15 years. Cat has been a member of a peer counseling community since she was a teen and has taught cocounseling for over 25 years. She is originally from Eastern CT (go Huskies!), lived for almost a year in Denmark, and found a profound sense of personal and professional kinship at Windhorse.
Elise White, BA is an Associate Team Leader at Windhorse Integrative Mental Health. Elise received her Bachelor’s in Psychology at Mt Holyoke College and has over a decade of experience at Windhorse. She facilitates both the Hearing Voices and seasonal Gardening groups. She has practiced in Shambhala and Insight Meditation traditions, and has training in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. She loves mandalas, all things dog, growing flowers and food, walking and swimming.
Jeffrey Fortuna, M.A., L.P.C., received his MA in Contemplative Psychotherapy at Naropa University in 1980, and served on the Naropa faculty until 1989. In 1981, he co-founded the first Windhorse center, Maitri Psychological Services in Boulder, CO. From 1989 to 1992, Mr. Fortuna founded and directed a Windhorse group in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In 1992, he co-founded Windhorse Associates, Inc., and served as Executive/Clinical Director. In 2002, Jeff returned to Boulder as a co-director of Windhorse Community Services,Inc. He retired from his co-director role in 2013, yet continues to serve as a senior clinician and educator. He has taught widely, and written a book chapter and journal papers in the area of Windhorse treatment.
Charles Knapp, MA, LPC (moderator) is a student of Chogyam Trungpa and graduate of Naropa University, worked closely for many years with Dr. Ed Podvoll, originator of the Windhorse Approach. Chuck was a founding member and later director of Friendship House, which was a publically funded residential treatment home for people with extreme mental states. In 1990 he co-founded Windhorse Community Services in Boulder, Colorado, where he served as a Co-Director until 2019, and currently works as a senior clinician. Through his published writings, presentations at conferences, and as co-founder and coordinator of the Windhorse Journal in 2018, Chuck continues to share his interest in exploring mindfulness-based therapeutic environments for both individual and social wellbeing.
The Evolution of Dialogic Practice within the Windhorse Project
By Phoebe Walker, LMHC
International Training in Dialogic Practice
Institute for Dialogic Practice Trainers: Mary Olson, Ph.D, Nazlim Hagmann, MD
Please note that this paper was originally written as a philosophy of training paper, a requirement for my third year of training in Open Dialogue and Dialogical Process.
As a trainer of dialogical processes, my intention is for my trainees to gain a clear knowledge of the relevant history, philosophy, and practices, in a learning environment where participants are encouraged to explore their own subjectivity, curiosity, objections, questions and reflections, founded on the direct experiences of dialogical practices. My hope is that participants will ultimately find firm footing in the epistemological stance of dialogical practice and that their learning and facilitation of dialogical processes will be embodied, responsive and attuned to the living networks they observe and participate in.
As the majority of trainings I will offer will be in the context of my work with Windhorse Integrative Mental Health, it feels important to provide some information about this context. The first Windhorse project was launched in the early 1980’s as an attempt at an alternative to hospitalization for a woman who struggled with extreme mind and emotional states, along with repeated hospitalizations at prestigious institutions. Dr. Edward Podvoll—then the director of the Naropa Institute’s (Boulder, CO) Contemplative Psychology program—lead a team of his Masters level students in creating an uplifted home and social environment where recovery—or an opportunity to establish connection and ground in one’s basic dignity, goodness and intelligence—could emerge.
Previous to his time at Naropa, Dr. Podvoll had been trained in psychoanalysis while working at Chestnut Lodge in Maryland. His approach to working with people experiencing psychosis was deeply influenced by the work of Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, Harry Stack Sullivan and Harold Searles. Later, Dr. Podvoll became a student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and began to blend his psychoanalytic roots with Buddhist psychology and practice. Largely an oral tradition, the Windhorse approach has been carried through students of Dr. Podvoll to the seven or so centers that exist today. Dr. Podvoll died in 2003 after having spent 11 years in retreat. His most devoted student is Jeffrey Fortuna, a founder of Windhorse Associates, Northampton, MA (now Windhorse IMH), former Co-Director of Windhorse Community Services in Boulder, CO, and heir to the archive of Dr. Podvoll’s teachings. For the past 10 years, Jeff has served as a mentor to me in my work.
