Change in the Gestalt model by Chris O’Malley


Where do you want  change in your life? What is your experience of change in your history? What beliefs have you come to hold about change and how aware are you of these? 

My experience suggests that people come to therapy for 2 primary reasons form the point of view of change. 

Firstly, when we are struck in some way, when change seems elusive, when something is stopping or preventing change or when direction of change seems frightening or unpredictable. 

Secondly, people come when there has been too much change, when a crisis has occurred; a sudden event has overwhelmed a person’s certainties and stability with the result of trauma, shock or loss.

With regard to the first of these, change is actually inevitable; living satisfyingly requires that we change, because life does not stand still. ‘Everything that comes together will, one day, come apart’ is a paraphrase of Buddhist teaching on impermanence, but reconciling ourselves with this is easier said than done. Just ponder this for a moment for and see if there are any exceptions to this rule of impermanence. This could be a way in to becoming more aware of unconscious attitudes to change in the world.

My experience of change is influenced by the experiences I have had and studies I have undertaken and confirms Gestalt’s view of change as expressed in the Paradoxical Theory of Change (Beisser 1970).  Gestalt’s theory of change is known as the paradoxical theory of change because it is based on the apparently paradoxical premise that people change by becoming more fully themselves not by trying to make themselves be something or someone they are not: ‘Change occurs when one becomes what he is, not when he tries to become what he is not’ (Beisser, 1970: 77).

In the Gestalt approach, greater awareness is one of the main goals of therapy, for without it we can identify with  ‘change goals’ that are more like gaols (jails), making us prisoners of dissatisfaction, tyrannised by ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ that deprive us of peace and self-acceptance. I believe that we are naturally multiple and that if we are not making the changes that we think we want, there may be value in finding the part of us that resists such a change. That does not mean we will not change, just that something else has to be recognised and accepted before a change process can fully begin.

The Gestalt approach in therapy is to respect someone’s change goals but also to help them explore what this change might really mean. Who is the change for, ourselves or someone else? What might we not know about the change that we think we want? What are the hidden meanings of such a change, and what might the unforeseen consequences be of making a change we have been rehearsing in our minds?

Gestalt therapy seeks to support someone through a change process, because without enough support change can be overwhelming or impossible. With support it becomes possible to allow the process of change that our whole being needs in order to become more fully expressed in a world that never stands still.