Similarities of Gestalt, Existential and Client Centred Therapy

Therapy and Coaching are experiences that help people fulfill their full potential. There are an infinite number of varieties. Each one has its claims to be the most powerful and probably as many detractors arguing against it. Many of the theories and practices are powerful for certain situations. None meets the needs of every situation. In this article I am interested in drawing out some of the similarities across the three therapies of Gestalt (Perls), Existential (Spinelli) and Client Centred (Rogers).

The first similarity is the relationship between the client and the therapist. In each of these therapies the client and the therapist form a system. In this system both client and therapist co create a therapy world. The therapist is giving herself fully to the relationship and will be impacted by the joint experience. The therapist will share the experience she is having with the client. The intent of the therapist or coach is to be a support to the client as she seeks to understand her world more clearly. By understanding the world more clearly the client is able to resolve the conflicts she is confronting and becomes ready to change and grow. The Gestalt therapist or coach is noticing experiences in her own being, and that of the client, during the encounter with the client and is using this information to follow the energy of both the client and the therapist or coach. The existential therapist or coach follows a similar approach and relies on phenomenological experience to inform the co created system. The Client Centred therapist or coach is committing herself fully to providing a helping relationship to the client. The approaches used with these systems is distinct from other forms of coaching and therapy where the therapist sees himself as separate from the client and an expert with the tools to cure, advise or direct the client. The client is seen as a separate entity that has therapy or coaching needs and the therapist or coach has the tools to show the client what she needs to do to change and grow.

The second similarity is the power of description in moving the system of client and therapist forward in a positive way. The Gestalt approach encourages the client to describe her world through use of the distinctions of cycle of experience (attention through awareness through energy through contact through resolution and rest), boundaries (between organism and environment and between what we will do and will not do), resistance (introjection, projection, retroflection, confluence, deflection and desensitisation), grounding (paradoxical theory of change), unfinished business and completion. The Existentialist approach works joint descriptive processes on the three aspects of being which are relatedness, uncertainty and anxiety. Relatedness concerns how we relate to each other through the way we see the world through our own eyes, the eyes of others and the environment. Uncertainty is the necessary uncertainty that arises from never being able to have a complete and full view of the world. We can only have our own perspective which will include what we think others see and what else might be out there. Finally anxiety arises out of the relatedness and uncertainty we experience in the world. The Client Centred approach supports the client describing how her world is. The therapist role is to keep playing back to the client, possibly in her own words, what the client is saying. In each of the approaches the client is clarifying her description of the world and the possibility for change and growth arises as the client becomes clearer.

It is clear that for each of these approaches to be successful the personal qualities of the therapist or coach are critically important. These methodologies require mastery in their application and success only comes with the right combination of personal qualities and delivery. It is my view that someone who is successful as a Client Centred coach or therapist would be equally successful in the realm of relationship to client and descriptive support if they were to use Gestalt or Existential approaches. I believe the same to be true of successful Gestalt and Existential therapists.

This article arose out of reading of Perls, Spinelli and Rogers who are also powerful examples of master practitioners.