Gestalt is first and foremost an experiential therapy which aims to put you in touch with your felt self. Many people are unsure of who they are and feel they have to live behind a mask, but this is a fragile basis for living. Connecting to your felt self gives you inner stability and confidence. It enables you to live according to your own perceptions, feelings and needs rather than internal ‘shoulds’, social convention or external authority.
Connection to your felt self is built up gradually over time in therapy, through moment-to-moment exploration. We start where you are now, and go forwards at your pace. Often people need a huge amount of affirmation for their feelings because they might never have received it before now. As time goes on the therapist might say things aimed to help you connect more fully with your experience. For example, she might ask you to pause and stay longer with a feeling and allow it to deepen instead of continuing to talk. Or she might draw attention to a non-verbal expression of feeling that you are not aware of.
The Healing Relationship
In Gestalt you engage in a healing relationship. The therapist hears and responds to the unique person you are and values your uniqueness. She does not put you into a type or category, or pathologize you. You are related to and understood as an equal human being, and we work within your value system, as there is no superior world view.
The Gestalt therapist does not remain concealed and will engage with you as much or as little as is helpful to you in particular. The therapist’s commitment is to being authentically present for you. The healing comes through the understanding and contact with the therapist. For many people this is a successful way to work because it is the lack of the right kind of contact, understanding and affirmation, in childhood that has led to their current difficulties.
Contact is centralised in Gestalt both in the therapeutic relationship and understanding what your problems are. Contact in this context means connection, both with yourself and with others. The therapist will try to understand what gets in the way of contact for you by observing what happens in the therapy room directly.
Sometimes your difficulty with making good contact is what is causing the problems in your life and in your relationships. These habits may date back to conditions in childhood which you made an adjustment to, for example if you came from a family where intellect was valued and feelings were considered ‘weak’ you may have developed a habitual style of living in your intellect, and being in touch with your feelings might be humiliating. Your therapist will help you to become aware of your style of contact and help you to free yourself. You can experiment with new types of contact in the therapy room if you want, as it is a safe place to do this. For example you could try out expressing ‘forbidden’ feelings. Or you could try out being more direct than you normally are with your therapist, who will not react negatively to it.
Holism means that you view the person as a whole, that feeling, thought, body and spirit are all part of the whole. The aim is towards a balance between these things and a connection between them. Many people come into therapy out of touch with their felt selves and living in thought, so what helps is to increase awareness of feeling. Body and feeling are closely connected, so a Gestalt therapist will pay attention to non-verbal expressions that you make as messages from the felt self.
Sometimes there is a poor connection between parts of the self, the body might express one thing while the person says another. For example a person might sit in a very tense and closed posture with their arms wrapped around themselves, but say ‘I am feeling really fine today’. This is very interesting to a Gestalt therapist and can lead to some helpful exploration.