What Sets Gestalt Therapy Apart?
Gestalt is a client-centered and experiential therapy. One of the foundations of Gestalt is that the therapist helps the client to build their embodied awareness in the present moment. What follows expands on the here-and-now of Gestalt work, and details some specific aspects that my clients have often not encountered in other therapies they have tried.
SITTING TOGETHER IN CONTACT
My training in Gestalt therapy allows me to sit with you and make present-moment contact. This is not meditation, but similar. This kind of contact can help increase awareness greatly and shift how you are with yourself, often from a top-down, mind-based relationship with yourself such as "I should have" or "Why can't I just..." to an accepting and loving relationship with your whole self. It is in the present that you can truly meet yourself, and meet others. In the present that you can notice how you support yourself, and what supports you have in your environment. You can find out about your needs, wants, resistances, and habits. You can notice how you regulate yourself according to your environment. You can find out how you stop yourself from meeting your needs or getting what you want. All of this can be practiced any time you sit down with yourself or with someone else.
FROM RE-LIVING HISTORY TO SEEING WHAT IS POSSIBLE NOW
In sitting with ourselves and with others, we start to notice that we have thoughts and stories about ourselves. Our history has become our story. We learn to see our thoughts for what they are--as just thoughts--and to train ourselves to increase our awareness to include emotion, sensation, and the outside world (which includes others). Thoughts are not to be entirely dismissed, but rather aligned with heart, "gut," and our environment so that we can begin to analyze and judge ourselves less and live, be, and do more. We can leave history rather than live history.
In Gestalt you sense how you are in your body and what is emerging or possible for you, rather than why you are the way you are, which tends to keep you in thoughts and in the past. In Gestalt the present moment is a “field” in which the past can emerge for resolution or completion. It is in being with the here-and-now and starting with simple awareness of our thoughts, habits, etc. that we can begin to resolve the past and make new choices.
FROM THE “PROBLEM” TO RESOLVING INNER CONFLICTS
Many times in therapy we talk about our story as the “problem” to be fixed. With reflection in the Gestalt approach, we begin to see how the “problem” is often actually a conflict between different parts of ourselves. These different parts make us whole, but sometimes these conflicting and competing parts keep us from doing and living freely, which can be related to feeling stuck, anxious or depressed (among many other symptoms).
Wounds from the past are often the root of unresolved conflicts and unfulfilled needs in the present. When you are able to identify a need, look for support, motivate (excitement), take action, and then integrate the fulfillment of the need into yourself, you have experienced a successful and complete Gestalt. You have rewritten your story by doing differently in the present. Here's an example of the fulfillment and integration of a need. You realize that your story is that you don't feel lovable, and you really want/need a relationship (you've identified the need). You ask friends to help you (find your support) and work through deep feelings and old beliefs about relationships (do your work), you join a dating service (motivate), you go out on dates (act), and in the course of doing so you actually begin to date and feel lovable, loved, and loving (integrate), you have completed a Gestalt.
All along the way at any point in these steps toward fulfillment of a need or desire, we often stop or interrupt ourselves. A few examples of common interruptions are introjection and projection. Introjection will often happen once a person is at the motivation or excitement stage. Instead of moving to action, the person returns to their introjects, which are all the limiting beliefs about oneself and the world, usually from parents or authority figures. An introject might be "I'm not lovable" or "Love is for other people." Once a person has reached the action stage, and has actually taken steps, they might stop themselves by projecting, which means placing unwanted or undesirable parts of ourselves on others: "That guy is too lonely, I won't pick him" or "She's online a lot, she must be desperate." If someone doesn't respond with mutual interest, we might say "he just can't commit, he's not ready." Dealing with projections does not concern whether or not you are right about another perspon; it doesn't have to do with the other person at all. What will help you move toward fulfillment and integration is owning your projections: "I feel lonely, I worry I seem desperate, I'm afraid I'll get hurt if I commit."
If you are unable to complete a Gestalt because of the ways you interupt yourself, it is likely that there is still an inner conflict of different parts of yourself. Perhaps the part of yourself that doesn’t want to lose your freedom stops you from being in relationship. There is some way that you are interrupting yourself from going on the date. And it is crucial to understand that sometimes it isn’t anything that we are doing or not doing, and that we are not to blame. What we need is to sit with the unknown and all the feelings that go along with not having what you need or want right now.
RESISTANCE AND THE PARADOX OF CHANGE
We learn in Gestalt to accept when we have resistances to change, and we even challenge the idea itself of "resistance" (an established term in the psychotherapy field), which suggests that the client is resisting what is "good" or "right" or "best" for them. In Gestalt, not doing can be seen as doing one's best at that time. In acceptance of ourselves, we can learn more about how our current way of being works for us, or how a part of us may not want to change. In being with the resistance we may actually encounter deeper feelings, needs, or conflicts that need addressing first, before we can begin to take a different action or change what we initially thought was the problem. We learn to "sit with" and even welcome resistance, understanding that we will move through the resistance when we are ready. This is known as “the paradox of change” in Gestalt because being with what is in the here-and-now is the way through to change, rather than actively trying to force a change.