This month, we’re talking with Gestalt therapist Seán De Bhulbh about his work at MyMind and the Gestalt approach to therapy.
What drew you to the area of therapy?
When I reached my late thirties I experienced unhappiness and dis-ease in life, my life circumstances and situation. I found it difficult to enjoy relationships and to feel satisfaction and fulfilment in my work. From feeling my discontent and a desire to find a way out of my stuckness and repeating my limited life patterns I spoke with family and close friends of mine and both suggested I go into therapy and find a therapist with an approach I could feel comfortable with and work towards healing.
Can you tell me about your work at MyMind?
I was thrilled to be offered a volunteer internship with MyMind in Limerick as a necessary part of the Gestalt diploma in psychotherapy training. MyMind is a self-referral provider of low cost psychological and psychotherapy services to people who are seeking mental health and wellbeing support. In preparing the room I can ensure a private, protected space in which the interior set-up and arrangement of furniture says as much about me as I hope it will make an important statement to the client. Here I can have a non-clinical and comfortable room where the setting can hold and allow the therapeutic relationship to grow and mature. MyMind affords me an opportunity to put my therapeutic skills into practice, to apply Gestalt’s experiential theory and together with my ongoing personal development and supervision I am able to be present to my client’s presenting issues and thus facilitate in their healing.
What is Gestalt Therapy?
Gestalt is a humanistic approach to psychotherapy that was developed and co-founded by Fritz Perls, his wife Laura together with colleague Paul Goodman. It was a radical break away movement from the traditional and orthodox models of the time, namely psychoanalysis. The Gestalt view of human nature is heavily influenced by existential philosophy, phenomenology, field theory and dialogue. Therefore gestaltists take a holistic view of human development, seeing the individual as a complex biological organism whose lived experiences embodies feelings, emotions, health, energy, ageing, sensuality, pain, basic need fulfilments, reactions to and experiences of family, friends, work, domestic and social scenes, etc.. Gestalt believes the individual or organism together with the environment coexist in an interconnected relationship. The organism can only find the satisfaction of its needs in reaching out into the environment and the point of interaction between it and the environment is the contact boundary. Here the therapist meets the client at the contact boundary where a slow unfolding process in which the client gets to the core of their life. The client becomes aware of themselves, how their modifications to contact with themselves and their environment are no longer supporting their existence, their life and relationships and how they can take responsibility to change the familiar and stuck patterns of behaviour in order to make their life satisfying and fulfilling once again.
What drew you to the Gestalt approach?
A Gestalt therapist meets the client where they are willing to be met at, i.e. seeing the client through the client’s eyes rather than through the eyes of the expert, without interpreting the client, having an agenda or a pre-planned template to fit the client into. In my situation I knew instinctively that the Gestalt approach was meant for me when my therapist asked, “how are you feeling now?” From then on my feelings, emotions and life story were important and valuable not just to me but to my therapist as well. Gestalt sees contact, awareness, dialogue and ‘the between’ as necessary ingredients to the therapeutic alliance. As I reflect upon my initial therapy and on my continuous personal therapy my work continues to support and move the work not just for me as client but also impacts upon me now as a therapist and touches and changes both my client and me in our encounter.
Under what circumstances would you recommend someone should go to Gestalt Therapy?
Firstly I would recommend anyone who is curious about their process, their patterns of behaviour, their typical or familiar reactions towards another person, a life circumstance or experiencing or managing uncomfortable feelings in their body or facing a situation. Gestalt looks at how the person makes contact with his or her environment and how they view or understand their life script i.e. their phenomenology. Gestalt regards how people cope, deal or behave in a particular situation as a ‘creative adjustment’. When their ‘creative adjustment’ is in no longer getting their needs met or finding satisfaction, in time they may experience part of their life patterns as fixed, limited, habitual and eventually becoming chronic. Here Gestalt therapy treats people who may experience a depressing episode, anxiety, fear, panic, catastrophic expectations, incessant thinking, pain, chaos, unfinished business, physical or sexual abuse, trauma, OCD, ADHD, phobias, psychosomatic disorders, narcissism, hysteria and violent behaviours, eating disorders, personality disorders, dependent behaviours, dementia, loss and grief, issues with children, adolescents, old age, borderline, bi-polar, psychotic experiences, suicidal ideation, death and shame etc. Gestalt in general does not use the clinical and psychiatric labels or conditions which has the effect of objectifying and pathologising the client but while seeing each client as unique, the therapist enquiries what and how the client experiences of their presenting issue and reality.
Can Gestalt be integrated with another therapeutic approach?
There are elements in Gestalt which can be integrated into other modalities but unless the therapist of another approach has done the rigorous personal development whereby they have experienced and met themselves in, for example, using the empty chair experiment they could run the risk in doing damage to the client and themselves. My experience of Gestalt is an all or nothing approach. For me to become a qualified gestalt therapist I must complete one year of personal development with the Irish Gestalt Centre, together with a minimum of four years of Gestalt training, together with a minimum of 140 hours of person therapy with a Gestalt therapist, a 150 hours with a Gestalt supervisor followed by one year post practicum. Gestalt is an experiential therapy therefore to take something out of Gestalt and integrate into another modality I would imagine would be difficult and may not have the interest of the client at heart.