Quote of unkown origin
The modality I work in is called Gestalt, which is a German word usually defined as ‘Wholeness’ or ‘Completeness.’ The originator of Gestalt therapy, Fritz Perls, was very influential in his writing and working in the 1940s and 50s. Over the years Perls’ influence has become balanced by a constant flow of ideas by contemporary practitioners and theorists.
The kind of Gestalt therapy that I practice is focussed on the dialogue between two people in a room. That relationship is central to the success of the work and in my approach it is the beating heart of it too. Suddenly, during the process of working together, insight or new awareness can spring up, as though from nowhere. I do feel this is one of the wonderful mysteries of this work. However I also have a sense that these ‘Aha! moments’ are founded on the creative alliance – the trust and openness in the therapeutic relationship that fosters creative exploration.
Gestalt is a very holistic approach, seeing the individual as part of a much wider field that influences feelings and behaviour at an incredibly subtle level *(eg. see Wheeler 2004). This interconnectedness of the individual and his/her environment represents a whole new way of seeing the issues that arise for a person. With this approach we can let go of the weight of carrying our struggles as though we created them all by ourselves!
There has been a relatively recent growth in understanding of the human being, of which Gestalt is in the forefront, that thought and feeling are fundamentally inseparable *(eg Damasio 1994). This awareness relieves us of the problems created by tackling issues at an inappropriate level. Instead we have to discover actual experience. One way we do this in Gestalt is through detailed exploration of sensations in the body, particularly as emotions are experienced. This helps us untangle what can seem like intractable knots in our being. As we delve more into our lived-experience instead of staying in the conceptual realm of who we think we are, issues become clearer. The figure of our pain becomes clearer against the background of our life. We see it for what it is and can learn to step back from identifying with it.
I hold dear another important aspect of Gestalt which is the importance of the therapeutic relationship. In the Gestalt perspective, therapist and client together create something that is bigger than each of them individually. They create something in-between them that is in itself hugely healing, and can lead to healing insight and understanding.
My experience of Gestalt is that it is also about aliveness. It is what makes Gestalt such a dynamic and exciting a modality. As well as an interest in awareness of what is being experienced I am interested in energy: where the energy is arising; following the energy can lead to vital discoveries. I have had some profound insights, such as when a therapist reflected back to me how my voice was diminishing when I talked about certain things, and how my energy was following suit. In seeing this there was the opportunity to take some of that energy – my power – back!
Some practitioners focus on awareness as the key tool of Gestalt. It is a fundamental principle in Gestalt that one is always growing and always aware. What we are doing in the talking is exploring deeper inside into what is really being experienced (not just the idea or thought about what is being experienced which often is taken for the same thing), and hence our awareness is being focussed in a particular way that in my view is always beneficial. There is no awareness that is not beneficial. If I become aware of an itch in my sock which I can’t do anything about right now I may initially wish that I hadn’t even put my attention there. But then I am now in a position of choice. I can then choose to ignore it or stop what I am doing to sort it out right away, or do something about it later.
It may be in your tapping of your left toe as you talk about your mother, or in the twitch in your eye when you talk about school days. Our bodies hold information through time like batteries. We can follow the signals of our bodies (we call this phenomenology – the exploration of sensory experience in detail) and learn more about what is going on.
Damasio, A (1994). Descartes error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain. NY Putnam
Wheeler G. (2004) in Lee R. The Values of Connection: a relational approach to ethics. Gestalt Press Cambridge MA