Danny began by giving us a brief history and description of the Gestalt Centre in Manchester.

Gestalt has had a number of contributors and developments during most of the 20th century, the main co-founders were Fritz Perls, his wife Laura and Paul Goodman, although others had significant input.

He explained that there is no clear interpretation of the German word Gestalt, it means a whole or a complete pattern, form or configuration. A gestalt or whole includes the whole thing or person being considered. We were then asked to do some experiential awareness exercises as a group.

Gestalt awareness being the experience of right now. You can only be aware of that which you contact at first hand, that is through your senses, you cannot be aware or experience an event that is beyond the range of these receptors. You may imagine it but the imagining or picturing is here where you are now. Clarkson & Mackewn, 1993.

We then briefly discussed the concept of ‘figure’ and ‘ground’. A very well-known illustration of this phenomenon is the drawing of what at first appears to be a chalice on a dark background, but if one changes one’s perception it becomes two faces looking at each other (the figure).

The Gestalt concept of figure and ground explains the process by which a person organizes his/her perceptions to form whole configuration which are then endowed with meaning.

‘A person does not perceive things as unrelated isolates, but organizes them in the perceptual process into meaningful wholes’. Perls, 1976: 3 . Perls would use the example that people do not usually notice post boxes but, as soon as they have an urgent letter to post (pre-email!) ‘then out of an indifferently viewed background, a letter box will jump into prominence . . . becoming a figure (gestalt) against an indifferent background. Perls, 1947/1969a.

Gestalt has firm connections with Phenomenology and Existentialism, phenomenology emphasizes that ours is a phenomenal reality and as such is open to a multiplicity of interpretations. The meaning that each individual assigns to his/her world is unique to that individual. A phenomenological method of enquiry therefore emphasizes that one individual cannot know the truth of another’s reality. Clarkson & Mackewn, 1993.

Perls popularized the concepts of free will and existential choice. He argued that people choose from moment to moment who and how they are, and are therefore responsible for many aspects of their life experiences and the institutions they create or tolerate. Even today these remain fundamentally challenging ideas. At the time when Perls first wrote, they were radical. Clarkson & Mackewn, 1993. An interesting and informative evening.

Write up – Alan Corbett


References:

Clarkson, P., Mackewn, J. Key Figures in Counselling and Psychotherapy. Sage. 1993

Perls, F.S.(1947/1969a) Ego, Hunger and Aggression. New York; Vintage Books. (first published in South Africa in 1942).<

Perls, F.S. (1976) The Gestalt Approach, and Eye Witness to Therapy. New York; Bantam (first published 1973)

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Feedback from the evening showed that 91% of attendees found the presenter’s style, manner and knowledge very good – excellent as well as the Q&A session. 86% found the content very good –< excellent. Comments from the evening included:

“Very interesting, thank you”
“I enjoyed this meeting hugely. The group participated in a meaningful way and I was very grateful to have shared in a purposeful activity”
“Enjoyed the demonstration”
“Excellent venue”