What is 'Gestalt'?
'Gestalt' is a German word which refers to the total shape of something. It also refers to how that shape happened.
Gestalt psychology, which has influenced gestalt therapy, maintains that we are “hard wired” to find meaningful patterns in life. This patterning enables us to organise memory, current relationships, and help to imagine or plan the future.
We absorb our experience using all our faculties – sensations, emotions, thoughts and ideas, and memory. We experience everything in relationship to others and the world around us. Some of our experiences happen outside of our awareness, some lead us to reflect on what has occurred.
Experiencing a gestalt is felt as a sudden moment of clarity, sometimes described as “the penny dropped” or the “aha” moment. After this moment our understanding of ourselves shifts as we feel changed.
Gestalt therapy supports people to explore these patterns of experience and reflect on them.
The Gestalt therapy approach maintains that each person's experience cannot be separated from his or her life context or environment.
Gestalt therapy is optimistic: it has a positive view of human development, and holds that we have the capacity find the simplest, most effective way possible of getting our most important needs met. Equally we have the capacity to resolve our difficulties, and have the ability to live well with others.
What is the Gestalt Centre Belfast?
The Gestalt Centre Belfast (GCB) is a not-for-profit organisation, incorporated as a Community Interest Company in 2012. GCB emerged as part of a developing interest in Gestalt practice which had begun with the first Gestalt training group in Belfast in 1990.
GCB, as an organisation, was responding to 2 main interest groups:
- Gestalt practitioners who wanted to meet in order support their work and to develop their professional gestalt practice.
- those who had attended events led by Gestalt practitioners ie practice workshops, process groups, supervision and short term training and those who wanted to become more familiar with the Gestalt approach.
As a result, GCB focusses on post-qualifying, affordable training relevant to the context in which we live and work.
Prior to the establishment of GCB, gestalt colleagues had organised a number of events which focussed on gestalt theory and practice. Many of them had been involved in community development, education as well as work with children and young people, a context of social and political conflict.
In the 1990s, Gestalt practitioners offered therapy, supervision, organisational development. In the 2000's there was further development through a programme of training, specific workshops with invited trainers, writing and reading groups, Since its foundation 2012, GCB has provided training in supervision and gestalt practice with individuals and groups peer led reading groups and focussed workshops. In addition GCB includes a system of Associate membership.
Where is the Gestalt Centre Belfast?
Our Headquarters are at 64 Glen Road, Belfast BT11 8BG.
We use a range of Belfast venues for our trainings, and these are specified for each event.
We also offer online events using the Zoom platform.
What does the Gestalt Centre Belfast offer?
The Gestalt Center Belfast offers a range of professional development activities. Some of these are aimed at those who have no clinical or no gestalt training. Others are aimed specifically at those who have had a previous gestalt training or a clinical training and these events contribute to their professional membership CPD requirements. Among our offerings:
1. Short workshops on specific themes. Recent workshop titles have included:
- Field of Dreams, a workshop on Gestalt dreamwork
- The Dance of Yes and No, a workshop on approach, avoidance, ambivalece and differentiation
- Working With Groups: a Gestalt field approach...
Our workshops are usually 1 or 2 day long events if in-person, or 2 hour weekly over a number of weeks if online. Upcoming workshops are listed at [link]
2. Long courses
We offer two post-qualifying long courses, for people who are already qualified and working in a relationship-rich profession, such as counselling, psychotherapy, teaching, social or youth work, etc. We invite expressions of interest, interview potential students and run those courses once there is a viable training group. We offer an 18 month Diploma in Gestalt Supervision, and a 2-year part-time Gestalt Practitioner Diploma. Details of these courses can be found at [link].
3. Continuous professional development for Gestalt practitioners includes peer reading groups and writing groups. GCB held a Perls reading group for several years, which focused on the seminal book 'Gestalt Therapy: Growth and Excitement of the Personality' by Perls, Hefferline and Goodman. Currently a group is reading together 'Psychopathology of Awareness' by Perls, facilitated by Dr Seán Gaffney, Senior Associate of GCB, and international trainier, author and poet.
4. Our Associates (listed at [link]) consist of Gestalt practitioners of several decades as well as alumni of our long courses. They participate in workshops and reading groups to develop their Gestalt practice.
5. Online presence: This website also aims to be an educational resource for people interested in Gestalt practice. Our public resource page, our 'What is Gestalt' page, and our blog are offered as a contribution to the understanding and application of the Gestalt approach. Our online presence includes a public page on Facebook.
