Practice guidelines for the Gestalt coach: Part 2
Cultivate ‘context sensitivity’ both in the immediate and wider field
Keenly observe what's in the immediatefield (in the client, in yourself, and your relationship with one another)
This requires a good eye, a keen ear, the capacity to tune into your client’s sensory world, and the ability to pick up on contact issues between you. At the same time, a Gestalt coach tunes into their own interior world and notices what they’re sensing, thinking, and feeling so as to be able to draw on that data to intentionally use their self as instrument.
The Gestalt coach will be particularly attuned to:
- • The quality of dialogue
- • The quality of engagement and level of energy
- • The quality of awareness and contact
- • The emotional climate
In a group or team situation the Gestalt coach will aim to tune into the individuals in the room, the relational dynamics between them, and how the system as a whole is functioning.
Seek to grasp what's in the wider field, the client's context, and to assess how it may be impacting the present situation
Clients exist within multiple levels of system, including intrapersonal, interpersonal, team, and organisation systems.
Corporate restructuring processes provide a clear example of how systemic forces may be acting on individuals and groups. Team coaches working with corporate leadership teams often become aware of decisions yet to be announced at the next level of system, the group level, which will inevitably impact individual members of that team. It’s not unusual for only a minority of the team to be aware of this whilst the rest try to second-guess the scenarios. In this situation, the system is most definitely in the room, albeit in the shadows. The expression ‘the elephant in the room’ is often a reference to systemic issues that are currently in the undiscussable category.
Stay with direct experience and intense emotional situations without seeking to shut down the client
The opportunity to ventilate feelings in a safe, holding space can be enormously important, particularly for clients who typically bottle things up, have nowhere else to express them, or who find themselves in a crisis situation. Nonetheless, they may be surprised or taken aback by the strength of feeling they have about an issue.
However, as I’ve written elsewhere, ‘the role of the coach is not to go “hunting” emotions. Allowing and supporting the discharge of feelings when they naturally arise is all that may be necessary or appropriate’ (Bluckert 2006).
Nonetheless, this can be a challenge for some coaches, as expressed in a very honest way by this coach when she revealed in a supervision session:
I’m OK with anger and frustration probably because they are the feelings I’m most able to express. But when it comes to hurt, sadness and grief I withdraw into myself and then try to move them away. It’s because I don't allow these feelings in myself.
This recognition was the catalyst for her to commit to some very important personal development, which benefited not only her professional work, but also her personal life.
Tune in with empathy and compassion
This is a key enabler of connection and contact. It’s more than listening carefully and becoming aware. It requires the coach to actively engage with the other person’s world as they see it, so you can grasp their experience - and they know and feel it. They experience that someone is working to understand them. And it’s more than just hearing their story and imagining yourself in their shoes. Something then needs to be conveyed, and usually it needs to come as much from the heart as from the head.
Help people learn how to complete units of work, assimilate learning, and make meaning
This relates to getting closure around issues and attending to the withdrawal phase of the Gestalt Cycle. Whilst traditional coaching emphasises practical action plans and to-do lists as proper take-aways of coaching conversations, from a Gestalt perspective these are not always appropriate or relevant. Whilst there may be some back-in-the-world action to be taken, the outcome of Gestalt coaching is often an interior reconfiguration of self - a new way of seeing, perceiving, and feeling. The original issue can seem far less important and not require action.
An important aspect of the coach’s role is to help clients make meaning and achieve new learning, and by attending to the final stage of the Cycle of Experience - the assimilation stage - the coach facilitates the completion of units of work. This is also the place where people can bank the positives from an experience, feel pleasure, pride, and satisfaction, or, in circumstances where things have not gone well, learn from failure.
It’s important to note that this is also the stage of the Cycle where there is a withdrawal of energy and interest from the previous figure. This can be followed by a void before a new figure emerges or the coaching encounter draws to a close. Allowing a natural cycle to close out without prematurely rushing to the next thing is a hallmark of the more experienced, sensitive practitioner.