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Gestalt Therapy II: Present Moment Focus



Continuing to look at Gestalt therapy and it’s process as an application of mindfulness.

The practice of Gestalt therapy is really a function of mindfulness, it incorporates, zen theory and phenomenological theory as well as a number of psychological theories as they interface on the issue of defense mechanisms (habit reaction patterns) and self-awareness.

The facilitator is always paying attention to the Pattern, Whole (Gestalt), Configuration of the person’s being and how an experience is embedded.

The Figure/ground focus is paramount – the most dominant need or unfinished business becomes the figure and emerges into the foreground out of the rest of the person’s experience which becomes the ground or background. When it declines in importance through some kind of resolution (or even boredom), something else becomes figure, and so on.  

In this way Traumatic Incident Reduction is related to Gestalt therapy practice and Freudian Repetition Compulsion.  The working through of a memory or historical situation.  The compulsion to repeat the event is the pattern/strategy for developing the figure – focus issue.

The goal of Gestalt therapy, personal growth is for the person to become fully capable of integrated spirit, mind, and body self-regulation,  that is, responding from his or her own center and needs, (with attention to sensory, intuitive, emotional, and cognitive modes of experience) within the context of the situation.  For Perls’ the goal is not to “be happy,” but to live fully.  To be real.  To experience ourselves, others, and our world as we truly are and be in a passionate connection with our inner selves and our lives. 

The central theme is developing Direct, Immediate Awareness of the total perceptual field and of specific details in it.  The development of immediate awareness, with particular emphasis on sensory awareness, is more characteristic of Gestalt Therapy than of any other psychological approach.  This is a description of mindfulness and Buddhist practice.

The path to direct awareness involves both Techniques to sharpen our awareness and tools for increasing our awareness of our habit reaction patterns or Freudian defense mechanisms, repressions, and whirling vortexes of thought that stand between us and a direct apprehension of what IS in the here and now.

In this, the Gestalt process draws on both phenomenology and zen.   And on Reichian theory that prescribes when you hit a resistance, rather than trying to move through it focus on it.  For Perls and Reich the resistance itself becomes the center of the work – forcing an increase of its expression until what it is hiding presents itself.

Frustration is an important element of the Gestalt process. The facilitator uses certain techniques to thwart the client’s  inauthentic being and avoidance patterns of behavior.  

Expressive techniques are used to help the person contact and develop unused or underused sensitivities and capacities. These techniques are  dynamic and related to the phenomenological relationship as it develops.  It is constantly changing and evolving allowing for the facilitator to intuitively adapt to a given client at a given moment in a given situation. 

The key is the facilitator’s underlying attitude of neutrality, openness, compassion and acceptance – focused on the present moment and discovery without interpretation or judgment.   This is more important than any specific technique used.

Gestalt process-work draws on Karen Horney’s identification of our “shoulds” or inauthentic introjects as a central aspect of personal growth, so that we can go on to discover our own ways of being in the world that are true to ourselves to take their place.

The Freudian defensive mechanisms or what I call habit reaction patterns are a central focus of how to address the individual’s inauthenticity, resistence or figure/ground configurations.

Projection, assigning to another person disowned aspects of oneself – especially projecting my disowned power onto others; Introjection, without mindfulness focus “swallowing whole” ways of acting, thinking, and feeling from early significant other relationships and interactions;

Retroflection, doing to myself what I want to do another but fear the consequences.  For instance, I want to strangle you so I choke myself.  I want to give you a box of chocolates but I’m afraid you’ll spurn me so I eat them myself.

Confluence, this is a boundary issue, not a clear distinction between where I leave off and you begin. This may involve projection–or it may involve Introjection–I don’t establish my own boundary but allow your definition of me to affect my perception of myself.

The person develops the ability to dismantle these various defenses when she is ready, via focused mindfulness, increase in awareness and diminishing of figure/ground dissonance.

The focus of therapy is in the present moment, so Unfinished Business from the past, habit reaction patterns, survivor scenarios, and concerns about the future, are worked with in terms of the person’s present experience of them.  

A painful old trauma may be re-enacted and mentally relived in the present. This can be done using the empty chair technique, a type of psychodrama or TIR.

Old unfinished situations that we carry around, what I call habit reaction patterns or survivor scenarios, stop us from being fully present now because we’re responding to them in history to some degree, rather than entirely in our present reality.

Mindfulness, present moment attention, and neutrality help us to release the patterns that no longer serve us in our interactions and relationships.

You don’t have to go to therapy to work with these ideas and have them be useful in your life; my ultimate response is to beckon back to the idea of chop wood, carry water – everyday, present moment, mindfulness.

See you tomorrow.


Author: instinctivehealthparenting4u

Author, Integrative medicine practitioner, psychotherapist. Albuquerque, NM practice, focus on return to balance and the integration of spirit, mind, and body through meditation and mindfulness. Monthly trainings, & professional and personal development coaching. Find more on my website Read my books, Turning NO to ON: The Art of Parenting with Mindfulness, Turning ME to WE: The Art of Partnering with Mindfulness (, for increased internal wellness and alignment with your spiritual purpose, and to activate joyous love and light, bg

2 thoughts on “Gestalt Therapy II: Present Moment Focus

  1. Pingback: Your Unconscious Guidance System | The Secret Truth About

  2. Pingback: American ideals, Independence Day, and the Elevation of Consciousness | InstinctiveHealthParenting4U

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