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THE GESTALT WORKING PROCESS
A THUMBNAIL SUMMARY OF PRINCIPLES
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Victor Daniels' lecture notes for Psy. 307 and 429, SSU
 
1. Gestalt Therapy, or as I sometimes refer to it, the Gestalt working process, whether in therapy, counseling or personal coaching, deals with the whole person in his or her life-situation. The German word "Gestalt" means pattern, whole, configuration. (In German it's also used as a verb: To "gestalt" something is to endeavor to grasp it as a whole, whether it's a painting or a social event. Hangups or complexes are recogtnized to have cognitive, affective, somatic, sensory, and behavioral components.
2. It pays equal attention to theory, attitude, and method, viewing them as the "three stools" of effective work. If any one is missing or atrophied, effective work is hindered.
3. It is an existential approach. It assists the client in experiencing his or her existence and way of being in the world more fully, and in assuming full responsibility for that. It deals with present existential problems, dilemmas, and crises, and connects them with past and future concerns.
4. It is a phenomenological approach. That is, it helps the client personally discover and experience what he or she is doing. A Gestalt therapist, counselor, or facilitator does not offer "interpretation" or "tell clients what is going on with them." (In this way it differs from what a substantial majority of psychological practitioners do.)
5. It is a depth approach. Gestalt work is based on exploration and discovery rather than a program for change. There is no assumption that we can, in advance, spell out a series of steps that will bring a desired change. Change emerges from the work, often in unexpected ways.
6. It is a "surface approach." Paying attention to the "obvious" is a central working principle. Rather than attending primarily to verbal content, the Gestalt facilitator constantly scans for postures, gestures, mannerisms, tiny facial twitches, sudden changes in tone of voice, and other cues that often tell far more about how a client is responding emotionally than the verbal statements do. Freud used the metaphor of an iceberg floating in water for the conscious and unconscious parts of ourselves. Perls changed the metaphor to a ball floating in water. The difference is that the ball spins, showing an observer with keen eyes and ears that which may be outside the client's awareness.
7. It is based on developing our capacity for awareness in the present. As I become aware of what I am doing now, I tain the capacity to change and do something else instead. The "awareness continuum" is a good way to practice the development of bare attention.
8. It addresses unfinished business. Neurosis involves acting now in ways that fit old situations in the past. As those situations are re-experienced (and often re-enacted) in the present and worked through, the person becomes free to respond appropriately now.
9. It is enactive. In this way it is parallel to both psychodrama and social skills training (sometimes called assertiveness training). Frequently problems are not just "talked about," but described or enacted in the present as if they are actually happening right now.
10. "Holes in the personality" (Wilson Van Dusen's term) are places where we have complexes or hangups and do not allow our life energy to flow. Recovering those parts of ourselves is similar to Carl Jung's principle of developing our underdeveloped sides. Previously disowned parts of the self are integrated.
11. Developing our underdeveloped capacities, and in particular disowned sources of power or emotional expression that at some point in the past we learned were "unacceptable," is an essential part of psychological work.
12. Helping the client experience how he or she is "disembodied" and assisting him or her in regaining full-body experience, is part of the work. Here Perls drew on his studies with Wilhelm Reich and Kurt Goldstein, on his background in theater, and on Lore Perls' experience in modern dance.
13. Discovering how we violate contact boundaries, and learning to recognize, honor, and respect them, is a key element of psychological work. Defense mechanisms specifically identified in Gestalt work, such as projection, introjection, retroflection, confluence, deflection, and minimization are all, in some sense, violations of good contact (recognizing, honoring, and respecting where I leave off and you begin, and vice-versa.)
14. Even if initially suppressed, the dominant need will emerge into the foreground and become "figure" in the therapy or counseling situation. When it has come to a point of sufficient resolution, it will fade into the ground, and another important need will move into the foreground as the figure.
15. Dialogue is a central working principle. The best-known example is dialogue between the client and "another person," or between two conflicting sides of the self, using the "hot seat" and the "empty chair." Internal dialogues can also e managed without the client changing position, or via another vehicle such as art, clay, a sand tray, or even writing. Externalizing an internal dialogue clarifies conflicting impulses that are often mixed-up together, and allows a client to discover sides of himself or herself that have been suppressed.
16. "Neon arrows" (Erving Polster's term) that point to matters of central importance may be visible in either verbal or nonverbal content. A facial twitch, a tear, a voice change to suddenly sound like a child, or a hit-and-run verbal reference to a family incident are examples.
17. Gestalt dream work includes the assumption that every dream contains one or more messages about some aspect of the person's life and being, and that identifying with each element of the dream can unveil some dimension of the dreamer. Gestalt dreamwork often "shuttles" back and forth between dream and presential realities and dilemmas.
18. The approach includes suppressive, expressive, and integrative techniques (Claudio Naranjo's terms). Suppressive techniques are methods of stopping the person from engaging in their habitual avoidances and distractions in order to address a problem fully. Expressive techniques are means of making a way of thinking, feeling, acting, or using the body more visible, as if using a microscope or telescope."Exaggeration" is an example. Integrative techniques are a way of bringing sides of the self that have been fragmented.
19. Letting go of our "shoulds" allows us to discover our true reactions and preferences, and use them as a basis for our lives rather than trying to live out other people's programs for us.
20. The goal is organismic self-regulation. This means responding appropriately to all the messages your mind/emotions/body are giving you about what you want to do now and find it appropriate to do within the context of your situation. This requires being as accurate as possible in recognizing the situation as it is truly is, and taking full personal responsibilityfor your actions and reactions. The client begins to live more spontaneously and realistically and less on the pasis of past habits, programs, and expectations.
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. 4/7/05