The German word gestalt doesn’t translate well: but roughly speaking means a ‘whole configuration’. Gestalt can be seen, therefore, as an approach that preferences ‘seeing wholes’ and working with ‘wholeness’. Thus, if we look down on a village from the top of a mountain, we see the village as a whole, not the individual buildings and roads that we put together in order to see the village as a whole: we see it at once as a totality, as a gestalt. Similarly, when a client brings an issue for exploration to a Gestalt coach, the coach does not focus on the problem in isolation, but considers it as arising from, and being in relationship to, the complexity of the client’s whole situation. As Kurt Lewin – one of the founders of Gestalt – once explained, B = f (P,E); behaviour is a function of both the person and their environment. Without this ‘bigger picture’ consideration, any solution is likely to be piecemeal and result in difficulties elsewhere for our clients or others. Because we take a view of the whole situation of which our clients are a part, the Gestalt coach has a quite particular perspective on the subject of change and how it comes about:
- We reject the role of ‘Change Agent’ and don’t try to change anything! Instead, we bring greater awareness to the realities of how our clients (individuals, teams and whole enterprises) actually function. Our focus is the present experience of people as they engage in work and life tasks. While this can seem at odds with organisational imperatives to meet short-term goals and drive things forward, the sometimes dramatic nature of outcomes that do arise often surprises clients in their apt relevance!
- Change happens in the here-and-now, so we use the coaching relationship as a microcosm of how the client relates and interacts elsewhere in his or her work life. So, changes in our ways of relating as coach and client can ripple out, although not necessarily in a simple cause/effect manner. The whole approach emphasises dialogue, with a ‘horizontal’ relationship more than a ‘vertical’ one in which the client becomes over-dependent on the coach.
- Change comes about organically, influenced by the quality of contact we have with ourselves (for example, how aware and ‘in touch’ we are regarding our needs, feelings, concerns, assumptions and so on) as well as at the ‘contact boundary’ with others – the intersection between our self, colleagues, significant others and the different environments we find ourselves in. As Gestaltists we believe that growth and development occur at this intersection of the known and unknown.
- Gestalt coaches recognise that all change requires us to contend with multiple realities. In doing so, the first imperative is to surface the different realities so that change happens with fewest ‘drag factors’. Change is an attempt to alter what people experience as reality – not just a matter of redefining work structures, processes or methods. It involves shifting people’s consciousness of how they experience themselves and others. Consequently changes sometimes lead to painful disturbances of the ‘taken-for-granted’ realm and to raising questions of values and even of identity, calling for additional support.
- Change is made in direct relationship to the amount of ‘support’ available for that change. While support is needed at all times – ‘support is that which enables…’ – the nature of support requires fine-tuning: what one person might find supportive would be off-putting or even disrespectful to another.
No short account of Gestalt can do the subject justice - above all, it is an approach to be experienced!