To me this means I fundamentally view every person as the expert on their life and experience. Therefore, I do not give advice or make interpretations. While I may explore avenues of thought you may not have considered, I do not approach these from the belief that I know more about you than you know about you.
In the same vein as Person-Centered, Gestalt Therapy maintains the ideal of discovery being the only true form of learning. In other words, growth must come from actual experience. Thus, Gestalt is an experiential form of therapy, where emphasis is placed on learning through your senses as opposed to just thinking about your experience.
While Humanistic and Gestalt Therapy are my foundational theoretical orientations, I have found useful tools in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Dialectic-Behavioral Therapy, Mindfulness, among other theories. However, I do not consider myself to have an eclectic approach. While I strive to meet people where they are at, I do not just throw the kitchen sink at people hoping something will stick. I say this to highlight that while I may draw from these other orientations, I will only do so if I sense a certain tool can be integrated into my approach. I’ve found people can often become confused and disorganized with a therapist that presents a series of different approaches without any credence given to the function of the intervention they are using.
Ultimately I view beneficial therapy operating similarly to how a metalworker operates a crucible. While I strive to foster a stable environment that holds you together, I will also determine the appropriate level of heat/pressure to apply in supporting your change and growth.
What might therapy look like?
In therapy, the question of “what should I do?” inevitably comes up. From my perspective, providing an answer to that question achieves the exact opposite of what I believe helps people.
For example, if you were struggling at work, asked me “Should I quit my job?” And I said “Yes,” I’ve created two harmful possible outcomes:
Possible outcome 1: You take my advice and it was the “right” decision for you. You feel free and uninhibited like you had hoped. You realize this is exactly the decision you needed to make. Guess who now in your mind has all the right answers for you? Not you. So, in this scenario I’ve fostered a dependency on me, which I believe to be antithetical to therapy.
Possible outcome 2: You take my advice and it was the “wrong” decision for you. You miss your coworkers. You don’t have any way of making money. You feel even more stuck than you did before. Guess who you will be ascribing responsibility for making this decision? Not you. So, in this scenario I’ve again taken your ability to mature away from you, as taking responsibility for yourself and your actions is key to maturation.
As you can see in these examples, pretending I am an expert on your life or that I know what is best for you could only lead to you becoming less mature and less capable of functioning.
I think I ought to be clear in saying that I don’t believe simply because someone makes their own decision, means every decision will lead to health and wellbeing. There are clearly decisions people make all by themselves that lead to more pain and suffering. However, I believe my role as your therapist is to foster an environment where you make decisions to address your needs and concerns as opposed to my needs and concerns.
More specifically, Humanistic Psychology and Person-Centered Therapy draw heavily from Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, as seen below.
Maslow characterized the four lower needs as deficiency needs (one’s that if not tended to will result in harm) and the higher need for Self-Actualization as a growth need (one that if tended to will yield a positive outcome, but if left unattended, will not cause harm). The positioning of the needs on the diagram corresponds to their impact upon one’s life as well as their requirement for being addressed in order to effectively move up the chart (e.g. One who does not have food or water cannot properly focus on their need for love and belonging).
As previously mentioned, Gestalt Therapy is much like Person-Centered in that the client is viewed as the expert on their own life. While the ultimate goal for Person-Centered is to strive for Self-Actualization, Gestalt Therapy aims for people to achieve Organismic Self-Regulation - Regulating yourself according to your needs in the context of your environment. For me, there is abundant crossover between these two concepts.
Some of the aspects of Gestalt Therapy I pay particular attention to that Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt Therapy, often highlighted:
Phenomenological awareness: Learning comes in through the senses – “Lose your mind and come to your senses.” – Fritz Perls
Having a Dialogue: Actually having impact on ourselves and others by paying attention to differences in communication between I-It & I-thou - from Martin Buber (e.g. “It feels scary” vs. “I am scared.”)
Focusing on the Here-and-Now: People often reflect on their present experiences as occurring either in the future or in the past.
Experimental: I will have you engage in activities where you act out scenarios we discuss.
Gestalt therapy is also an experiential approach, meaning you learn through your own experience. Talking about your experiences can, in my view, only take one so far. Actually having conversations and taking action enables you to learn through experience.
Since its inception, Gestalt Therapy has increasingly incorporated a larger emphasis on a relational approach. This relational approach highlights the benefit of using the therapist’s experience with a client as a means of supporting the client’s ability to learn about themselves and how they affect others. While I don’t believe going on and on about my personal life would be of help to you in therapy, I do believe sharing my experience of you and your presence can help you see yourself more clearly.