It feels important to at least briefly touch on the lineage of pioneering teachers in the Windhorse approach, whose values and core principles align so closely with those of Open Dialogue and dialogical processes. As a clinician learning and practicing in the context of the Windhorse approach to working with extreme states of bio-psycho-social-spiritual dis-ease, I felt an immediate kinship with the radical stance of Open Dialogue. Something felt deeply resonant in the idea that psychosis was experienced locally in a person but was ultimately network induced. Windhorse is a practical outgrowth of Buddhist psychology, philosophy and practice. Deeply embedded in the approach is the belief that all life is interconnected, that our freedom and dis-ease is bound up with each other, which informs how we are with ourselves and the other. I have found that the fundamental stance of Open Dialogue and Windhorse are uniquely aligned in the larger mental health field in terms of where knowledge and healing come from:
Dialogism is not merely a form of communication but an epistemological stand. As dialogical actors in treatment meetings, our experiences of action are necessarily informed by responsive dialogical attunement to the particular moment of conversation among embodied selves in a once-occurring event of being. (Seikkula Trimble, 2005, pg. 469)
In addition, the lineage of psychoanalysis that Dr. Podvoll trained in traces back to Frieda Fromm-Reichmann (Podvoll, 2003) and Martin Buber. I hear echoes of both of their work in this quote from Seikkula and Trimble:
Dialogue is a mutual act, and focusing on dialogue as a form of psychotherapy changes the position of the therapists, who act no longer as interventionists but as participants in a mutual process of uttering and responding. Instead of seeing a family or individuals as objects, they become part of subject-subject relations. (Seikkula, Trimble, 2005, pg. 465)
This is resonant with Martin Buber in his explorations of I/Thou vs I/It relations (Buber, 1953) and Frieda Fromm-Reichmann’s working understanding that all communication—even apparently psychotic communication—has meaning (Fromm-Reichmann, 1960). Primary in both the contemplative and psychoanalytic roots of Windhorse is the exploration of what it is to be a participant observer, in a mutual process, where each participant’s expertise is welcome in what is ultimately a relational unfolding of meaning and knowledge.
In my years integrating dialogical practices into Windhorse work, I have come to deeply appreciate the ways that the skills of dialogical processes create a working form or frame that very clearly upholds our values in the realm of speech and communication. This has been a great complement to—and extension of—the humanist, non-pathologizing, mindfulness and awareness practices that ground our work.
There is a fundamental revolutionary shift in epistemological stance required by most if not all clinicians who come to the dialogical practices of Open Dialogue and the Windhorse approach, having been thoroughly steeped in Western medical model clinical trainings, which are oriented towards localizing pathology and finding a cure. Trusting or tolerating the uncertainty of a “mutual process of uttering and responding” as a vehicle for healing is no small leap for most clinicians who have been trained to exert their expertise in intervention and treatment.
My approach to leadership, supervision, and training have some deep overlaps. At Windhorse, my work as the Clinical Director largely involves bringing clinicians along in our unique approach to working with people whose lives and families have been disrupted by extreme mental and emotional states. The majority of my time is dedicated to individual and group supervision as well as developing and facilitating trainings in our approach. I also function as the individual therapist on 3 of our clinical teams and have been facilitating family meetings since my first two years of training in dialogical processes, beginning in 2011.
In contrast to treatment as usual and manually-prescribed care, clinicians are drawn to Windhorse because it represents a more humane, compassionate, person-centered approach. However, the full shift in epistemological stance that is eventually required to sustain the work is not an easy one to make. As a leader, supervisor, and trainer at Windhorse, the majority of my energy and time with clinicians is oriented towards supporting each of their unique subjectivities in finding real ground and a sense of equanimity—working from the place of emptiness and compassion, self-regulation and attunement, tolerating uncertainty and trusting dialogue, in the co-creation of meaning, genuine connection and development with others in the context of team, family and organizational networks.
