I am a Gestalt therapist and trainer in private practice in Laramie, Wyoming. I trained in Gestalt with Miriam and Erving Polster and at the Gestalt Institute of Los Angeles, both in L.A. and in Europe. I studied psychodrama with the late Leon Fine of Portland, Oregon and with Elaine Goldman at Camelback Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. I have a Ph.D. in philosophy, an M.A. in comparative religion, and an M.S. in counseling. I formerly taught philosophy at several universities and colleges, and I have been a Gestalt therapist since 1980. A founding member of AAGT (Association for the Advancement of Gestalt Therapy), I chaired its Theory Development Committee for six years. I have written numerous articles as well as a book, A Well-Lived Life: Essays in Gestalt Therapy (1999, GIC Press), a comprehensive treatment of Gestalt therapy’s theory, methods, and underlying values. Because I am deeply convinced of the richness and power of Gestalt therapy, I intend to devote increasing amounts of my time to training others in the theory and methods of Gestalt therapy, and to furthering Gestalt’s impact on the wider mental health field.
The question most frequently asked of Gestalt therapists is “What is Gestalt therapy?” Without attempting to give a fully elaborated theoretical answer to this question, I will briefly outline the primary features of the Gestalt approach. Gestalt therapy is a holistic and inter-personal approach to human change. The German word Gestalt has two meanings: (1) an organized whole, whose organization makes it more than the sum of its parts; and it also means (2) a pattern. Gestalt therapy draws on both of these meanings. (1) Gestalt therapists understand and work therapeutically with their clients as whole persons, that is, persons who live organismically in a number of inseparable and interpenetrating dimensions, i.e. who—often simultaneously—live bodily, cognitively, emotionally, purposively, aesthetically, spiritually, interpersonally, socially, and economically. Thus we make no real distinction between mind and body, feelings, values, and purposes. These are understood as interpenetrating aspects of the living of the human organism,which constantly and reciprocally influence each other. In the processes of Gestalt therapy the therapist frequently works with all of the dimensions of the client’s life, often shuttling back and forth between awareness of bodily sensations, emotional response, desires, and cognitive assumptions. In this way the person comes to a clearer awareness of the many-layered responses which influence how he or she feels and behaves. Awareness of and experimentation with these responses ultimately help our clients to have a greater range of choice about how they live their lives. (2) Pattern, the second meaning of Gestalt, is equally important in the work of the Gestalt therapist. Gestalt therapy is a field approach, always taking as the basic unit of its focus the field of the human organism-environment. No person can be understood in isolation from the environmental fields or spheres of influence of which he or she is a member. Therefore, we take into account the reciprocal influence between the individual and his or her family, social and economic groups, intimate relationships, and the relationship with the therapist. These complex sets of relationships in which the client lives, together with his or her own particular internal organization and temperament, determine and are, therefore, the keys to understanding the recurrent patterns of emotional, cognitive, and behavioral response which are typical for a given individual. As the client comes to see with increasing clarity how he or she typically responds to recurrent situations, and as he or she is able to discern the typical consequences of these responses, the client is in a better position to make a conscious choice either to remain as he or she is, or to undertake a process of change. How a person lives in the present is partly a function of his or her own changing internal organization, and partly a function of the fields of which he or she has been an element, both currently and over the course of a lifetime. Therefore, in order to bring about change, the therapist (1) must help the person to reorganize his or her inner life so that the complex responses and cognitions will become the ground of a more satisfying and fulfilling life; and (2) must help to bring about change in the current fields in which the client lives. Most of the time the therapist works with the individual, indirectly altering the dynamics of the fields in which the client lives. However, Gestalt therapists frequently directly influence the fields themselves by working with couples, families, small and large groups, and organizations. Although each of these domains in which a Gestalt therapist might work requires some methods which are tailored to it that Domain’s own particular nature, every method a Gestalt therapist uses will be grounded in the mind-set which I have been describing.