What Is Gestalt?

If you want to become whole,

Let yourself be partial.

If you want to become straight,

Let yourself be crooked.

– Tao Te Ching, verse 22.

It recently occurred to me that many of my readers don’t know too much about my work as a Gestalt Coach or what Gestalt Coaching is. This post is a crash course in my Gestalt Coaching.

What is Gestalt?

Gestalt Coaching is a holistic approach to enhancing human development and adds value to my clients for a truly transformative process. It focuses on the wholeness of a person (think of the sum of all parts) and recognizes the unity of mind, body, spirit, and emotions and the critical role of relationships. Gestalt teaches you how to fully engage in the present, yielding greater awareness of what is being experienced. In Gestalt Coaching, my clients gain increased knowledge of themselves, others, and their shared environment.

In many ways, awareness in Gestalt is similar to the concept of ‘mindfulness’ in which we “[pay] attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally” (from The Mindful Way Through Depression). Gestalt Coaching uses mindfulness as part of its model of health. I use myself as an instrument, responding to my clients in special co-created relationships. In this way, my clients are able to powerfully experience in the here-and-now how they recreate habitual patterns in their relationships so that they may have opportunities to make different choices. For example, a client may notice how he distances himself from truly connecting with his girlfriend and sabotaging their relationship. With a combination of awareness and goal setting, we can explore what is significant about the distancing, and how that is also a type of communication (even if it’s not ideal). As his coach, my job is to notice when it’s happening in his life and possibly in our relationship (our relationship is a mirrored reflection of some of his other relationships). We also think of alternatives to the behavior that is not working well. 

Everything Is PerceptionIMG_6613

One of the ways in which I facilitate my clients’ growth and awareness is through perception. I believe that what we perceive is colored by our preconceptions and our method of viewing. We can learn to pay close attention to the actuality of our sensing, or what our senses tell us. Think about your five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.  How you interact with these senses plays into what your body is doing and how you’re reacting to a situation. Add various feelings (anxiety, excitement, anger, sadness) and here’s a fuller picture of your perceptions. In coaching, I teach my clients how to be aware of small and large awarenesses, or subtleties, and how to use these  awarenesses in relation to their goals. We emphasize the immediacy of experience.

Here-and-Now


Gestalt Coaching has a strong focus on the present. It’s common to hear people talk about “being in the moment.” In Gestalt Coaching, my clients and I work with whatever is occurring for them now.  So they may have come to session with an idea of what they wanted to discuss but upon meeting, they realize something else is more important to talk about. My clients and I spend time making sense of the world as it relates to their goals. If someone is looking for a new job, we look at the constraints and supports in their lives as well as their perceptions about themselves. Then we develop a plan of action to achieve the goal. We are always visiting and revisiting goals to check in. 

Because we’re working in the here-and-now, we are focusing on really absorbing experiences that are happening presently.  This is powerful for my clients and helps them be more open to growth and change.

Life Is Finite

Gestalt Coaching takes the position that people have fundamental existential responsibility for their lives. ‘”There is a great emphasis on the choices which people make, and people’s relationship with the givens of the world, for example with death”(from Self in Relation). One of my clients constantly asks what she “should” do. I can’t tell my clients what they “should” do. Instead, I help my clients look at many angles and remember that life is finite.  I want my clients to make healthy, satisfying choices that support a life well lived.  For me, it feels liberating not to tell clients how they should live their lives, but to explore how they are living their lives. Gestalt Coaching appeals to my clients because of the existential depth at which it allows them to explore and to still achieve goals and make changes.

The Paradoxical Theory of Change

My Gestalt Coaching methodology centers on the paradoxical theory of change. Arnie Beisser states that “the Gestalt [coach] rejects the role of ‘changer,’ for his strategy is to encourage, even insist, that the client be where and what he is.” I’ve adopted a practical and useful attitude to facilitate this process:  it is one of creative indifference, a concept with roots in Eastern tradition. Like the quote at the top suggests, I see a connection between the Gestalt idea of the paradoxical theory of change and Taoism and feel that the concept is described elegantly in the Tao Te Ching. In other words, I see my clients as they are, and I encourage them to make choices in order to keep moving forward. Change happens not from trying super hard to push the wind, but by doing the things they are already doing and by having greater awareness and intentions in it.

I love my work and have seen enormous growth with my wonderful clients using a Gestalt Coaching approach.

To visit my website and learn more about me, please contact me at Coaching By Nina Rubin.

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