The Process of Change
Understanding the process of change from a Gestalt perspective calls for an appreciation of Perls's goal for the process:
The Gestalt approach attempts to understand the existence of any event through the way it comes about, which is to understand becoming by the how, and not the why; through the all- pervasive gestalt formation; through the tension of the unfinished situation (business). (Peris, 1966, cited in Fagan & Shepherd, 1970, p. 361)
Specifically, the process of change in Gestalt counseling and psychotherapy consists of identifying and working through a variety of blocks or interferences that prevent the client from achieving a balance. Peris (1969a) described clients who block as follows: (a) those who cannot maintain eye contact, who are unaware of their own movements; (b) those who cannot openly express their needs; and (c) those who use repression, examples of which are insomnia and boredom.
Yontef and Fuhr (2005) asserted that change in Gestalt therapy happens through three methodological elements: (a) field process thinking, (b) experiment in phenomenological awareness, and (c) existential dialogic contact and an ongoing relationship between counselor and client. According to Levitsky and Peris (1970), the process of change, which is aimed at helping clients become more aware of themselves in the here and now, involves several precepts, including the following:
1. A continuum of awareness: Clients focus constantly on the how, what, and where in the body, in contrast to the why (Melnick et al., 2005).
2. Statements rather than questions: Many theorists and practitioners have found the establishment of response-ability to be more helpful and respectful than expecting answers to questions (Houston, 2003).
3. Use of the first-person pronoun "l" rather than “it" or “they": If a client says that "people feel angry," for example, the counselor or therapist asks the client to restate this sentence using "I feel angry." Then the client owns his or her feelings instead of distancing himself or herself from them by saying "I feel thus and so."
4. The contact issue of addressing someone directly: Clients are helped to express themselves, their feelings, thoughts, needs, and concerns as they occur in the moment directly to the counselor or therapist. Talking about or "beating around the bush" is discouraged (Yontef & Fuhr, 2005).
The process of change in Gestalt counseling and psychotherapy involves experience and activity. Yontef (1981) believed that all Gestalt techniques are a means of experimentation. He further stated that experimentation in the change process can be used to study any phenomenon that the client has experienced.
Another component to the theory of change in Gestalt therapy is the paradoxical theory of change, which is discussed in much of the current literature of Gestalt counseling and therapy. This theory posits that when individuals give up trying to become what they would like to become, when they stop struggling and just be what they are, change will occur (Fembacher & Plummer, 2005). The paradox is that change cannot occur until one first accepts things as they truly are (Crocker & Philippson, 2005), or as Yontef and Fuhr (2005) stated, "the more one hies to be what one is not, the more one stays the same" (p. 82).
Finally, the process of change in Gestalt counseling and psychotherapy contains a crucial feature that is both a valuable asset and a critical handicap: its open-endedness. Gestalt counselors and therapists rarely use techniques or tools that can be quantified from a "proof of theory" perspective. However, this open-endedness is the very quality that encourages creativity, inventiveness, response-ability, and spontaneous change and growth by the client.
As Gestalt therapy continues to evolve, an emphasis has been placed more heavily on a dialogic approach as opposed to the traditional use of experimentation. This is not to say that the Gestalt counselor or therapist has forgone tried-and-true experiments to facilitate change, but it has been recognized that the contact between client and counselor or therapist in the therapeutic relationship is a key process to change (Yontef & Fuhr, 2005). Therefore, this dialogic approach is used more today than it has been used traditionally in the past when the experiments took center stage.