In the years that I have been supervising and training Windhorse clinicians, I have come to organize my thinking and approach to training as the ongoing development of both outer and inner practices that guide the work of each clinician. Examples of outer practices include using descriptive language (Walker, 2008), responding to the clients’ utterances, using open-ended questions, eliciting multiple viewpoints, utilizing reflecting teams (Olson, Seikkula, Zeidens, 2014). The inner practices that seem essential to developing skilled Windhorse and Dialogical practitioners is the increasing ability to tolerate uncertainty, as well as trusting the process and forms of dialogue to reveal a path. Included in the inner practices is increasing awareness and discernment of one’s own inner or vertical polyphony and the seeming threats—ever-present in conversation—that might lead one to react with passion, aggression or ignorance, thus paralyzing dialogue (Podvoll, 1986).
During the second year of Open Dialogue training, I began to experiment with the monthly Large Group Supervision process that had long been established at Windhorse. This is one example of integrating dialogical practice into supervision at Windhorse by adopting the outer practice of reflective listening and responding. This supervision group includes all of the people who work as a paid part of our clinical teams (Therapists, Team Leaders, Nurses, Team Counselors, Peer Counselors and Therapeutic Housemates). Each month, one team chooses to present about their experience working with the client and the team as a whole. Before I began to experiment with the form and practice of the group, the presenting team would create a circle inside the larger group, often called a “fishbowl”. Each team member in the presenting team was invited to speak honestly to their experience of themselves in relation to the client and team, including areas of challenge and ease and/or share a descriptive vignette of time they had recently shared with the client. When the presenting team finished their sharing, the outer circle would be invited to share what had come up for them as they listened in an open conversation.
Similar to the use of reflective dialogue in network meetings, the practice of using descriptive language—opening to all voices and polyphony on the team, and speaking to one’s own internal dialogue in relation to the client rather than just talking about the client—was intended to help team members to “tolerate the uncertainty of a situation in which there are no rapid responses for difficult problems and no rapid treatment decisions. By tolerating this uncertainty, network members discover in their sharing of the situation the psychological resources for answering the questions of how to go on” (Seikkula, Trimble, 2005, pg. 471).
Unfortunately, the conversation within the outer circle would often quickly turn to problem solving or unhelpful suggestions and theorizing about what the client needed. As a result, the presenting team would often leave feeling either judged or not seen in the complexity of their living dilemmas as a team.
I began to experiment with a few of what I would call the outer practices of Open Dialogue that I was learning in my training—first, by inviting an individual participant in the larger circle to listen as if they were the client and other important family members. (This has since expanded to sometimes include important non-human relationships in the client’s life, including god, marijuana and death, to name a few.) I then introduced the aspects of experience to track and share from as a listener in the larger circle that I had learned in training with Mary Olsen, Ph.D., namely: (1) images or metaphors that come to mind, (2) words, phrases or happenings in the dialogue that are striking to you, (3) any resonances within your own personal experience and (4) how your energy and mind moved over the course of listening. If someone’s reflection took a turn towards problem solving or theorizing—or even their previous interactions with the client where they formed ideas about them—I would gently interrupt and invite them back to content relevant to reflective listening.
The presenting team is invited to first listen to the people in the larger circle who were listening as if they were the client or other important people in the client’s life, and then to the remainder of the larger circle who has been tracking their lived experience of the polyphony of the presenting team. Finally, I invite each person in the presenting team to offer anything about their response to hearing the reflections of the outer circle.
By incorporating guidelines for reflective listening and adding multiple layers of listening and responding to what was already a very descriptive and inter-subjectively oriented supervision group, we have moved away from dis-embodied problem solving and towards an experience of drawing-out and sharing the dilemma of the team more fully. In this experience, team members often report feeling a renewed sense of
workability and creativity in their relationship with the client and team. This is one example of how training Windhorse clinicians in aspects of dialogical practices has further drawn out the values that are inherent in the approach. As part of training interviewers in dialogical processes in specific preparation for network meetings, I imagine creating repeated localized opportunities for the interviewers to practice the twelve key elements of fidelity to Dialogic Practice, with fellow trainees, including many opportunities to reflect on the experience (Olson, Seikkula, Ziedonis, 2014)—as well as inviting them to witness and participate as reflectors in network meetings.
