Cathie O'Brien OD Consultant, Psychotherapist, Supervisor & Trainer 

  Specialising in organisations who work with vulnerable people in challenging environments 

 A Whole Service/Systems Approach

A whole service/systems approach to emotion-regulation

Cathie is a Gestalt Psychotherapist working in a Consultancy capacity with organisations, developing a whole service/systems approach to emotion-regulation. In fig 1 she shows the four stages of contacting/self-regulation in Gestalt Therapy integrated with the process of attachment and separation in Attachment Theory. Fig 2 shows this process in detail and the conditions that create good contact /integration drawing upon the three cornerstones of Gestalt Therapy which are Phenomenology (Self), Dialogue (Other) and Field Theory (System/the actual situation).


Fig 1


In educational settings these conditions can help very distressed people settle into learning, developing the whole brain.


Fig 2                               Self, Other and The We = Learning

Self, Other and The We = Learning



 A physiological Approach



A Relational Approach

The We


A Whole Systems / Service approach

= Learning


= Psychological development

AIMS  to help organisations concentrate on the first three aspects shown opposite. This is in order to promote emotion -regulation when working with interpersonal trauma. This places emphasis on developing awareness of  physical sensations  and how people may adapt in response to their sensations,  especially in relation to another or the system/ situation. Teams are also encouraged to learn how to regulate emotion in distressed people, including at a whole service level.

BRAIN TRAINING: Please see leaflet under training tab. This is for individuals, professionals, parents and carers and works in parallel to Self, Other and The We = Learning. Developing a whole service approach and common language between professionals, adults, young people and parents/carers.

Developing awareness of the 5 senses: touch, taste, sound, smell and sight.

This is done through:






Brain Training.

Learning through play and activities.

Kinaesthetic , multi-sensory and visual, spatial  learning.

Activities that meet the physical, emotional, social, intellectual and cultural needs. 

This helps to build  tolerance around physical sensations, developing  awareness of  sensations and what they may mean. This process can be empowering and individuals can regain a sense  of control of their bodies/ the sensory nervous system

 Emotion (affect) regulation happens between self and other.

Learning how we adapt to sensations and in relation to another / systems /situation.

Concentration on the physiological and the non - verbal cues.

Working at the contact boundary between self and other and within the window of tolerance between hyper- and hypo vigilant states.

Developing Presence.

This can calm, contain and gently exercise the nervous system, which can be activated in relationship to another, developing the individuals capacity to learn and grow psychologically.


Team work, working as a 'WE' develops the whole team into an emotion-regulating collective.

Develops a secure base for staff teams through reflective practice / supervision and training.

Develops consistency, predictability, routine and singing from the same hymn sheet as a team ie "WE, as an organisation or multi-agency network, have agreed this or that." rather than the potential for "I didn't agree to that decision, but we have to go along with it." Working as a 'WE' can develop safety in relationship and calm the nervous system, helping to integrate any split psychological states. 

Therapeutic network meetings. These meetings can include families, carer's and multi-agency professionals. Teaching all  how to be in relationship with highly anxious individuals. 


Puts feelings into words.

Develops language.

Healthy expression.

Social relationships.



Improves Self Esteem.

Sense of self.


A sense of safety and security.


Individual Outcomes relevant to the person.



'When individuals are distressed, uncomfortable in their own bodies and inside out with their emotions, the only outcome I would hope for is that they find equilibrium and self acceptance - the rest will follow'


Develops a common Language and working Ethos.

Sensory awareness is a precursor to starting to be able to name emotions.

Emotion regulation is a precursor to self-regulation.

A whole systems approach with very distressed people can regulate emotion and is a precursor to psychological development.

Integration of mind, body and nervous system.

Cathie O'Brien Copyright 2008 - 2017

The  above gently stimulates yet contains the adaptive function and needs commitment from all professionals, families and carers. The adaptive function means how we adapt in relation to self, other and environment, which has often become fixed and stressed with chronic presentations in distressed individuals. This process can start to enable distressed individuals to manage / regulate emotion while being in an interpersonal relationship and as a result develop psychologically. NB This is not a quick fix intervention, it is a long term process. The mind, body and nervous system is complex and can't be fixed in the same manner as a broken leg, it takes time to develop new neural pathways which is not just a case of mind over matter.

Please see my publications for more information and references.