Focus of the book

If you’ve witnessed the work of a skilled, experienced Gestalt practitioner, you probably noticed a number of things about them. Perhaps you attended a Gestalt therapy or coaching workshop; maybe you were a member of a team working with a facilitator operating from a Gestalt approach; or perhaps you had personal therapy with a Gestalt therapist. You may not be able to put your finger on exactly what struck you, but there was something different about their way of working and being. They seemed to connect with what was happening and had a keen sense of what was needed in the moment. And then, from all the possible interventions available, there was something just right about what they did or said - and the timing of it.

So, if you were able to get inside this Gestalt practitioner’s head and witness what they were seeing, what principles were informing their practice, and what theories they were drawing on to make sense of things, what would you learn about the Gestalt approach and method?

This book sets out to provide you with that. The content is presented in two sections - theory and practice - and within that basic structure I address these questions:

What would you expect a Gestalt coach to notice and get curious about?

Examples include: the client’s story, content, and context; the ‘what is’ (current reality) as experienced by the client; their energetic presence; unfinished situations; disowned selves; self-regulation patterns; personal narratives; relational contact patterns/issues; and way of being-in-the-world.

What thinking – ideas and concepts – does the Gestalt coach draw on?

Examples include: the paradoxical theory of change; the Field perspective; systemic thinking; polarities; the Gestalt Cycle of Experience; the meaning of resistance; interruptions to contact; and the strategic/intimate lens.

How will the Gestalt approach and methodology reveal itself?

Examples include: starting from a positive stance and what the person or system is doing well - owning what’s well developed before looking for areas of improvement or change; regularly bringing the focus of attention to the here and now; staying close to what’s being said, how it’s being expressed, how the client is responding and being; sharpening awareness and deepening contact; a process orientation; creative experimentation and improvisation; and the intentional use of self.

What will be the qualities of the coaching relationship?

Examples include: authentic connection; dialogue; conveying openness and transparency; sharing vulnerability and not-knowing; and focusing on contact issues and the dynamic within the coaching relationship.

Creating the container: what conditions will the Gestalt coach be seeking to cultivate?

Examples include: building trust and creating the conditions of sufficient support for deeper personal work; holding the space; and encouraging curiosity and risk-taking.

What skills and practices are they likely to be teaching and passing on to clients?

Examples include the capacity for: self-reflection, deeper self-awareness, dialogue; relational know-how; staying with the process; and expanded perspective-taking.

Scope and structure of the book

The subtitle of this series of short coaching books is ‘Distinctive Features’, so my task is to provide you with those features of a Gestalt approach to coaching. In keeping with the house-style of this series I will present thirty features in two main sections - Theory and Practice - giving more or less equal weight to each. Some of the chapters are split chapters because the content, even in this abbreviated form, requires more detailed examination than can be realistically handled within a single chapter.

Intended readership

For readers who are unfamiliar with Gestalt, I aim to provide enough detail to give you a real sense and feel for the approach and the mentality. Given the format and style you may want more information, and I will refer you to more detailed Gestalt texts at the end.

The primary focus is on Gestalt coaching with individuals and teams in the organisational context; however, the principles and practices also apply to working in other contexts, such as leadership development programmes, large group interventions, and political and community processes such as citizen’s assemblies.

Given the breadth of applications, this book should be relevant to practicing and aspiring coaches, team coaches and facilitators, leadership trainers, internal talent specialists, and learning and development professionals. It should also be of interest to a range of business consultants, and is equally relevant to leaders and managers who want to understand themselves and their colleagues better. Finally, this book should speak to the Gestalt therapist who is transitioning into organisational coaching.

What the Gestalt approach can give the coach

  • • A body of profound theory and practice that illuminates how the inner journey of personal growth and development happens, and can be assisted
  • • An approach that helps you to create a more conscious, mindful life for yourself and your clients
  • • A way of working that includes individual development but is not confined to it. Gestalt practitioners have always been interested in helping individuals heal and self-actualise, but the scope of Gestalt goes beyond this
  • • The Gestalt approach has much to offer in helping people grow the capacities of co-operation, relationship skill, emotional and ego maturity, and the capacity for dialogue so important in business, politics, and wider life

The emphasis on presence and the intentional use of self invites the coach to fully bring themselves to what they do. From a Gestalt perspective, the coach is the instrument.

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