I have been in a very fortunate position in working at Windhorse—whose epistemological stance and values align so closely to Open Dialogue—while also being in a position of leadership there. This unique position has allowed me the freedom to navigate various inter-personal, clinical team, and organizational dilemmas from a dialogical frame, utilizing dialogical processes in meetings with the various stakeholders. Because dialogical practices so clearly bring the values of the Windhorse project to life, I have been able to explore using them in a variety of contexts apart from family or network meetings. This has included adapting the Anticipation Dialogues (Seikkula & Arnkil, 2006) to frame and create our strategic plan as an organization and incorporating reflecting teams into conflict resolution meetings. As a result of these successful adaptations, I imagine encouraging clinicians who are training in dialogical practices to explore the key elements of dialogue in their facilitation of clinical team related meetings.
As I mentioned earlier, the inner practices that feel essential to developing skilled Dialogical and Windhorse practitioners include increasing one’s ability to tolerate uncertainty, as well as awareness and discernment of one’s own inner polyphony and nervous system responses when encountering others.
I believe that sitting mediation practice helps to maintain one’s inner dialogical stance. Through the practice, one comes to know and be more confident in the very basic open awareness, which we all have access to, that happens before thought and emotion. This basic sanity or awareness has a natural equanimity that can be in touch with all of our experience internally and inter-personally, without wavering. If one can train in resting in this basic open awareness through sitting practice, one can more
easily tolerate the uncertainty or not knowing of the mind and relax the expert clinical gaze that disrupts dialogue and shared meaning making. Meditation practice also develops one’s ability to discern between the various phenomena in the mind, body and emotions within oneself—and within the inter-subjective field—without getting overly identified or startled by it.
In addition to mindfulness-awareness practice, I find individual supervision is essential to training. I am reminded of a quote from Paulo Freire:
Let me put it this way: you never get there by starting from there, you get there by starting from some here. This means, ultimately, the educator must not be ignorant of, underestimate, or reject any of the “knowledge of living experience” with which the educands come to school. (Freire, 1994, pg. 58)
Working with trainees individually helps me to be more local to their living experience as they grapple with finding their own footing and skill in facilitating dialogue. My practice of supervision is informed by the contemplative, inter-subjective psychotherapy practice originally articulated and taught by Dr. Podvoll, as well as key aspects of dialogue that I learned in my training with Mary Olsen, Ph.D.
As a supervisor, I work towards drawing out and giving voice to the inner polyphony, as clinicians describe happenings between themselves and clients, as well as other team members. I do this using open-ended questions, staying both near to and curious about their own language and words as we explore together. I am transparent with my thoughts and associations as they emerge from a place of reflective listening. I often find myself saying “What was happening in you as you…?” or “How did you come to the idea to do…?” In this kind of exchange, as we come to some understanding together, clinicians can build awareness of the vertical and horizontal polyphony that arises in a particular relationship, find expression, and begin to reach their own conclusions about how they might allow for movement in themselves and the intersubjective field they are working in.
Continually increasing awareness of the nuances of one’s own vertical polyphony as it manifests in relationship with the other creates space to genuinely listen to all voices without feeling threatened, allowing the dialogue to find the way forward.
If we are unaware of the nuances of our inner polyphony, we run the risk of overtaking dialogue by over-identifying with the voice of one of our inner identities, perhaps
particularly when uncertainty arises, turning the inner and outer conversation toward the monological. Perhaps most often in network meetings, or as therapists, there is a strong pull to over-identify as the expert, with our theoretical knowledge. One might also easily get caught in identifying as a parental voice in relation to a network or an individual. Another way this could happen is by subtly favoring a network voice that resonates strongly with our position within our family of origin. Any of these voices might be welcome in reflective dialogue, but they work against the outer practices that maintain the frame of dialogue.
Perhaps intertwined, but separate from awareness of inner polyphony, is our embodied being as we sit with a network or an other. I believe tracking one’s nervous system and its reactions to subtle threats in the social network is an additional inner practice that keeps dialogical space open. One lens that has been helpful for tracking and using nervous system information is the applied poly-vagal theory developed by Deb Dana, LICSW. Ideally, as one is facilitating a network meeting, they would maintain a well-regulated ventral-vagal state. Individual supervision can be used to explore triggers and avenues to self-regulation (Dana, 2018).
