In Gestalt Therapy, the idea of health is rooted in the concept of contact. When the human begin is in true and fluid contact with self, other and the environment, health and the fullness of human potential becomes possible. Yet, for many reasons both simple and complex, we often close ourselves off from such contact, withdrawing from the experience of our own being, the flow of experience between ourselves and other, and the wider experience of the world around us. We flee from our power and true capability.
The purpose of Gestalt therapy is to assist the client in restoring, or perhaps realizing for the first time, her own natural ability to self-regulate as a unique being and experience successful and fulfilling contact with others as well as with disavowed or heretofore unknown aspects of oneself . When we are in healthy contact with these, we are more able to creatively cope, assess and address the events of our lives and to pursue goals which seem both desirable and beneficial. Through awareness of, and experimentation with, the physical experience of our bodies, our emotional responses and desires, and rational awareness, our ability to more fully live our lives, particularly how we choose to engage with others and with our own complex self is enhanced.
In this process, the core question becomes how we are creating our lives in a particular manner rather than why we came to be as we are. Recognition and acceptance are the keys to change as opposed to coercion and force.
You have more power than you realize. Through conscious contact with such power you may become a force to be reckoned with.
"We live in a culture of two-year olds." Those who have more direct experience of me and my work have likely heard those words directly. I hold a strong bias that our culture does not produce capable, grounded and balanced adults. Indeed, our culture demands perpetual childhood (or adolescence at best). We have not been given the skills of the adult, have few role models for adult behavior and no sense of how to respond to emotional distress, adversity or challenge without thinking, feeling and behaving as a child. Psychotherapist John Lee refers to this process as regression...I might quibble with this term as I, sadly, see most of us resting in this state rather than regressing to it. Nonetheless, John's approach to grappling with the phenomenon marks him as a true kindred spirit and I greatly value his wisdom and persepective. These video clips are definitely worth 30 minutes of your time.
What are you aware of? Right now as you sit in front of the screen you are reading this on? Whatever it is, hold it for a moment and take a breath. Don't change it or modify your experience. Simply honor it and breath. Notice what happens. Does the awareness blossom? Retreat? Hold steady? Say to yourself, “I am aware of...” Fill in the blank with your experience. Now notice if a story is emerging. For example, I am aware of the pressure at the tips of my fingers as they make contact with the keyboard. I notice a story starting to emerge about the force with which I tap the keys and as I sit with that, a vague sense of “am I doing it right?” As I sit with that, the story begins to expand beyond typing and I turn my mind elsewhere. But what if I stayed with the story. What if I gave it my attention and followed the chain of awareness as it emerged. What might I learn about myself? What am I afraid of? Where does your chain of awareness take you?
Today I am returning to my semi-regular exploration of practitioners and theoreticians that I have found invaluable in the formation of my work and worldview, in service to the idea that psychotherapeutic counseling be something that seekers participate in rather than simply consume.
Today I'd like to honor Frederick “Friz” Perls who, along with his wife Laura, and, perhaps more peripherally, philosopher and social critic Paul Goodman brought Gestalt Therapy to life. To a certain degree I owe the very foundation of my work (and worldview) to that which was begun by the Perls' in the 1950's.
Poorly understood, Fritz was a lion...a deeply flawed, unrelenting genius who tore psychotherapy out of the grasp of both the behaviorists and the psychoanalysts and demanded that the whole entity be honored rather than dissected. Laura grounded this practice in a deeper theoretical frame and did much of the heavy lifting that Fritz abandoned as he succumbed to the inevitable cult of personality that formed around him in the later 1960s. And yet, their formulation of Gestalt Therapy--a type of humanistic Western Zen with therapeutic applications--transcended them both. Rather than write more, I turn to this brief video of Fritz, in his own words.
“The idea of Gestalt Therapy is to change paper people into real people.”
We are bombarded with information at all times of the day and night. Social media, newsfeeds, emails (personal and work related) all clamor for our attention. Yet how we engage with such shapes our daily experience. Particularly valuable are the first minutes of our days.
Do you roll out of bed and immediately connect to the online world? That may be a mistake. The first 15 to 30 minutes of our day sets a tone. Imagine awakening, stretching, enjoying a warm beverage, breathing deeply and connecting with yourself or a partner, engaging with some light exercise. Grounding yourself in the day. How different is this from rubbing the sleep from your eyes while scrolling through a twitter feed? How might that shape you as you move into the faster paced world of obligations and demands? How we begin often shapes how we end.
I'd like to begin a semi-regular exploration of practitioners and theoreticians that I have found invaluable in the formation of my work and worldview, in service to the idea that psychotherapeutic counseling be something that seekers participate in rather than simply consume. Many of my influences and the general approach I bring to the work of therapy are sadly uncommon in these days of managed care and brief solution focused programing. I have no illusion that I can reverse such trends, but I do believe that I can better highlight how my work differs and why that may be of value to clients I work with.
First up is Dr. RD Laing a Scottish psychiatrist who wrote extensively on mental illness– in particular, the experience of psychosis. Laing's views on the causes and treatment of serious mental dysfunction, (strongly influenced by existential philosophy) ran counter to the psychiatric orthodoxy of the day (and continues to appear even more radical today) by taking the expressed feelings of the individual patient or client as valid descriptions of lived experience rather than simply as symptoms of some separate or underlying disorder.
Laing's work has been crucial in informing how I approach the politics and practice of psychotherapy and how I choose to engage with clients. The following is a trailer for a delightful documentary titled “DidYou Used To Be RD Laing?”
The Wikipedia Entry on RD Laing
Biography from the Society for Langian Studies
Quotes from RD Laing
So what have I taken from the work of RD Laing? In the most simplistic of statements, I'd say it is the foundational belief that that psychotherapy is a co-creative experience of connection between two human beings rather than a "cure" for the sick offered by the all knowing expert.
Bryan Dieterich, MA, LPC