Gestalt therapy suggests a change of priorities

In my latest thinking and writing, I am addressing the multiple confusions, fears, anticipations of global catastrophe, that thinking people experience, as they face a future which promises big changes, and maybe terrible ones – if the fears and predictions of climate scientists, and of biologists concerned with mass extinctions of plants and animals are to be believed; and I see no reason not to believe them.

This complex and worrisome perspective on the future is matched by a complete lack of leadership from the political class, who seem more and more to be beholden to the super-rich elites and affluent corporations.

My purpose and plan is to suggest that whatever happens, there is a need for a fundamental revision in the ways in which human beings conduct their lives and organise their world. As Paul Goodman – one of gestalt therapy’s founders and its principal theorist – suggested, we need new ideas, different priorities, and clearer thinking about our taken-for-granted assumptions. After all, what is it, in our society, global culture, and contemporary zeitgeist, that means that news media, a few weeks ago, led with the Duchess of Cambridge’s exposed breasts rather than with the rapidity of the melting Greenland ice?

Gestalt therapy suggests a change of priorities – not least to question the present values and ‘American model’ of international development and globalised ‘betterment’ (more Hollywood?). What is needed is an educational approach that fosters peaceful collaboration instead of militarism; communal participation instead of a privatised pursuit of individual advantage; and ecological responsibility instead of mindless destruction of the biosphere.

I am suggesting that gestalt – in a way that is extraordinary, as a minority pursuit and often invisible – has identified qualities and priorities which truly promote human satisfaction – and which counter areas of profound dissatisfaction present all around us in the lives of families, in ‘developed’ society, and in our clients.

These, I suggest, are basic requirements for a saner world, where gestalt therapy and practice can lead the way.

  1. Responding to the situation. Promoting greater ‘agency,’ sharing leadership, identifying our interests and personal strengths, supporting the ‘right to speak’and the legitimacy of subjective judgement – instead of paralysis, getting bewildered, remaining silent, and reducing self-hood through submitting too much to the ideology of techno-rationality.
  2. Interrelating. Supporting collaboration, profound meeting, defusing conflicts before they get out of hand, and creating ‘trust-full’ environments in which people feel safe enough to ‘be themselves’– instead of destructive conflict, social isolation, polarising around differences, stereotyping, and perpetuating the shame culture.
  3. Embodying. Releasing human enjoyment in life through song, dance, movement, physical play, and a general delight in the erotic and sensual, through honouring the body’s truth, and our continuity with nature – instead of desensitizing, inhibiting movement, obsessing about  health or physical appearance, and getting locked into head work to the exclusion of feelings.
  4. Experimenting. Acknowledging the possibilities of ‘here and now’ improvisation and of innovating backed up by strong supports, encouraging creative artistry, and waking up to habitual and addictive patterns – instead of maintaining traditions and habits uncritically, jumping into novel changes without preparation, or staying in ‘automatic’ modes that are de-vitalising.
  5. Self-Recognising. Providing opportunities for self-inquiry, stillness, ‘knowing one’s truth,’ and existential or spiritual reflection / mindful awareness – instead of getting ‘saturated,’ overstimulated, or swept along by pressures to conform to others’ expectations, or losing sight of one’s values and unique path of learning and growing.

These are principles, once grasped, which transform our practice, and help us to be active ‘citizen-practitioners.

Yours sincerely,
Malcolm Parlett

You can meet Malcolm Parlett at a workshop in Copenhagen the 17th and 18th of November – read more and sign up here.

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