A powerful set of principles, values and assumptions guides the Gestalt approach to learning.
Because they’re so fundamental to the approach, lets unpack each one and reference the theory that underpins them.
The first assumption is that people have an inherent capacity to creatively adjust or adapt to their environment. This capacity is essential to health and survival.
The ongoing challenge is to become aware and attuned to our needs and wants, satisfy them in effective ways, and learn from experience.
This process enables people to grow, fulfil their potential and become more successful in their lives.
This belief emanates from the previous concept of creative adjustment – that people make the best decisions and alter behaviour towards the best outcomes available within the external constraints acting on them, and their own internal perceptions of what is possible at any given time.
This doesn’t mean that those decisions and actions will always be viewed well by others. They are simply the best people think they can do in the circumstances as they see them, and the broader context of their life. Broader context includes historical influences and unfinished situations and unresolved issues.
In Gestalt, awareness is seen as the cornerstone of the developmental process.
Growth and development occur when people expand what they can see and act on.
This empowering proposition is at the core of all personal development approaches and it all starts with sharpening awareness. From this perspective, the role of the Gestalt coach is clear and unambiguous – it’s to become an awareness-raising partner.
From a Gestalt perspective, gaining closure around issues is a desired goal. This stands in contrast to living with open, uncompleted situations, which can leave people feeling stuck, immobilised or in a state of regret.
The enduring power of unfinished business, as it’s often called, drains energy, focus and motivation and can also hold people back from fulfilling their potential and seeking out new possibilities.
Worse still, unfinished situations become obstacles to people even seeing those possibilities in the first place.
As a coach, you are confronted daily by examples of historical issues reactivated in present time and producing negative consequences. Or clients who have simply given up on getting things right for themselves because they don’t believe it can ever happen. They have lost their hope, belief and optimism.
The Gestalt theory of change, the Paradoxical Theory of Change (Beisser, 1970), is based on the assumption that we must first become our truth before we can move from it, and the very act of fully exploring and embracing that truth leads to spontaneous self-organisation. A new configuration takes place.
As a consequence of this theoretical perspective, the skills and methods used by Gestalt coaches are intended to support clients get in contact, and stay in contact, with ‘what is’, not what should be.
In a team coaching workshop, Alphonso, an Operations Manager, put it like this:
‘I’ve finally stopped trying to be a person I’m not. Until then, I was always failing.’
The exploration of here and now, immediate experience, provides opportunities for learning and growth.
Staying grounded in real experience requires that you stay as faithful as possible to obvious, here and now, experience – such as the actual words used, the mood, body language, energy and emotion.
This is founded on the belief that there is wisdom inherent in direct, felt experience. Working from this standpoint requires a stronger focus on description than interpretation and analysis and a keen ability to notice what is right there in front of you. This is the phenomenological approach in action.