One other lens that has been helpful, as a trainer, in developing the inner practice of skilled clinicians, is a phenomenon first articulated by Ed Podvoll in a Style of Countertransference Seminar he gave at the Naropa Institute in 1886, transcribed by Jeffrey Fortuna. In this seminar he describes three “neurotic styles” that “dedicated therapists” can fall into, which threaten genuine connection and meaningful exchange. These three “neurotic styles” are connected to the three poisons that generate suffering in Buddhist psychology and philosophy. The three poisons are passion (attraction), aggression (aversion) and ignorance (neutrality). The three “neurotic styles” that a “dedicated therapist” can fall into are rescuing, curing, and professionalism. Passion becomes a rescue attempt, or the strong impulse or need to save someone. Aggression becomes an attempt to cure someone or a network, to root out suffering and pathology. Ignorance becomes professionalism, retreating into the clinical gaze of the expert role, denying the full humanity of our clients, while blocking off aspects of our own.
All three of these “neurotic styles” become obstacles to the healing potential in the Windhorse approach and, I believe, in the dialogical processes of network meetings
as well. The “neurotic styles” emerge as a response to what is perceived as the unbearable suffering of another. If we like a network or person, we might try to rescue them. If we dislike them, we might be tempted to cure. If they are neutral to us, but the suffering is too great, we may back away into our professionalism, essentially leaving them on their own. I am reminded of Seikkula and Trimble’s article Healing Elements of Therapeutic Conversation: Dialogue as an Embodiment of Love:
It has been our experience that the heavier the experiences and emotions lived through together in the meeting, the more favorable the outcome seems to be. Before the meeting, network members may have been struggling with unbearably painful situations and have had difficulty talking with each other about their problems. Thus, they have estranged themselves from each other when they most need each other’s support. In the meeting, network members find it possible to live through severity and hopelessness of the crisis even as they feel their solidarity as a family and intimate personal community. These two powerful and distinct emotional currents run through the meeting, amplifying each other recursively. Painful emotions stimulate strong feelings of a sharing and belonging together. These feelings of solidarity in turn make it possible to go more deeply into painful feelings, thus engendering stronger feelings of solidarity, and so on. Indeed, it appears that the shift out of rigid and constricted monological discourse into dialogue occurs as if by itself when painful emotions are not treated as dangerous, but instead allowed to flow freely in the room…Participants’ language and bodily gestures would begin to express strong emotions that, in the everyday language used in meetings, could best be described as an experience of love…Once the feelings became widely shared throughout the meeting, the experience of relational healing became palpable. (Seikkula and Trimble, 2005, pg. 468-469)
It seems paramount to me that interviewers/clinicians develop the skill of being in and staying with the often strong distressing emotional fields that exist in networks as part of the healing mechanism of dialogue. As humans, most of us have a strong unthinking instinct to avoid suffering that can be hard to undo. Developing trainees who are skilled at catching the all-too-human “neurotic” responses that can emerge in response to suffering supports their ability to be in and with the emotional field of the network while continuing to facilitate dialogue.
At bottom, what I mean is that the educand really becomes an educated when and to the extent that he or she knows, or comes to know, content, cognizable objects, and not in the measure that the educator is depositing in the educands a description of the object or contents. (Freire, 1994, pg. 46)
Overall, the exploration of these inner practices helps trainees come to know “cognizable” inner voices, states and events that either encourage or close off genuine dialogue, shared meaning making and healing.
My Ongoing Practice as a Trainer, Leader, and Supervisor
In many ways, both as a clinician and a human, I grew up in the philosophy and practice of Windhorse’s approach to healing and synchronizing body/mind/emotions/environment through genuine speech and relationship. Before entering my training in Dialogical Processes and becoming the Clinical Director of Windhorse, my ideas about good leadership and training were informed by various experiences and impressions that I encountered as I attempted to grow in my work. I was ever inspired by higher-ups who truly embodied equanimity, compassion and skillful means in very challenging situations, in their dealings with me and others; teachers who bothered to find my subjectivity and bring me, personally, along. Also, there were many times where I felt injured by reactions from higher-ups that seemed ignited by fear or a need for control—moments where passion, aggression, and or ignorance stunted the natural becoming of myself, another, or a group of people.
