Self-Knowledge does not help you to change the way you feel
Before I began my Gestalt Training at TRIA in 2018, I had practiced counselling and coaching as a professional for many years and in many settings. During those years I also had numerous experiences of receiving counselling and psychotherapy as a client. I considered myself very competent in the field and as a client I became adept at tapping into my emotions and my own stories of past trauma.
I noticed that knowing my stories and talking about them with a therapist didn’t really help me to change the way I experienced myself in relationship with others or in the way that I often felt stuck in patterns of unhelpful thoughts and behaviour. It was always a comfort to have someone to talk to and I developed a great deal of self-knowledge but somehow, I felt there was something missing.
Gestalt therapy training teaches you Self Awareness
It was a great surprise to me that in training to be a Gestalt Therapist among all the skills and knowledge I gained I also learned how to tap into my bodily sensations and movements. I found this broadened and deepened my capacity for self-awareness and enhanced my ability to choose what to attend to in my field of experience.
In Gestalt Therapy the focus is on the client’s experience of the here and now, to what is happening in the present moment. This is known as the phenomenological approach. This focus on what is happening in the present allows both the client and the therapist to bring their attention to what is figural (most important) to the client in each moment in the therapy session. This brings with it the possibility that the client can begin to identify what happens in their relationships with others by noticing what happens when they are in contact with the therapist.
Noticing their physical posture, movement and sensation can bring another dimension to the client’s awareness of what is going on for them. It also helps draw their attention away from the stories about the past or the hopes for the future and bring them more effectively into their present moment bodily experience.
Gestalt Therapy focuses on helping clients to reconnect with themselves
In 2014 renowned trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk wrote a book called The Body Keeps the Score. In it he describes how traumatic stress of all kinds at all ages actually rearranges the brain’s wiring. Dr Peter Levine, the founder of Somatic Experiencing has also worked in this field for over 35 years. He talks about how unresolved trauma and stress creates a loss of connection from ourselves, our bodies, our families, friends and from the world around us. Both suggest that to effectively deal with any kind of trauma or disconnection, therapy needs to include a focus on sensory and physical embodiment as a way of engaging our physiology as well as our minds and emotions in the healing process.
We feel this disconnection with ourselves at some level, but we are often completely unaware of the cause. We go along in life knowing that we don’t feel quite right while finally recognising that we are not functioning or relating to others in the way that we want to. This is what brings many people into therapy.
It helps to drop out of your head and feel into your body
Paying attention to the somatic experiences we are having as we sit and talk to the therapist can increase our awareness of our bodily state while we notice the activation that occurs when we are angry, frightened, or shamed or when we remember past trauma. Working with the body can help restore trust in ourselves as we practice having direct experience of what is happening in our physiology compared to simply getting lost in talking about the painful or traumatic experiences we have had in the past or are having in the present.
The value of learning to pay attention to what is going on in our bodies gives us the opportunity to develop the inner resources to help us manage anxiety, pain, disconnection and trauma. With a focus on the somatic experience a somatically trained therapist can also help renegotiate the aftereffects of past traumatic experiences that we may have had, including those that may have happened in childhood.
Encouraging the development of somatic awareness is a valuable part of any Gestalt Therapy as I have discovered in my own training and therapy work. I highly recommend it as a way of building the inner resources needed to address anxiety, anger and emotional pain and to remain connected and present to ourselves and those around us.