Philosophical Assumptions of Gestalt Therapy *
- The Nature of Reality
- The Essential Nature of Being Human
- Truth and the Basis for Knowledge
- How a Person Knows
- Ethical Considerations
The philosophical bases for Gestalt therapy lie in assumptions that deal with three issues: First, what is real? What is life? What is the world? In philosophy, these questions fall within the area known as ontology. Second, What is truth? How do we know what we know? These questions define an area known as epistemology. And third, What is good? What is right? What is wrong? This area is axiology. The assumptive answers given in this section will be those derived from the gestalt perspective.
Everything that exists is a process having as its main features change, flow, mobility, happening, and relation to other things. Everything that exists is also a part of a whole, a oneness, a totality. Knowledge itself is of two kinds—descriptive or intuitive—depending upon whether the knowing is of parts or of a whole. Knowledge itself, whether it is knowledge about an entity or simply awareness or attention to that entity, is a gestalt, an irreducible phenomenon that cannot be analyzed or explained without altering the phenomenon and creating a new one. Thus, to know is to observe and to be consciously aware of experiences in the present. The organism "knows" through its total intelligence and, in responding, it exhibits its process of "knowing."
Viewed as an integrated individual consciousness, instead of a passive register of data provided by the external world, each person constructs a personal and unique world of sensory awareness of the environment and of the structures, images, meanings, and knowledge he ascribes to at awareness. From these constructs, the person chooses personal interactions with the world, attitudes, feelings, and actions. The person also symbolizes these attitudes, feelings, and actions in words, bodily movements, images, and dreams. Both individual and environment are affirmed in the gestalt perspective, and the involved consciousness of the individual becomes the active creator of the personal experience of the world and the communicator with the world in the interaction process.
To place awareness, symbolization, and choice at the center of the gestalt model is to make a phenomenologically oriented appraisal of how life is lived, how gestalten are formed, dissolved, and reformed. And underlying this orientation, as we just noted, is an affirmation of the individual and of environmental process as they exist, not as they are said to exist or as one might wish that they existed. Both of the latter—the beliefs about and wishes for the individual and the world—are phenomena to be dealt with. What is, is; what we do, we do. Existence, then, is whole and authentic. No aspect of living is to be avoided. All is affirmed. All may enter awareness or be the focus of attention. Each individual chooses out of the "all" of his experience what he will and as he will. The self is created and discovered through authentic experience.
Finally, in this process of creating and experiencing one's world, no legal or moral set of ethics and values can be superimposed upon personal experience without doing violence to the one who is experiencing. One may make a choice to live in situations accepting such a set of superimposed values; one chooses in such a case to violate personally held standards or values for the sake of something or someone with a higher priority or a stronger demand. The valid ethical stance in Gestalt therapy is based upon the ethics and values of the persons who interact, and upon the situation in which the interaction takes place. Each person is responsible for him or herself in that interaction, and for the choices made in the existential moment.
*Philosophical Assumptions of Gestalt Therapy originally appeared in Gestalt Therapy: An Introduction (1980), by Vernon Van De Riet, Margaret P. Korb, and John Jeffrey Gorrell. Copyright© All Rights Reserved.
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