Certain aspects of my identity have also deeply informed my approach to leadership and training. As a child, my emotional life and its expression were deeply misunderstood and miss-attuned to by my parents. I was often characterized as devilish or ill-intended. As I entered the field of psychology, I found myself naturally gravitating towards approaches that were not framed around rooting out or curing pathology in one person, but rather seeking to understand the intelligence in all communication, and dis-ease as a product of an intrinsically wholesome subject, in a bio-psycho-social-spiritual environmental mismatch.
The perception of me as a young, white, conventionally attractive, heterosexual, economically advantaged, cis-gendered female has come with various privileges, as well as experiences of sexism and ageism. As an un-partnered, childless, middle-aged woman who suffered early catastrophic loss, I often feel other than the normal. All of these visible and invisible aspects of my selfhood—and the ways in which they have been met kindly, indifferently, or with aggression—have informed who I am as a leader and trainer.
In my transition from clinician to Clinical Director, I found myself wondering intensely about what exactly I was being empowered to do as the Clinical Director. I wanted to lead in a way that I had not seen before, a way deeply connected to my authentic voice, which was finding a natural home and articulation in phenomenology and the anti-foundationalist writings of Luce Irigaray. I was leery of patriarchal manifestations of strength in leadership, leery of wielding power, stifling voices, having monologue and disconnect dominate our inter-subjectivity, stifling our shared intelligence and creativity.
I was speaking with Jeff Fortuna near the time of this transition and took the opportunity to ask him, “What I am being empowered to do as the Clinical Director?” This is a question I ask myself in relation to being a trainer and supervisor as well as leader. He responded by saying I had been empowered to be “kind, honest and humble.” His response was deeply reassuring to me. These were all things I could practice at endlessly, all things that did not amount to having power over people, all things that would keep me in dialogue and connection. The kindness amounts to acknowledging that we are all in a struggle of becoming, and that we grow stronger with nourishment of favorable conditions. The honesty amounts to not shying away from, giving up, or diminishing the intelligence that is rightfully within me as a result of my experience and learning. The humble amounts to allowing my mind and being to be moved by the lived experience and expression of the other, tolerating uncertainty, and being with polyphony. I was reminded of Jeff’s response when I read this from Paulo Freire:
The route to the defeat of these practices (of an authoritarian elitist ideology) is in the difficult exercise of the virtues of humility, of consistency, or tolerance, on the part of the progressive intellectual—in the exercise of a consistency that ever decreases the distance between what we say and what we do. (Freire, 1994, pg. 80, parenthesis added)
In a May 2019, at the World Windhorse Conference (Boulder, CO), Jeff Fortuna and three of his students presented a working draft of an article titled The Development of Windhorse Teachers (Fortuna, 2018). This piece articulates primary awareness
points that have been embodied and passed along orally though the lineage of Windhorse teachers and leaders over the years. Having grown up in this lineage, I know that these primary awareness points guide me in any training or teaching I do. A few of them feel particularly relevant to dialogical training and echo Freire’s approach to education. They include 1) the teacher thrives in open questions, 2) be a good student 3) rely on direct experience, 4) cultivate the student-teacher relationship, 5) only teach what you know and have experienced, 6) know when to be silent, 7) practice what you are learning, embody what you are teaching, 8) develop the skill to teach from parables, 9) develop a sensitivity to the process of the organization and communities you are embedded in, 10) respect the legacy of those who have come before us, 11) Constantly familiarize oneself with the literature, and 12) realize that the student is bringing you along.
In 2013, I was asked to conduct a year-long training in Windhorse Intensive Psychotherapy for 5 long-time Team Leaders. At the time, I was only the third person aside from Dr. Podvoll to facilitate this training. I had been at Windhorse for over 10 years but was new to my leadership role. It was a great honor to be trusted with the training by Jeff Fortuna and other elders of the lineage.
