Emma came for a coaching session with Serena, who is a Gestalt coach. Emma has a problem: her negativity is pulling her down. She views every situation and person in a critical and judgmental way. She wants to stop sinking into this whirlpool of negative thinking.
Serena applied the experimental, experiential, and present-focused ‘gestalt coaching” framework to coach Emma. Rather than simply talking about how Emma harbors negative thinking, Serena creates a situation in the room and asks Emma to role-play the entire conversation.
As Emma begins to experience her negative thinking, Serena does not just pay attention to the content of what she is saying; she also observes Emma’s language, tone, facial expressions, and body movements. By asking focused questions, Serena encourages Emma to find self-compassion without offering any solutions or motivation. Together, they build a true contact in the present moment and explore alternative behavioral choices.
Slowly, Emma realized that she was held responsible for any wrong thing in her childhood. Her parents had been extremely critical of her. She was taught to fear the future, which brings uncertainty and bad luck. All these stayed in her subconscious and influenced her behavior and mindset in the present. She gains clarity and uncovers her truth. By acknowledging the available emotional choices, Emma begins to value the need to make a change.
This is how the Gestalt Coaching framework works.
By showing curiosity and openness, the Gestalt coach fosters self-awareness in “real-time.” No judgments are made; sensations, feelings, and emotions are observed. The coach accepts the client as a “whole person” who is healthy and resourceful.
The Gestalt Model is a client-centered approach that helps clients understand what is happening in their present lives. The coach re-enacts an experience for the client to become more aware of their emotions, feelings, behaviors, and thoughts at the moment. This enhances the self-awareness of the client to unhelpful behaviours and alternative actions to achieve desired goals.
The Gestalt Model considers that coaching is not “therapeutic” or “remedial problem-solving.” The two basic premises of the Gestalt Model are:
- The client isn’t deficit; instead, the client possesses all the necessary resources to meet their needs and achieve their goals.
- Resistance doesn’t need to be overcome or removed. It is an adaptive and positive force that protects an individual. As the client becomes self-aware, they acknowledge the resistance and re-focus their energy to change their unhealthy behaviors.
The Gestalt Model encourages and nurtures deep awareness and reflection in the clients. Gradually, the clients begin to see the possibilities, understand the available choices, and find the courage to change.
How to use the GESTALT Model?
The Gestalt Model is practiced in the form of experiments. It can be administered in individual or group settings. The coach designs experiments to arouse action, emotion, or goals from the client.
For example, role-playing using the empty chair technique where the coach asks the client to imagine that someone or a part of themselves is sitting in the chair. The coach encourages a dialog between the empty chair and the client.
The coach can get creative in designing the experiments. For example, rather than talking about a non-supportive spouse, the coach might ask the client to imagine the spouse is present, or that the coach is the spouse and talk to him/her directly; if a client is struggling with how to be confident, the coach might ask the client to speak confidently or talk about how one should never be confident.
The coach is straightforward but warm, caring, and accepting. Without frustrating or rescuing the patient, the coach can present situations that evoke similar emotions and then guide the person through them.
It is observed that during such experiments, the client becomes mindful of the whole situation and can put together pieces of themselves.
When the clients reconnect with parts of themselves, they may minimize, ignore, or deny; they gain awareness of the present moment to discover their suppressed or hidden emotions, feelings, and thoughts. They began to accept and trust their inner instincts. The basic assumption is that the past presents itself in the “here” and “now’.
Some sample questions:
- What are you feeling?
- What are you thinking?
- What’s going on right now?
- How do you feel about this issue right now?
- How does your body feel right now?
- What sounds do you hear around you?
- What are you seeing and doing at this very moment?
- What made this memory come up at this moment?
- How do experiences of the past impact the present moment?
Through answers to these questions, the client will better understand themselves and how their choices affect their health (physical, mental, and emotional) and relationships.
The patient’s responses to awareness questions, both verbal and nonverbal, provide indications of the total personality; they are all expressions of the self. The coach observes these responses and encourages the client to reflect on their own observations. Finally, the coach guides the client to make sense of any insights that emerge and apply them to the client’s context.
Where best to use it?
The Gestalt Coaching model is used to alleviate unresolved anger, pain, anxiety, resentment, and other negative feelings. It is predominantly used to coach individuals with mental health issues like anxiety and depression without any clinical symptoms. It has also proven effective in coaching clients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), personality disorders, low self-esteem, and relationship issues.
Apart from these conditions, Gestalt coaching also works well for people who wish to increase their self-awareness for seeking inner peace, contentment, and general happiness in life.
A quick conclusion on how to try it
Give a quick try to Gestalt Coaching. Think about any experience that instills negative feelings in you. It could be a difficult relationship, work challenge, or personal issue. Design your creative experiment to bring the hidden sensations to the surface. Reflect upon how it makes you feel, what choices you have, and how choosing a different response will make your life better.
Rick Maurer (2011), The Gestalt Approach to Resistance in Coaching, The International Journal of Coaching in Organization (IJCO) Issue 32, 8(4)
Mary Ann Rainey and Brenda B. Jones, In Gestalt Practice: Living and Working in Pursuit of wHolism, Oxfordshire, UK: Libri Publishing 2019
Dorothy E. Siminovitch (March 2017), A Gestalt Coaching Primer: The Path Toward Awareness IQ
Zinker, J. 1978. Creative process in Gestalt therapy. New York: Vintage Books.