by Jaclyn S. Manzione, MS, NLC, EGCM™, ESMHL
Xanthus Equine Gestalt Center, LLC
Introduction: This is an exploration of the parallel processes that exist between Melisa Pearce, creator of the Equine Gestalt Coaching Method™ and Frederick Perls, developer of Gestalt therapy.
Significance: Pearce has combined equines with Gestalt principles and practices in a way that has revolutionized both systemic therapies. As a practitioner, I have a vested interest in, and benefit from, the use of this powerful Equine Gestalt Coaching Method™.
Purpose: The purpose of this capstone project is to identify the similarities between, and the relationships amongst, the key concepts and techniques created and applied by Pearce and Perls respectively. This study focuses on three critical concepts: Contact, Discovery and Present-Centered Awareness.
Setting and Participants: This is an academic, intellectual and scholarly pursuit.
Capstone Description/Process: I conducted an exhaustive literature search and review of the writings, publications and other miscellaneous documents generated by both Pearce and Perls regarding their work. My focus was on the three critical concepts identified above. Sources of information included the internet, books in print and podcasts. All inquiries were completed in an aggregate of one month’s time. This study was done to recognize and record the parallels that exist between the contributions made by both Pearce and Perls to the Gestalt therapeutic community.
Capstone Results/Impact: Pearce defines Contact as “a purposeful state of being in which one is totally in the present moment with one’s self, the environment, or another being who is also in present-moment awareness of self (Pearce 2019).” Perls’ gestalt therapy focuses on Contact in the present moment, using methods that ultimately serve to clarify present experiencing.
Pearce introduced the horse into the Gestalt experimental process and thus demonstrated their sensitivity to the contact cycle. Present day gestalt therapy continues with Perls’ applied phenomenological approach and creative techniques. Pearce has accentuated the focus on genuine contact between client and therapist by integrating the horse into the Gestalt who is “free to express what they notice, see, and feel energetically with the clients (2019).”
Perls identified the core belief that clients will more fully understand their own emotions and needs through a process of discovery, rather than through insight or interpretation. Pearce advocates the collective exploration of “something that is up for the client-or something that comes up for the Coach in relation to the client-as they fully engage in contact (2019).” Pearce further expounds upon the “discovery” theme by declaring “Gestalt is always an invitation to explore (2019).” The client is invited to explore, the invitation is accepted, and the therapeutic work begins. Perls further defines the way of discovery as follows: “a need arises and becomes foreground; if it is satisfied, it becomes background as the gestalt is completed (Perls 1969).” As the client moves through the exploratory piece, Pearce explains how the Gestaltist™ listens to the foreground and allows the background of the client’s work to appear.
Increasing awareness is a primary psychotherapeutic tool in gestalt theory and practice. Pearce moves the concept of awareness into present day by identifying “awareness energy (2019).” Pearce states that the movement of energy creates a pathway for discovery. Pearce extols that “it is in the present moment that real awareness happens (2019).”
Capstone Evaluation: Several years have passed since Perls’ death, and gestalt therapy has certainly evolved. The results of this scholarly effort demonstrate definitively that corresponding contributions have been made by both Pearce and Perls to the evolution of Gestalt.
Pearce has retained many of Perls’ classical ideas but has also provided a rigorous intellectual explanation of gestalt theory and a fascinating and effective therapeutic technique in the Equine Gestalt Coaching Method™. By having this EGC Method™ empirically validated via the research project titled Quantifying the Outcomes of the EGC Method™ 2017 (Manzione, J. 2017), Pearce has accomplished what has never been done for Gestalt before; the application of gestalt therapy assisted by equines.
Future Directions: There is opportunity for continued exploration as to how Pearce’s sustained efforts expound and expand Gestalt principles and practices via the Equine Gestalt Coaching Method™ and the Gestalt Coaching Method™.
Acknowledgments: With much gratitude and love, I wish to acknowledge Melisa Pearce, who brought Gestalt and healing into my life; Peggy MacArthur and Marsha Bressack for supporting my personal and professional growth in my life’s work; my husband Thomas for his unwavering support of me.
Mann, D. (2021). Gestalt Therapy, 100 Key Points. United Kingdom: Routledge Publishing.
Manzione, J. (2017). Quantifying the Outcomes of the Equine Gestalt Coaching Method 2017. Boulder, CO: https://www.xanthuscenter.com
Pearce, M. (2019). What the Heck is Gestalt? Elizabeth, CO: Touched by Horse, Inc.
Perls, F. (1969). Gestalt Therapy Verbatim. Gouldsboro, ME: The Gestalt Journal Press
Zinker, J. (1978). Creative Process in Gestalt Therapy. New York: Vintage Books.