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.


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.

John Steinbeck’s Love Advice

Maybe you’ve seen the letter floating around the Internet. John Steinbeck was a prolific writer and replied to his son, Thom’s declaration of love in a gorgeous, intuitive, supportive letter. New York November 10, 1958 Dear Thom: We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine […]

Attitude of gratitude 

“To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kindness that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.” — Albert Schweitzer

I’ve recently become hyper awareScreen Shot 2015-04-27 at 1.45.51 PMof the word ‘thank you’ and how infrequently it’s said. It seems to me that we have so much to be thankful for, from receiving compliments and gifts to having someone go above and beyond with favors and thoughtful gestures.

I think gratitude is as much an action and verbal acknowledgment as it is an attitude, or aura of being. I was raised to say thank you and to write thank you notes for everything. My family didn’t take for granted generous and small gestures, and my brother and I were reminded to thank everyone for everything. Back then, it felt somewhat annoying, but now I so appreciate that my parents and grandparents celebrated gratitude.

For me, when I say thank you, I automatically feel closer to the kindness of the giver. And I want the giver to know how appreciative I am.

Saying thank you is an excellent reminder of sincerity. I recently did a favor for a friend and drove her to a doctor’s appointment. She generously gave me a book to thank me for my offer. It meant so much that she considered my efforts. For me, the best thank you is one that comes from the heart and is said with full eye contact. When I receive a thank you that feels forced or even obligatory, it leaves me feeling empty.

Big surprise, kindness and gratitude go hand in hand. UMass Dartmouth reports that

  • People who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis have been found to exercise more regularly, have fewer physical symptoms, feel better about their lives as a whole, and feel more optimistic about their upcoming week as compared to those who keep journals recording the stressors or neutral events of their lives. 
  • Daily discussion of gratitude results in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, energy, and sleep duration and quality. Grateful people also report lower levels of depression and stress, although they do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life. 
  • People who think about, talk about, or write about gratitude daily are more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or offered emotional support to another person. 
  • Those with a disposition towards gratitude are found to place less importance on material goods, are less likely to judge their own or others success in terms of possessions accumulated, are less envious of wealthy people, and are more likely to share their possessions with others.

These are some very simple ways to increase your experience and expression of gratitude. As Albert Schweitzer notes in his above quotation about gratitude, increasing our conscious awareness of gratitude may require that we train ourselves to think differently. This can be done by incorporating some simple exercises into our lives.

Graciousness is such an attractive quality in people. I’m always drawn to people who are humble and appreciative, rather than those who have a sense of entitlement or an attitude of expectation. Gratitude and thankfulness go so far in my book.

Yesterday a client and I took a walk during our session. He was amazed to notice how his sadness and overall blue attitude changed by expressing gratitude for the natural beauty of the neighborhood. He wrote an email to me after session commenting that simply walking with his eyes looking at the horizon made him see the world differently than when he walks with his eyes cast down.  He expressed thanks to me for reminding him that this small shift could change his day.  I felt touched to receive this message, and even happier that this suggestion had such an impact on his day.  

To you, I offer my thanks and a sincere appreciation for reading this today.

Please visit my website at www.afterdefeat.com/coaching.

Practice makes fun

    I got a lot of feedback that last week’s post (Missing you) was very sad. You’re right. It was, and I was sad, thoughtful and real. Well my week got more fun and I decided to lighten it up with a lighter topic.  My wonderful friend, Naz, just got home from a tango trip in Argentina. […]

Missing You

This post may be a little different from some of my others. If you’re reading this, it’s likely about you. 

I’ve been experiencing an emotion lately that I haven’t felt in years, decades even: I’m homesick. 

I miss my parents and grandma, my cousins, aunts and uncles, brother. I haven’t seen one cousin for seven years. I’ve never gotten to meet his wife or three kids because they live in a different country. I miss my camp sisters and brothers, some of whom I haven’t seen since camp!  I miss some dear high school friends, and seeing their status updates on facebook just isn’t the same. I miss my best college friends and roommates, strong, successful, smart people who all shaped my years at Penn. I miss my LA and Santa Monica friends, lovely people with whom I enjoy devoting all of my time. I miss my (old) gym and mostly the laughter, mental toughness, growth, and strong bonds that were formed there. I miss the ease and comfort of being with people who know me well and accept my idiosyncrasies. I miss my old neighbors and the bird, dogs, and kitties in the yard. I miss my yoga teachers. Even my Long Beach folks, I miss you. 

My heart aches for the familiarity of old jokes and laughter, not having to network or introduce myself, and being able to just be. 

I remember when my good friend and next door neighbor, Becca, moved to San Diego. I was so sad. I loved having her there. I didn’t take for granted that it wouldn’t always be like that. Rather, I accepted when she had to leave to further her relationship and grow. Same with Brad when he moved to San Francisco. And Erica when she went to business school in Chicago. And Anna who was only here for a year, but who made the nights I got to see her so special. And now I’m the one who left. 

