The Field perspective: The person in context
Our contexts make a world of difference to our sense of who we are, our well-being, optimism, and self-efficacy. In the organisational context, for example, this is the rationale for seeking to create developmental organisations. The extent to which team and organisational cultures are enabling or disabling, supportive or undermining, plays a huge part in people’s levels of engagement and personal motivation, and whether they fulfil their potential - irrespective of personal characteristics such as desire, drive, and ambition.
The Field, or context, shapes and creates us, just as, conversely, we shape and co-create it.
The Field perspective
‘Human beings never exist as psychological entities in isolation — they come entwined with their systems, beliefs, traditions, and cultures... we need to think like social ecologists and look at people in their contexts. If people are to change, then so also must the conditions and contexts of their lives. We are not only in contexts, we are part of them. Moreover, we act as contexts for others — we help make up their worlds '
— Parlett (2015).
Field theory is based on the proposition that everything is related, is in constant change and flux, and has an impact on everything else -whether we can see it in the moment or not. Sometimes, we can see it: for example, behaviour and social interaction. On other occasions, it may be less clear, such as mood, subtle changes in body language or quality of engagement. And then there are the times when we just sense something and don’t quite know what it is.
Inspired by the work of Kurt Lewin, one of the founders of Organisation Development (OD), the Field perspective can be described as an outlook and a way of thinking about the interconnectedness between events and the settings or situations in which they take place. It invites you to look at the total situation and take a holistic perspective on the wider influences at play in all human interactions. This stands in contrast to the more individualistic perspective of viewing problems, issues, and symptoms as if they exist in isolation - simply as part of a person’s character and personality.
It was Lewin’s contention that behaviour is a function of the person and the environment together - one constellation of independent factors which he called the Tifespace’ of the individual.
The Gestalt coach therefore seeks to understand their client’s experience in relation to the complexities of their whole situation, which in turn requires the coach to appreciate issues arising out of levels of systems beyond the individual level. For example, in the organisational coaching context, adopting a Field perspective means that you will be interested in external challenges and changes, political considerations, leadership, hierarchy, power, status, and inclusion/exclusion.
Felt sense as the royal road
Looking inwards and learning to access your ‘felt sense’ - a body sensation that is meaningful - as Gendlin (1978) called it, also provides you with access to the Field.
Working with felt sense invites you to notice your emotional state and mood, energy and excitement, reluctance and resistance, flow and stuckness, and the subtle shifts that are always happening. It is an invitation to pay attention to the full range of your senses, which helps you become more receptive to the wisdom of your body.
When you focus on your felt sense you might become more aware of stomach flutters or a dryness in the throat as you start to speak, or a heaviness in your heart as you think of a loved one who is troubled or struggling. Gendlin suggested that a felt sense is often experienced in the middle of the body - the abdomen, stomach, chest, and throat in particular - although a felt sense can also occur in other parts of the body. Felt senses are different from emotions, although they are likely to contain emotions. If emotions are like primary colours, felt senses are like subtle blends of colours. The emotion might be ‘fear’, but the felt sense of that fear would be jumpiness or feeling slightly sick. Felt sense is your guide to your readiness to engage and your emotional tone at any particular time. It’s your body’s ‘truth’.