Origins of the Gestalt Parent Coaching Model

In 1978, fresh out of my graduate clinical psychology doctoral program,  my wife and I came to Maine and I was hired to develop a children’s mental health program within a statewide community-based medical home health care/visiting nurses association agency. This was a time when a variety of support services were offered to children and families within programs that were known as “pre-care” (preventative services) and “aftercare” (maintenance, post institutional care). This particular program’s Children’s Mental Health Service mission was to provide children with opportunities for pre-care as a preventative alternative to institutionalization. The defined client group included the child (at that time still usually considered the “identified patient”), the family and the school. 

Based upon the program philosophy I created, and the admissions rules that were based upon that philosophy, our Children’s mental Health Service was born.  Referrals from either the home or the school came with permission to also work in the other, non-referring system. This provision created a wonderfully effective synergistic intervention strategy. Being able to work in both venues gave us so many more opportunities and time to put into place more effective strategies for parents and teachers. It resulted in significantly increased access within which to carry out behavioral intervention strategies in a consistent, connected manner. This approach generated a high degree of effectiveness being achieved regarding the achievement of behavioral goals and in bringing about significant, effective changes in the targeted referral behaviors. In developing that philosophy of service back in 1978, I wrote the following:

“Our goal must be to provide quality care to the children and families we serve. In pursuit of this ideal…we believe that the child can best be served through interventions that provide for the involvement of the whole family.  That the services offered and provided should resemble as closely as possible the ecological [natural] available structure of the family being served, and as such, seek to maintain and reaffirm those strengths already existing in the family.”


“Professionals [such] as Gestalt Parent Coaches… should provide just so much service as to encourage independent adoption of those capabilities, actions, and values that are communicated and seen by the professional and the family as being important to them, [and by the coach] as necessary to achieve behavioral  change.  Our involvement needs to center around the delivery of services supportive of the child, the family, and their continued long-term existence.  Services, however, overreach their usefulness when they provide more than is realistically assumable after termination by the parties involved.  As such, actions need to be directed toward providing those services most closely attuned to the family’s present needs and subsequent capacity to maintain those services once our working together comes to an end.” (Melnick, 1978)

When the author later had the opportunity to become more knowledgeable about gestalt theory through programs offered by the Gestalt International Study Center (S. Wellfleet, MA), the confluence of all past education, training and program experiences began to jell within the framework that gestalt theory and coaching offered.  Ultimately this journey lead to participation and coaching certification through the GISC Coaching Certification Program, as well as additional certification in GISC’s well known and received Cape Cod Training Program. 

These two methods provided an important thread in the evolution of the Gestalt Parent Coaching theory and service delivery method that supports the logic of parents being identified as the natural change agents within families.  Linking the energy and motivation of the parents to align family-centered parenting goals with the roles and goals vested in parents is an essential approach that supports and empowers them.  Wrapped within a strong gestalt framework, the Gestalt Parenting Coaching Model was developed. This new approach vividly contrasts with various other existing approaches that enlist an external change agent.

It is important to me that parents who choose to pursue Gestalt Parent Coaching do so with an understanding of how this unique method is intended to support their desire to be more effective parents.  It is the parents who are experts in their family lore and children’s behavior. It is they who are both motivated and capable of identifying their goals and bringing to fruition the changes they desire.  The coach facilitates and empowers them through knowledge he or she has gained over their careers as coaches as well as those coaching skills he or she has acquired through training, reading and working with other families.  When all of these things comes together, wondrous changes take place in to the coaching process!!

I hope the above conveys the longstanding commitment to better supporting families that Aucocisco Coaching is committed.