Los Angeles has a special way of making me happy and exhausted all at once. I was driving in Westwood the other day and circled the block five times for a 20 minute meter. In my new town, parking is free and plentiful. Overall, I became tired of LA. But now four months after I left, I’m really sad and missing the comforts I’m used to.  

Here’s the other issue: where and what is home? Is it my childhood home in NM? Is it the dorm in the Quad? Is it one of nine residences in LA? Is it my new house where I have all of my stuff? Is it camp? Many of these physical residences have been my home, but right now, I’m missing the characters who populate my heart. 

My best friend, Brooke, has a one year old baby in Philadelphia and I’ve never met her. This, too, makes me so sad. My college friend and roommate, Tammy, is a pediatric surgeon and I hardly know about her life. Most of my housemates from college have children and I don’t know their names! I’d love to see pictures. And from what I’ve read on facebook, two of my Swedish friends got married. I always thought we’d stay super close. Stephanie, Marni, Jane, Shirley, Naz, Pili, Jennifer, Hilary, Erin  — all remarkable women with whom I love spending time and can pass hours laughing and connecting. 

I don’t mean to sound like a sad sack. I truly wish I had unlimited airline miles so I could travel around the country and world to visit my family and friends. I’m also fairly certain that if there was a giant event, like a wedding or depressingly, a funeral, I’d see more of my friends and family in one place (unless it was my funeral and then they’d all get together and I’d be left out. Sorry for the macabre humor).

I’ve always prided myself on being an excellent friend who keeps in touch well. Now, maybe too much time has passed and so much life. Maybe my friends with kids are too busy. Maybe I’m too busy or preoccupied with starting my businesses. Maybe we are no longer interested and have really moved on. 

Regardless of the reasons, I miss my friends. I wish you were here or I was there right now. I wish we had a plan to see each other. I wish I knew more about your life. Here’s a deal: please reach out and I promise to respond. 

Please visit my website at Coaching By Nina Rubin


What are common commodities that need to be protected? Wealth, jewelry, art, homes, fancy cars, precious instruments, car titles, passports. All of these things, though special and often priceless, can be insured and secured with guards, locks, or vaults. So what about time, love, desire, thought, ideas, and integrity? How are those items, er concepts, secured and protected?

In a roundabout way, I’ve had the misfortune of interacting with a vampire recently. A vampire? Like Dracula? Like Edward? No, a mere mortal vampire, someone who sucks the life-force out of me, someone who omits truths (I think that’s really called lying), someone who takes things without asking (stealing is the modern word), and recalibrates stories to fit with their program (manipulation). As disarming as all of this is, the worst part is that my time has been wasted and my trust in humanity has waned. One of these vampires is not someone I’ve met in person; rather I’ve had unfortunate dealings in removed, six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon sorts of ways.

A true existentialist, I believe that life is short and I must be protective of my values and time. So what do I do with these vampires who usurp my energy, who waste my time, who treat me like prey? I don’t eat garlic, but I do briefly consider the motives and then MOVE ON. I look at my role and MOVE ON.

So how do love and integrity fit in? Well, sometimes people say they’re loving but their actions are incongruous with their words. I think love is the most important feeling, thing, behavior, concept in the world.  Mixed with integrity, it’s so powerful and attractive. But when I’m prey, I lose hope that there is really enough love and integrity to go around. I worry that I’ve missed my chance or that someone else has been bitten by the vampire fangs and he’s doomed before we have a chance to progress. Or what if someone comes back into my life and he’s already gone to the underworld? Is there enough sunlight to eradicate the demons?

My Hebrew name means light. It’s no coincidence that I’m tasked with shining light on the vampire and killing it with my goodness and removing it (and all associations) from my life. I used to be paranoid that I was being followed or stalked, but now give it no brain power. Instead, I light extra candles, laugh more, enjoy the warmth and integrity of my unicorn and good gnome friends! Together we are a stronger army than the energy vampires who’ve crossed my path!

Our collective light is part of the time and love that I protect so dearly. I value lessons I’ve learned and DO NOT WANT TO REPEAT THE MISTAKES! I light my path with luminarios of goodness, floodlights to keep me safe.

I still don’t know how to keep vampires from circling my world (emergency garlic packs?!), but I’m learning how to shield myself from their disastrous entrance. I know not to give them any attention, not to acknowledge their seedy ways, not to empathize with their manipulative plights. I have to stay on my well-carved path and keep my focus on lighting the way for myself and others who have felt this decrepit and insidious pull. My friends help me, and I help myself. I must remember that my life, including my time, my love, my passions, my integrity are my most valuable commodities and must be held sacred.

Vampires are here to challenge me. I resolve to be stronger than their bites and keep my values protected.

To learn more about working with me, please visit Coaching by Nina Rubin