What is Gestalt Psychotherapy?

Gestalt cycle



I have been studying Gestalt Psychotherapy for the past 4 years; a holistic therapy that I not only believe in as a professional practice but also as a way of life.   A key aspect of Gestalt practice is to promote the experience of here-and-now awareness through phenomenological exploration.  This means that the focus is not only on what I do but also on how I do it.

Last week, in discussion with one of my colleagues, we were talking about anger and the impact that the expression of unbridled anger can have on the young people that we work with.  I started thinking about anger through one of the maps used in Gestalt therapy, called ‘The Cycle of Experience’ (Joyce & Sills, 2014).

The Cycle of Experience is a useful way of understanding how we experience ourselves in the world and how we do or do not get our needs met. It identifies various stages of experience and is a useful way of tracking experience from initial sensation, through to awareness and recognition of the sensation, discriminating and making sense of what it means, choicefully mobilising and taking action to get your need met, making contact with your experience and then integrating the experience before withdrawing and being ready for the next cycle (Joyce & Sills, 2014).

Every day, we move through many short cycles such as satisfying our hunger or perhaps expressing our anger about a situation and we also move through larger cycles throughout our life, for example, the experience of grief if we lose somebody we love.

Moving through the stages of the cycle supports a full and integrated experience, however, there are many ways in which we stop ourselves from doing this, often out of our awareness.  If I go back to the discussion with my colleague about the unbridled expression of anger, I could view this as somebody moving directly from the sensation phase of the cycle to the action phase and then straight to withdrawal.  What is blocked or missing is the full awareness and recognition of the sensation that could then support the capacity to be able to make sense of the sensation/feeling and make choices about how to get this particular need met.  Being able to spend time in the recognition and mobilisation phase, might well support somebody to respond less impulsively to the sensation and promote the gift of choice in getting their needs met.

Being able to move more fluidly through the cycle to get our needs met, rather than habitually responding to situations, will hopefully promote a more fluid and spontaneous way of interacting with world around us.

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