6. Our Associates’ publications include:
Who can attend Gestalt Centre Belfast events and courses?
The Gestalt Centre Belfast’s programme of workshops is aimed at those who already work as counsellors and psychotherapists, and more generally for anyone working with people or interested in their own personal development. The facilitators are Gestalt psychotherapists, trainers as well as qualified teachers. The workshops aim:
To address some of the recurring practice issues and concerns of therapists, counsellors and other helping professions, which have emerged during our work with trainees and supervisees over time.
To provide a space to explore the many ways we become aware of ourselves and others - the sensory, physiological, intellectual, affective, imaginative, behavioural and relational.
To work experientially, i.e., the participants’ experience will contribute to shaping the workshops.
Application forms provided on request (link)
Long courses are aimed specifically at people already qualified and working in a relationship-rich environment (counselling, teaching, youth or social work, managerial…) and who want to develop as Gestalt practitioners in their field. There is an application pack and an enrolment interview before each long course.
Please note: Post-qualifying means students on long courses are expected to have a practice context, having completed their initial training in their field, and be current members of a professional organisation with a Code of Ethics.
Facilitated reading groups and seminars are aimed at associates and alumni of the Gestalt Centre Belfast, to support their continuous professional development and their understanding of Gestalt theory, methodology and practice.
What is the Gestalt therapeutic approach?
The Gestalt practitioner works with the wide range of experiences and concerns which clients wish to consider in therapy. Say something re The therapists offers their presence, their competence in noticing the dynamics and processes in the relationship between the therapist and the person in therapy, and their skill in offering an opportunity to experiments’ based on what emerges in the session, in support of a person’s exploration of the concerns they bring to therapy. diagnosis
Gestalt therapy literature shows many examples of good practice in working in short or long term therapy, with individuals, couples, groups, various age ranges. As a humanistic therapy, it does not work from the ‘medical’ paradigm of ‘disorders’ and ‘treatments’. It is not a ‘how-to’, tools- and techniques-based approach. Because of its focus on what emerges moment by moment between therapist and person in therapy, any Gestalt ‘experiment’ is unique to that moment and those two people, and cannot be used in exactly the same way somewhere else.
Because of its focus on the dynamics and processes of human relations, the Gestalt approach is used also with couples, with groups, including therapy groups and work groups, and with organisations.
What happens in a Gestalt therapy session?
A gestalt therapy session offers a safe environment in which you will be able to explore how you relate to others (known as exploring boundary dynamics). Using the relationship with the therapist as a field of exploration [other wording], you can practice and experiment with this.
The therapist will pay a lot of attention to how you and she interact – and invite you to notice some of the ways this happens (known as the phenomenological approach). She will from time to time invite you to try a different way of interacting, solely as exploration and without any ‘right or wrong’ expectation. This is the ‘experimental’ stance, one of the hallmarks of gestalt therapy.
In learning how you respond to another, you may discover which of your needs you are meeting, and which you are unaware of, or setting aside. You will practice moment-by-moment awareness, and use this to discover new relational possibilities. This art of dialogue as practiced in a gestalt therapy session uses awareness, the therapist’s skill in attuning to the client, the client’s expert knowledge on themselves and their context, and the commitment of both to explore the unfolding experience.
What is of interest in a gestalt therapy session is the client’s total situation, from the concern they have brought to therapy today, such as bereavement, parent-child or other relationship issues, trauma, stress, problems at work, addiction, and many other concerns of modern living, to how they are experiencing themselves in the world at this time, including what they still carry from their past as unfinished, and how they think of their future. This is known as the field of the client.
While many gestalt therapists will not require, at the outset, a complete history of the client’s life, most importantly they will want to hear what meaning the client makes today of their past experiences. That meaning naturally evolves from session to session, as does the client’s relational style and their awareness of themselves in relation to others.
Gestalt therapy work can be brief or medium to long-term. It can be time-bound or open-ended. The length, frequency and duration of sessions are agreed between client and therapist, will vary from client to client, and vary through the length of therapy, and discussion of any change of those is part of the therapeutic conversation.
How is Gestalt different from other approaches?
While Gestalt therapy has a lot in common with many other forms of psychotherapy, shares its origins with psychoanalysis and many of its philosophical tenets with existential and humanistic therapies, nevertheless it is useful to know that:
- unlike person-centred therapy – with which it shares its humanistic philosophy and phenomenological stance – gestalt therapy is centred on the therapeutic relationship as the microcosm and learning space for all relationships: You and I, Here and Now.
