As the field of coaching quickly grew in the 1990s, many therapists became coaches. At that time, I could see that the basic tenants of Gestalt were a perfect fit for me as a coach because they offered a unique and highly effective form of coaching. I started my work as a Gestalt coach. It was thirty years later that Gestalt institutes began training the modality as coaching. Historically, the majority of legitimate training institutes offered the training to laypeople and not just therapists.
For the Gestalt Coach: A Client and Coach are Equals
In Gestalt, there is a level playing field between the coach and the client. As the practitioner assists the client in exploring parts of self or their process, it is important that the Gestaltist not be in a position of authority. The Gestalt coach brings to the session their own integrated self, with an ability to sit in true contact during the coach-client experience. Their behavior is self-aligned with their core values and a fully accessible emotional life.
The Gestalt Coach Works With the Present
This is a present-focused approach that exists in the moment. The client is encouraged to express and work from the present moment in the session. This may mean that whatever they cognitively thought about bringing to the session lifts away as the real work emerges.
The coach tracks and attends to the fluctuations of both their own awareness and the awareness level of their client throughout the encounter to be ready with an experiment when the moment emerges. This is the art of Gestalt.
The power in the work is in supporting the client to openly share the sacred space of their interior. The client experiences being truly heard and gains awareness, both newly discovered about themselves and also highlighted through the experiment.
A Must for the Gestalt Coach: Clear Unfinished Business
In the coach-client process, there should be no chance of confluence, because the coach is already healthy, whole, and resourceful, having cleared their own unfinished business during their training.
This is key in our training, but surprisingly, it is not required at all in most schools of therapy and coaching. Gestalt ensures that the practitioner has full self-awareness and a constant clearing of life’s unfinished business so they do not create unhealthy confluence.
Unhealthy confluence is akin to the facilitator seeing someone drowning while floating downstream in a river and instead of throwing them a life preserver, jumps in and begins to float and drown alongside them!
The Awareness Energy Cycle
In a healthy, non-confluent session, the coach is watching two parallel processes at the same time—the client’s and their own. The coach recognizes continual movement through a process of energy that remains in flow. This awareness-energy cycle allows the coach to follow the process and discover any interruptions or blocks in the flow that are not healthy for their client.
In the session, there may be energy from the client of resisting, overlapping, or even intersecting with the coach’s own energy. The coach needs to carry awareness as they are scanning both the internal process of the client and the external expression of the client. The work is in expanding the client’s choices and actions as they move through the exploratory piece.
As a coaching modality, this humanistic approach focuses on gaining awareness of the client’s emotions and behavior without the coach interpreting them for the client. The coach listens to the foreground and allows the background of the work to appear.
Gestalt as Co-Active Coaching
In 2008, when I began to offer a formal training certification program, it was important for me to offer it in the field of coaching. There are seven main models of coaching. Some are oriented to support businesses or leadership. Others are more personal and solution-focused.
The model that is a perfect fit for both Gestalt in general and my method in particular is referred to as co-active. Its basic roots spring from the tenets Gestalt held for forty years before Co-Active Coaching came on the market.
Gestalt and Co-Active Coaching use similar terminology for the basics of their approaches. Because Gestalt precedes Co-Active Coaching, we can easily see the influence it has on it. They are both whole-person focused, with the present moment at the center.
They look at the “process” of the client while believing that the client is creative, resourceful, and whole. Gestalt and Co-Active Coaching evoke transformation through working on the present moment with clients and therefore share these cornerstones in the work.
Focus on Enhancing Awareness
I selected Co-Active Coaching as the model that best fits the coaching part of our training. Gestalt and the co-active model of coaching share a belief that the client has the answers within themselves for their unique situations, and yet the answers are presently outside of their awareness.
This method assists the client in bringing their own truth into the healing and in gaining clarity.The coaching is not designed to be solution-focused or even motivational to complete tasks.
Support the Client in Finding Their Truth
Both the Gestalt Coaching Method and The Equine Gestalt Coaching Method train the practitioner to ask better questions through creativity and empowered listening and to accomplish experiential work through Gestalt.
Coaching focuses the session fully on the client. There is no template for the session. It is a co-creative process in which the coach opens into a space of focus with the client, and together they move where the process takes them in exploration.
The emphasis is on the relationship with the client instead of on tools, being a coach with all the answers, or pushing. It really comes down to being in true contact in the present moment to support the client in finding their truth.
Belief in the Client as Naturally Resourceful
Both Gestalt and Co-Active Coaching view and express the same basic cornerstones. They both see people as being naturally resourceful, and they both work toward achieving wholeness to find a higher understanding of self.
Awareness comes from being in the present moment in the work as it unfolds, and the work yields transformation. The relationship between coach and client is honest and without hierarchy.
Focus on the Present Moment Experience Instead of Analysis
The Gestalt coaching session is one of process and flow. The Gestaltist pays attention and works with the client’s expression, even when in minimization, such as downplaying the importance of a situation in the past.
In the session, the coach will assist the client in further examination to find self-compassion instead of a pattern of minimizing the impact of the trauma or unfinished business itself. The coach will intervene when the client begins talking about experiences rather than feeling or experiencing them.
The Gestaltist coach brings forth the importance of celebrating a success, acknowledging fear, or handling disappointment and will consistently assist the client in experiencing their life and in finding their personal truth.
They create a confidential, safe, and sacred place for the client to explore difficult emotions and learn how to express themselves in a wider range of potential emotional choices.
A Wholistic Approach to Coaching
Gestalt coaches listen to body language, breathing, intonation, semantics, subtle linguistics, and what is expressed or withheld. Using intuition as a deep way to follow the process can be faster than logical thought and more fully understood by both client and practitioner.
Clients who have formerly been in traditional therapy are often surprised and pleased at the client-centered focus of the Gestalt coaching paradigm. Instead of talking about their life and staying in their head, they are invited and encouraged to move into the full feeling of their experiences and readdress them. They leave the session feeling truly seen and heard, not only by the facilitator, but also by their own self.
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