What drew you to GTA and the study of gestalt therapy?
I was interested in studying psychology, and a gestalt-trained friend of mine suggested I look into gestalt therapy. I then read Gary Yontef’s book Gestalt Therapy: Awareness, Dialogue and Process and, while there was much about it that I didn’t understand at the time, much of it clicked. I then found GTA online and signed up for the training.Up until that point I had been practising different kinds of meditation and self-inquiry stemming mainly from Indian traditions (I was living in an ashram), but I knew that there were psychological and relational issues that were not being adequately addressed, and that I could address them more effectively by opening up to other approaches (that was my hope, at least). Gestalt therapy was a way for me to address those missing pieces. I also felt inspired about the possibility of working as a therapist.
What stands out for you in relation to the course?
What stands out are the many ways in which I learned about Gestalt therapy. My entry-point into studying psychology and psychotherapy had been mainly reading and writing, but this way of learning, though an important part of it, was not a major focus of the course. As a Gestalt student, I saw that I needed to explore, understand and inhabit my experience more fully – particularly in relation to other people and the world around me – in order to grasp what Gestalt therapy is about. This is how the course is set up. Though the student group process was not group therapy, we were encouraged to engage with one another (and the faculty) deeply, and this kind of learning was invaluable, even though it was confusing and challenging at times. We were also required to undergo individual therapy (with a gestalt therapist) – which I feel is essential in learning to become a therapist – and this helped me both personally and academically throughout the training.
Did you do an internship in the ConnectGround clinic?
Yes, my experience as an intern was like stepping into the deep end of a pool and learning how to swim (and sink as well, sometimes in a useful way). However, the staff, the other interns and my supervisors helped me in this regard. Group supervision was particularly supportive – and engaging, too – and a way to feel connected to the other interns and the supervisors who facilitated the meetings. It was a time of really leaning on all the theory that I had learned. It was also a time of discovering more about myself both as a trainee therapist and as a person more generally. That involved learning to trust myself more fully, listening to my feelings and intuition more deeply, and doing my best to learn from my mistakes. It might sound like a cliché to say that my clients taught me the most about being a therapist, but I think there is some truth in that.
Have you participated in community events or professional development activities recently?
A few, both online and in person. It is important to me to keep on mixing with and learning from a variety of psychotherapists and counsellors – not just gestalt therapists. Most Gestaltists I know draw from a variety of traditions and modalities, which might seem contradictory, but actually, I think that reflects the scope, the richness and certainly the flexibility of the gestalt approach. In practice, gestalt therapy can be so creative and experimental that it can draw from an array of other approaches without deviating from its core theory and principles. For me, feeling connected to the ‘community of practice’ is also about honouring and trying to better understand the history of gestalt therapy, and that inevitably means learning about other branches of psychotherapy, too, such as psychoanalysis.
Write a brief statement about what it means to be a gestalt therapist.
I think it is easier to pin down what gestalt therapy is not, since there are a lot of misconceptions about it. It is not a bunch of techniques or strange experiments, nor is it about trying to persuade someone to stay in the here-and-now, and nor is it anti-intellectual or overly confrontational. It would be remiss not to mention that gestalt therapy has a strong relational stance, meaning that an individual’s experience or suffering is seen as emerging out of a relational field or context, a vast web of conditions and influences that shape and affect our subjective experience. There is definitely a recurring focus on our immediate, embodied experience, as well as on our own contribution to the quality of our experience, and certainly the meaning we attribute to our experience. But all of this hinges on what the client is needing and ready for, as well as on the skill and sensitivity of the therapist, and of course on the relationship between client and therapist. Gestalt therapy is not dogmatic. It all depends on being of service to the client’s healing and growth, and that involves deepening one’s awareness with the support of the therapist.
I now work as a psychotherapist and counsellor at Northside Gestalt Therapy in Northcote, Melbourne.