Gestalt Psychology

Copyright © Peter Bluckert 2018. All right reserved.

The Gestalt mentality

In this short piece, I present six core Gestalt notions, albeit in a brief form, with the goal of revealing what we can call the Gestalt mentality.

This is a way of seeing the world, a lens, which can change our way of being-in-the-world. Gestalt mentality has many applications within management, leadership, consulting, and coaching roles.

It’s also a philosophical and practical approach to life that increasingly becomes who you are.

1. The ‘What is’ – The starting point for Gestalt inquiry

The starting point for Gestalt inquiry is to thoroughly explore the ‘what is’ – current reality.

If you’re looking at yourself, or reality as experienced by the other*, begin with what exists, what is real, rather than notions of what should be.

*other can mean an individual person, a group or team, a couple, a family etc

Discover your what is and help other people find and tell theirs – speak their truth.

Discover your what is and help other people find and tell theirs – speak their truth.

  • What they see, think, feel and experience.
  • Support both polarities and don’t favour positive states and emotions over those that don’t feel so good or seem difficult. If you overly support the positive polarity, you inadvertently make it more likely that the person will repress the other. In all probability, it will come bouncing back, sooner or later.
  • Try to suspend judgement and just let the story emerge – help it get out.
  • Don’t rush to premature interpretations or action plans.
  • Resist the let’s move on urge, so prevalent in everyday life, especially corporate life.
  • Replace that urge with let’s stay where we are until the issues are properly dealt with. Only when everyone is ready to let go and move on should we move from the topic at hand.

2. The Field perspective

The Field perspective is a core aspect of the Gestalt mentality.

Inspired by the work of Kurt Lewin, one of the founders of Organisation Development.

Field perspective is an outlook. It’s a way of thinking about the interconnectedness between events. It’s the settings or situations in which they take place.

Field perspective invites you to look at the total situation and take a holistic perspective. To take in the wider influences at play in all human interactions.

This stands in contrast to viewing people, issues, and problems as if they exist in isolation.

Understand what’s going on in your current environmental context

When you take a Field perspective, you are trying to understand what’s going on in your current environmental context. This is true whether you are with one other person, a group, your team, your intimate relationship, your family etc.

It’s important that you acknowledge that you are also part of the Field and thus the question, what’s going on, applies equally to you.

The Field, or context, shapes and creates us, just as conversely, we shape and co-create it.

From a Gestalt perspective, we can only ever understand people in their contexts and within their worlds.

Looking inwards and using your ‘felt sense’ provides you with access to the Field. Felt sense includes your emotional state, mood, readiness to engage, and your body’s truth – what you’re experiencing in your body.

Notice your energy and excitement, or lack of it, your reluctance and resistance, stuckness, subtle shifts, flow and movement.

Outwardly, pay attention and use the full range of your senses (not just your thinking). This helps you see more, be more receptive and listen for what is present and what is emerging – what might be ready to come into the light.

A Field perspective is phenomenology-in-action. It’s sensing what is present and staying as close as possible to subjective experience. It’s focusing on the actual language used without premature interpretation and conceptualising.

It requires process awareness to track issues and be conscious when something or somebody has got missed, left behind or lost. It also requires awareness of contact/withdrawal patterns. It also calls on us to be mindful of interruptions to contact (discussed later).

What can be in the Field?

Field is literally everything. It includes issues of

  • Leadership
  • Hierarchy
  • Power
  • Status
  • Inclusion/exclusion
  • Actions
  • Tasks
  • Feelings
  • Relationships
  • Difference
  • Expectations
  • Hopes and longings
  • Transference/counter-transference
  • Unfinished business
  • …and much, much more

3. Tuning in with empathy

This is a key enabler of connection and contact. It’s more than listening carefully and becoming aware. It requires you to actively engage with the other person’s world as they see it, so you can grasp their experience – and they know and feel it. They can then experience that someone has ‘got’ them.

It’s more than hearing their story and imagining yourself in their shoes.

It includes attending to what is happening here-and-now between you and the other – how you are impacting one another. Ultimately it can change both if something new is incorporated.