Psychotherapy at Windhorse is unique in that it happens in the context of individualized dynamic therapeutic teams. Before a Masters level clinician is eligible to become a psychotherapist on a Windhorse team, they must work for at least two years as a Team Leader, in collaboration with a Windhorse Psychotherapist or Senior Clinician who—in addition to providing therapy to the client—is also seasoned in the various vicissitudes of team movements and is energetically minding the position and health of each team member. All of our Team Leaders have been trained previously in individual therapy in their Masters programs and usually have worked as individual therapists in other settings. Working as a Team Leader doing 3-hour basic attendance shifts with clients, in the world, and tending to team communication can feel like a demotion: more front line, less specialized, certainly more grunt work, less clinical gaze, more humans finding a way forward together. For some this shift is welcome, for others less so. Regardless, the fact these trained clinicians are held back from doing individual therapy until they have had at least two years of Team Leading experience
unintentionally lends a kind of specialized, exclusive, or mythological air to being trained in Windhorse psychotherapy, that folks can easily come to resent before they are trained.
The group of five Team Leaders who were trainees in my Windhorse Intensive Psychotherapy training, had between three and five years of experience at Windhorse. They had various distinct theoretical lenses from their previous work and training that continued to inform them as clinicians. Having worked closely with them over the years, I was aware that each of them had a deep respect for the work of Windhorse—as they understood it—and for each other. However, each of them also had deep fundamental questions or concerns about the work—and rubs with each other. These concerns were unique to each of their paths as clinicians and expressed themselves verbally—some more, some less—in the context of the work together. Also part of the landscape was people’s perception of my relationship to Windhorse as unquestioning in my passion for and loyalty to the approach.
As I began to prepare for the training, I was keenly aware of all these dynamics. Most, if not all of them, felt like invisible obstacles or roadblocks to our actually learning together. I felt determined to carve out a space for us to learn. In a general sense, this required me to deeply listen to each of them in their own terms, while also deeply listening to the content/material handed down to me from my elders, and the supplemental avenues I had explored over the years in my studies related to psychotherapy at Windhorse. I had to be creative while remaining in integrity with all involved.
I read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed over the summer, in preparation for this paper. Through his words, I found myself traveling in my thoughts, again and again, back to this psychotherapy training: the rigor it required of myself to ethically, honestly, and very realistically create a learning environment. I find his passion, experience and words extremely encouraging and affirming as they speak of what I have known inside me too:
What especially moves me to be ethical is to know that, inasmuch as education of its very nature is directive and political, I must without ever denying my dream or my utopia before the educands, respect them. To defend a thesis, a position, a preference, with earnestness, defend it rigorously but passionately, as well, and at the same time stimulate the contrary discourse, and respect the right to
utter that discourse, is the best way to teach, first, the right to have our own ideas, even our duty to “quarrel” for them, for our dreams—and not only to learn the syntax of the verb, haver; and second, mutual respect…
…However, the moment the educator’s “directivity” interferes with the creative, formulative, investigative capacity of the educand, then the necessary directivity is transformed into manipulation, into authoritarianism…
…My ethical duty, as one of the subjects, one of the agents, of a practice that can never be neutral—the educational—is to express my respect for differences in ideas and positions. I must respect even positions opposed to my own, positions I combat earnestly and with passion…
…Therefore, teaching is a creative act, a critical act, and not a mechanical one. The curiosity of the teacher and the students, in action, meet on the basis of teaching-learning. (Freire, 1994, pg. 78-81)
Ultimately, as a trainer in dialogical processes I draw on the rich teaching traditions and practices that I have been entrusted with, through my trainers and teachers in dialogue and the Windhorse approach. My hope is that people who train with me will come to find some equanimity and confidence in the epistemological stance of dialogue, through study, direct experience, practice and reflection, in a training environment that is responsive to their lived experience/knowledge and learning edges. Manifesting this hope requires me as a trainer to continue always to study, practice and be ever more kind, honest and humble in order to decrease “the distance between what we (I) say and what we (I) do” (Freire, 1994, parentheses added).
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