- unlike psychodynamic therapy – with which it shares its focus on the therapeutic relationship – when analysts focus on the therapeutic relationship they do so using the concept of ‘transference’, that is where the relationship is formed in the shape of other, earlier relationships. The older structure is deconstructed through therapist’s interpretations to make meaning of the client’s experience. In gestalt therapy however, transference and counter transference are named explicitly and seen as being of thismoment and this meeting. They form part the dialogue and experimentation with the therapist. In Gestalt therapy, meaning emerges from the meeting in the therapeutic space, and is not the therapist’s prerogative.
- unlike cognitive-behavioural therapy – with which it shares its interest for the obvious, that is the directly observable behavior – gestalt therapy does not have behavioural change as its goal. Gestalt therapy views behaviour as the outward expression of the client’s ‘best shot’ at managing his or her experience, and further holds that change will emerge organically once clients have fully accepted how they are as their ‘best self’ [find another wording] in the circumstances.
- unlike many talk-oriented approaches - Gestalt therapy is an embodied therapy, in that the therapist will include non-verbal expression in the conversation, including gestures, stillness or movement, breath, gaze, vocal sounds. These are as important to a person’s emerging sense of themselves in relation to others, as are the words and the story they bring to therapy. From its beginning in the early 1950s, Gestalt therapy has acknowledged the central importance of the physiological experience at the core of our contacting our environment.
- Finally, unlike 1960s Gestalt therapy as it is represented in some trainings other than Gestalt, usually referencing the notorious ‘Gloria tapes’, the Gestalt therapy we practice and teach starts from the belief that therapy is the meeting of two experts: the person in therapy is the expert on themselves, and the therapist the expert on their own processes and also on human development. Gestalt therapy is the meeting of these two experts, and their mutual learning from each other. “Tell me how you have managed and are managing this far.?”, the therapist often asks. “How do you respond to me?”, asks the person in therapy, as they learn to use the therapist as a “contactable Other”, someone who will let them see how they respond to what the person does or says, or indeed doesn’t say.
What to expect from a Gestalt practitioner?
Gestalt practitioners work with people to attend to their patterns of relating as they emerge in the therapy room. By attending to what happens moment by moment, and how that is experienced in body, emotions, thoughts – as a whole – the Gestalt practitioner helps the person in therapy to become more accepting of their old ways of being in the world, as the only and most effective way to be, given the whole situation at the time. As a result people become more able to experiment with new ways of being, and of relating, in the safety of the therapeutic relationship.
Gestalt practitioners are trained in:
- attending to the interaction with others in the here-and-now,
- noticing patterns that emerge in this interaction,
- considering the whole situation the client brings to the encounter,
- supporting the development of curiosity and exploration,
- encouraging experimenting with difference.
Why train with the Gestalt Centre Belfast?
GCB offers high quality post-qualifying Gestalt training, either in the form of short focused workshops, or long-term courses. Over the past few years we have delivered a Certificate in Gestalt Supervision, a 2-year Gestalt Practitioner Diploma and several short workshops on themes such as Dream Work, Group Work, etc. [link to our programme]
The trainers, Seán Gaffney, Bríd Keenan, Joëlle Gartner, Marie Quiery, are themselves very experienced Gestalt therapists, with many years working as therapists, supervisors and trainers, a background in education, a range of presenting at international conferences and publications. [link to the bios?]
Furthermore the ethical stance of GCB means we are committed to providing affordable, accessible and needs-based training, as our contribution to better health for all, and our belief that health and social justice are connected.
Joining a community of practitioners
While a student: study group, practicums
What are the costs involved?
These are the fees GCB recommends as of 1st April 2021:
||Self-supporting student and low income
£55 per 1 hr session
|Supervision (1 hr pro rata)
Group Supervision (2 hours, min.3 participants)
|£45 per person
||£35 per person
£80 per hour
£500 per day
| Workshop and long courses
||See the Events and Courses pages
Is the Gestalt Centre Belfast accredited?
All our long courses include policies for appeal, delayed submission, equality policies, and all assessments are externally moderated. The training programmes reflect, and can be used for accreditation with BACP and EAGT.
Our Gestalt Supervision Diploma prepares students to the Supervision (Senior) accreditation process with BACP.
Our Gestalt Practitioner Diploma has been successful as an APEL route onto academic training programmes such as the Post Graduate programme in Gestalt Psychotherapy (Metanoia).