This is particularly challenging for some people. It requires that we temporarily suspend our own reactions and strongly held opinions in favour of deep listening. It asks that we go into the unknown, feel vulnerable and let something in that might change us.

4. Dialogue

The capacity to create the conditions for, and then engage in, dialogue is a highly valued aspect of the Gestalt approach.

Dialogue has to be co-created – something emerges that comes from both or all those engaged in the ‘conversation’.

It doesn’t happen when someone is:

  • Over-dominating
  • Over-talking
  • Under-listening
  • Withholding
  • Claiming rightness or,
  • Acting as sovereign.

It does happen when

  • Something hidden or obscured within the Field starts to become visible and understood. This understanding can only emerge through the sharing of perspectives in a spirit of inquiry and joint exploration.

The outcomes can be precious – a deeper sense of connection, new insights, and meaning-making.

These outcomes are less likely to be achieved through private reflection. This is because they need engagement and relationship.

Whilst issues remain private the prospect of rich, reliable meaning-making can be diminished.

This is why they must be opened to relational dialogue with significant others.

This is equally true in both work and wider life contexts.

5. Contact

The Cycle of Experience is as a core orienting framework for healthy human functioning.

Many people who have been introduced to Gestalt theory will know of the Cycle of Experience. It presents contact as a specific point on the Cycle. Usually it follows action and precedes meaning making/withdrawal.

In recent times, this notion has been revised. It is now seen as existing throughout the entire cycle, just as awareness exists throughout. In fact, you might equally call this the Cycle of Awareness and Contact. This revision appears to many as intuitively correct.

Contact can be understood in terms of a person’s connection to themselves, others, and their environment.

The extent to which individuals are genuinely present and engaged reflects their levels of contact.

When a person goes deeper into themselves, connects strongly with others or, more vividly experiences the world right in front of them, they experience a different quality of contact.

When that happens they often want to spend more of their life in that space.

It’s as if there’s been an awakening, an opening up, and they want to hold onto it. It follows, therefore, that part of their personal growth work will be to discover ways to stay awake, open, alive, in contact.

It may also involve learning how they interrupt contact both with themselves, with others and the world around them.

Most of us have a multitude of ways to do this including;

  • Denial
  • De-sensitising
  • Deflecting
  • Staying over-busy
  • Numbing-out and more.

We know how to shut down and sometimes we need to that. The problem is if this becomes habitual and we can’t find our way back.

We should also note that everyone has their unique contact-withdrawal patterns. Some people thrive on all-out, full-on contactful living. They search it out.

Others need periods of rest and withdrawal before being ready to re-engage. Withdrawal doesn’t necessarily suggest withdrawal from all contact. It might be that a person feels the need to withdraw from intense human contact. They may find their renewal through meditation, a strong connection to Nature, Music or the Arts.

It can be helpful to become more attuned to your contact/withdrawal rhythms and patterns. To become aware of the contact styles of significant others in your life.

Equally, notice your more familiar ways of interrupting contact both with yourself and others.

6 Here and now

The present is where life occurs

Learning to live with awareness in the present moment is a cornerstone of the Gestalt approach.

If we briefly review all of the other five aspects –

  1. The ‘what is’
  2. A field perspective
  3. Tuning in with empathy
  4. Dialogue
  5. Contact

We can see that all of these can only occur in the Now.

When we share our hopes, plan ahead, reminisce, feel regrets about the past, we do all of these things in the present moment.

Staying here and now. Focusing and striving to explore and deepen contact in the experiential moment. These are key features of the Gestalt approach. As opposed to analysing, conceptualising and rationalising.

Translated into Gestalt method, this means looking for every opportunity to move the conversation from talking about current reality, the ‘what is’, to more fully experiencing it in the present moment.

Gestalt practitioners will often use creative experiment to achieve this but, that’s number seven, and for another time…


Author: Peter Bluckert

If this whets your appetite for more short Gestalt articles, please see below for further reading in the Leadership Resources section.

Or you can read fuller versions in Peter’s books.

Courage & Spark

FOUNDED AND LED BY PETER BLUCKERT

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