Research Conversations

Mothers who maltreat their children, attachment disorganisation and shame

Presenter: AMOS, J. (University of South Australia, Centacare)

JackieBiography:  Dr Jackie Amos is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and Gestalt psychotherapist. Jackie works psychotherapeutically with severely distressed families, where ongoing abuse and neglect of children is a central concern. She currently supports child protection programmes at Centacare a non-government agency. In her doctoral research, Jackie developed two complementary models of the intergenerational transmission of neglect and abuse and the role of trauma in maintaining relationship difficulties. These models were then used to understand the key objectives of treatment for families where the care and protection of the children is compromised.

Aim:  Mothers who maltreat their children are subject to moral condemnation not only by society, but also by child protection services. The aim of this research conversation is first to consider a novel understanding of the dynamics of shame in mother-infant relationships and second to underline the imperative to offer clinical hospitality to these vulnerable women.

Overview:  Gestalt was one of the first therapies to understand the need for therapists to be sensitive to shame (Lee and Wheeler 1998), pioneering approaches to reducing shame in the therapeutic encounter, including the commitment to dialogue. One of the four pillars of dialogue is inclusion (Yontef 2005). This presentation initially explores Amos’s proposition that in addition to fright without solution, shame without solution is central to the development of disorganising attachment –caregiving relationships in mother infant dyads. The presentation then explores how acute episodic maltreatment and chronic struggles for dominance and control that characterise maltreating mother-child relationships can be conceptualised as creative ways of managing this fear and shame without solution. The outcomes of these adaptations are outlined with particular reference to the effect on self-other differentiation. Finally, how this information reinforces the importance of inclusion as a fundamental base of therapeutic interactions is considered.


Lee, R., G. and Wheeler, G. (1996) Jossey-Bass inc., Publishers, San Francisco.

Yontef, G. (2005) Gestalt Theory of Change. In Woldt and Toman Eds Gestalt Therapy. History, Theory and Practice Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks California p. 81 -100

Contact:  Dr Jackie Amos Email:


The power of presence

Presenter:  DENTON, E. (Private Practitioner), 

DentonBiography:  Elizabeth Denton is a Gestalt Therapist in private practice in Queenstown, New Zealand. She holds Masters degrees in Counselling, Education, and Management and has worked and published in all three disciplines. She gained her accreditation as a Gestalt therapist at the Gestalt Training Institute of West Australia. Liz has a keen interest in the theroetical aspects of psychotherapy, drawing on psychology, existential philosophy, and neuroscience as her informing disciplines. Liz is a certified yoga teacher and is interested in somatic approaches to working with clients.

Aim:  This presentation showcases the work of Tangi Hepi, a Māori counsellor who worked within a traditional framework taught to him by his grandmother. Using Hepi’s work as an example of successful therapy, the presentation explores the nature of the personal qualities of the therapist and their impact on therapeutic outcomes.

Overview:  Tangi Hepi was an exceptional counsellor. He worked within a traditional framework, taught to him by his grandmother. The tools and techniques he employed included some conventional methods such as transactional analysis and client-centred counselling, some traditional Māori approaches such as the use of karakia or whānau involvement in healing, as well as methods that he developed himself using metaphor, song, story and illustration. An exploration of these methods has led to some interesting speculation as to why Hepi was so successful in reaching his client population, many of whom were urbanised Māori, cut off from their traditional roots and lost between the culturally differentiated worlds of Māori and Pākehā. The notion that caring is expressed and experienced in very subtle ways is not new in our field, however the depth to which this extends is a growing field of enquiry, and the impact of these intricacies is being seen in a new light. In keeping with the conference theme, The Aesthetics of Care, the presentation looks further into the interplay of the senses between client and therapist for insight into the therapeutic process. We look beyond Hepi’s use of method and technique to explore the extent to which his presence, his personal qualities and mana, contributed to his ability to connect with his clients. The importance of the therapeutic alliance is commonly accepted, but the factors that contribute to this success are less clear. The contention is that who we are as therapists may be our principal instrument of success.

Hepi traced his ancestry back to the Tainui Waka. His iwi was Ngāti Maniapoto and he belonged to the Rakaunui Marae. He was born in 1944 in Kawhia in the North Island of New Zealand. His first language was Maori. He died in 2013.

Contact: Email: