gestalt •myths • vitality

The hero's journey


Gestalt according to Dick Price

One of gestalt pioneers, Dick Price, describes his practice. When complexity rhymes with simplicity…

Gestalt was developed in the United States, mostly by Fritz Perls. The reference book dates back to 1951.

Gestalt focuses on relating to oneself and the world “here and now”, in an authentic manner. It also emphasises everyone's responsiblity in expressing what they feel and in behaviour.

In 1964, Fritz Perls introduces gestalt at Esalen, the humanistic psychology centre dedicated to humanistic psychology that was founded two years before by Michael Murphy and Dick Price. Price starts experiencing and learning gestalt with him in 1966… until, by the end of 1969, Perls declares: ‘Dick, it's time for you to go out and teach and do your own groups.’

Price launches gestalt groups at Esalen. He does not consider it to be “therapy” (a word that Perls himself did not use any longer) and calls it “practice”. He will declare later: “ Fritz made a strong point of saying: 'I do not want to train a lot of little Fritzes.' I'm Dick and I'm not Fritz.”

The following excerpts of an interview that Price gave in 1985 spell out the principle according to which “the client is the one to know” and describe a practice that is more relevant than ever.

What two people with complementary roles do together

“What Fritz [Perls] called doctor/patient, that dyad, I refer to as reflector and initiator. The initiator is the person who formerly was in the 'patient' role. [The reflector's] function is simply to be available to reflect and clarify whatever comes up in that person's process. So I'm never defining how a person should be.

The initiator remains responsible for his or her own experience. The authority to make choices remains with her or him. It's quite different from patient/therapist roles. The initiator designates an active role, while the word 'patient' implies, at least to me, someone who lies back and is acted on. The role of the [therapist] is, for me, one who acts. Therapy is active. Gestalt is not a 'doing'. This isn't something the therapist does to a patient. It's what two people in complementary roles do together.

A practice of contact, not change

Basic practice is attention to breath, to movement, to kinesthetic sensations, to sensations in the body–feeling state, emotion, thought, image. What's important is a mode of present-centered contact, which doesn't judge, that is brought to that.

The practice is one of contact and not change.

A person might want to resolve something. There's another way he wants it to be. But what you might notice is that the more he wants to do that, the more he tries to keep things in the 'why' rather than the 'how' framework, the more he ties himself up and effectively remains the same. So it's a paradox. Like Aikido, there's a kind of Taoism: by allowing, change happens. With allowing and with contact rather than forcing, change happens. So there is a philosophy of non-forcing and an openness to what happens rather than having a firm definition of how you have to be.

What happens is whatever happens. I respond however I respond, but in a way to reflect and clarify. A continual instruction is simply to make real and present.

The reflector's role is to facilitate the initiator's imagination in a way that is present rather than speculative in past or future tense. ‘Imagine you are there. Where are you? What are you doing? What is your experience? What is your experience of other people?

Part of the gestalt language is using the present tense. This is also true in dreamwork. Rather than talking about a dream or attempting to analyze, we enter the dream imagery, become the various parts, no matter how unworldly. You can become an animal, you can become a house, but everything is present-centered and handled by entering and experiencing rather than talking about from a distance.

Another one of [the reflector's] functions is aiding you to hold the avoided figure. You might find yourself getting angry for example, or resentful, or sad–things you think you shouldn't be.

I just say, 'Hey, hold on a minute. Contact that sense of anger or sadness or irritation or whatever it is.' And I'm leaving it to your own experience. You could choose not to follow my direction, but if you do slow down and enter, what you find most times is with contact comes a certain type of self-regulation. In other words, if you feel sad, you can allow crying, and in allowing crying you no longer feel sad. That is a change that is allowed to happen. What's primary here is not the goal of 'don't be sad,' it's simply 'Contact your sadness.' And you may stay sad—no guarantees.

Awareness, choice, trust

For me the three jewels of gestalt practice are awareness, choice, and trust. Awareness is a value. Life-vitality is a value. With trust comes openness and honesty. Trust in yourself, trust in your power of self-regulation, given the exercise of your ability to contact experience and to choose.

As for my role, I have three keys: trust process, stay with process, and get out of the way. In other words, allow the space for what is happening without suppression and with trust.” •

Illustration: Kai Wasikowski (1992-), Handscape VII, 2015

“What happens is whatever hapens. I respond however I respond.”

“I propose and I'm leaving it to your own experience.”

“Trust process, stay with process, and get out of the way.”

“Therapy is active. Gestalt is not a ‘doing’.”