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History of the Gestalt Institute of Toronto

    The Birth of the Gestalt Institute

    It was the connection to Fritz Perls that brought this unlikely pair together: Harvey Freedman, Toronto psychiatrist, and Jorge Rosner, human potential movement pioneer. Harvey met Fritz at Esalen Institute in California in 1965 and Jorge’s Virginia Satir Training group invited Fritz to train them at the Gestalt Institute of Chicago. In 1969, Dr. Perls, had a dream to open up a Gestalt Institute at Lake Cowichan in British Columbia and appointed Dr. Freedman as Clinical Director. When Perls died in March 1970 Dr. Freedman and his family cancelled their plans to move to Vancouver Island. Instead, in September 1970, with the help of Dr. Harold Silver and Dr. Peter Brawley, he founded the Gestalt Institute of Toronto and established a space at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto. The Institute was granted the last non-profit charter ever issued by the Department of Health of Ontario.
    It was on a trip to Mexico that Harvey met and was impressed by a fellow in a panama hat and smoking a cheroot who turned out to be a fellow “Perlsian”. Dr. Freedman later described Jorge Rosner as one of the most naturally brilliant therapists he had ever known. Following that fateful meeting Harvey invited Jorge to join the team at The Gestalt Institute in 1972.
    These were very exciting times – Dr. Freedman’s unique perspective, pure sense of Gestalt, and creative and sensitive application of Gestalt as a therapy had a powerful and much valued impact on the lives of his students and participants in group therapy. Rosner lived Gestalt and incorporated his background in drama, various forms of bodywork, and his study of Tibetan Buddhism into his work. Jorge also founded, taught, and practiced at Gestalt institutes in Scandinavia and Australia, along with teaching in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Mexico, Poland, The Netherlands, and England.


    When Harvey left the Institute, Rosner took over as Executive Director and Head of Faculty and continued to lead the Gestalt Institute of Toronto until his death in May 1994. Jorge’s vision was to create “fuller human beings” and in his day the Training Program was said to be for “warriors only.” Jorge’s definition of a warrior is one who knows there is only one battle – the battle with self.
    In February 2014, we mourned the loss of JoAnne Greenham who led the Gestalt Institute as Executive Director and Head of Faculty from 1995 to 2013. JoAnne, who was known for her lightness of spirit and brilliant mind, graduated from the GIT in 1977, having studied with both Harvey Freedman and Jorge Rosner. She was also a member of the Faculty at the institutes in Sweden and Denmark for eight years. Under her directorship the Institute grew from a challenging program of personal development into a world class training program for psychotherapists.
    Jay Tropianskaia, Director of Training, Senior Faculty, trained with Jorge, Howard Greenberg and JoAnne Greenham, joined the Faculty in the fall of 1994, and became the Director of Training in 2012. Under Jay’s leadership, the Gestalt Institute of Toronto became the first educational and training institute to be recognized by CRPO. With her guidance, Gestalt has moved into the next natural stage of its evolution, joining its international contemporaries in the teaching of Relational Gestalt, grounded in the theory that no dynamic change is possible without support in the field, that is the community.
    Carolina Edwards, Executive Director, Senior Faculty, graduated the GIT under Jorge Rosner and JoAnne Greenham, joined the Faculty in 1996 and took over as Executive Director in June 2013, forming a bipartite leadership structure with Jay. Carolina, who has an extensive background as an educational audiologist, lecturer and entrepreneur through the creation and development of the first private practice of its kind in Canada, transformed the organizational accountability of the administration of the GIT and the physical structure.
    Frances Battista Khanna, Associate Faculty, whose background included studies with the New York Gestalt Institute, as well as studies with Jorge and Harvey, joined the faculty in 2000 and taught in the program for the next eleven years. She was known for her excellent pacing and sensitivity. Fran now serves as an associate faculty, teaching Sensory Awareness at the GIT.
    The faculty continues to grow and expand with the excellence and uniqueness of long time graduates who bring their experience and commitment back into the GIT and are our future. These are Tony Greco, Christopher Rodrigues, and Janet Crocker. See their biographies on the Faculty page.
    The Gestalt Institute of Toronto was registered in 1973 as a private educational institute and a registered charitable organization. Currently it has a Board of Directors that works with the Faculty to establish policy and direct planning. All tuition fees and donations are deductible for income tax purposes as permitted under the Canadian Federal Income Tax Act.