According to the dictionary a GESTALT is "any of the integrated structures that make up all experience, and have specific properties which can neither be derived from the elements of the whole nor considered simply as the sum of these elements."
In other words, it is something that takes on an existence or a life of its own that is more than just the sum of what it is made of. A human being is a gestalt, a body is a gestalt, "Japan" is a gestalt, "General Motors" is a gestalt, "Second World War" is a gestalt, "Work" is a gestalt.
For processing purposes we will mostly concentrate on gestalts that are sub-divisions of the client as a person. That is, identities, personality traits, mental circuits, and so forth. But nothing stops you from applying the same principles to gestalts that are considered outside the client, such as to groups of people.
It is not important for our purposes whether you or the client believe that gestalts are objectively real or not. It is perfectly fine if the client regards it as just a metaphor, or an imaginary exercise. Sometimes the work will even be easier the less seriously the client takes it.
These are the major processing techniques that would fall in the category of gestalt processing:
- Polarity Integration
- Soul Retrieval
- Entity Clearing
In Polarity Integration we assume that the client is split up in two separate halves, each containing only some of her qualities and awareness. These sides would probably be either quarreling or they would have problems because each is lacking the qualities of the opposite side. For the purpose of the technique, we pretend that the client can observe and direct these parts from a distance. We find out what they are about, what they do, what qualities they contain, and so forth. And then we work on getting them more in communication with each other. That includes that they need to accept and appreciate each other, that they should have some kind of interchange, and that they should understand their relationship. Typically polarity integration will end with the two halves re-integrating back into one whole. Or at least we will get them to work better together, share information, and cooperate in the future.
In Soul Retrieval the premise is that there is a part of the client that she lost or forgot somewhere. During major events of her life she might have separated a part of herself off and left it to live a separate existence, maybe still being back at that point in time. That this happened might be apparent in that she is missing an essential part of herself here and now. We would try to locate the missing part and invite it to come back and re-join with her. The client might talk with it and they might have to reconcile some differences or upsets before they can re-integrate.
In Entity Clearing we can address pockets of consciousness as whole separate beings. They might be identified first as foreign energies or thoughts in the person's body or space. The first approach would usually be to treat them as part of the person, but sometimes it appears more appropriate to treat them as separate personalities. Usually we would want to find out what they are doing, how they got there, who they really are, and stuff like that. We would help them over any reasons to be stuck where they don't belong, and usually they would leave.
All of these techniques have the advantage that you can deal with personality traits at a distance. When the client doesn't directly identify with what we are handling, she then won't have as many defenses against changing it. It is much easier to change an "angry part" that she sees in front of her than it is to persuade HER to be more flexible about anger. It is a general rule that you can only examine a part of yourself that you can isolate and see as separate from yourself.
One of the fundamental premises for transformational processing says that really the person isn't her behavior or her identity. So, no matter what part of her personality we address, we will always be able to see it as separate from herself. There is no personal quality or viewpoint or identity that really is the real person. It is all just stuff she can assume. She might be more or less consistently fond of certain traits, but there isn't anything that she just permanently IS.
A potential pitfall in any gestalt type processing is also exactly the fact that it introduces separation. The person is generally better off being whole than being split off into parts. We talk about "parts" in the techniques in order to facilitate the change, but we must always remember to put the parts back together again when we are done. That is usually built into the techniques, but it is still something to be aware of.
The client might walk into session feeling just like herself. We put her attention on the idea of there being different parts of her, she goes along with it, and then we sort out their relationship for the better. Then, when we are done, we again address her as one whole being. It is important to leave her more whole than we found her, never less.
Gestalt techniques produce some of the fastest and most profound changes available. It is not uncommon to create a major, permanent life change in one session. It is often somewhat mysterious to the client and she might not notice it right away. Because we make the change outside herself and then just re-assimilate it back into her again. She will just feel different, without rationally having a whole lot to say about it. That is often the best change.
Major gestalt techniques like polarity integration and soul retrieval have a somewhat limited re-usability. It is not something you would be doing session after session for a long time. If you find yourself doing that, you probably aren't doing it right. You might do maybe 2-5 different sessions to start with, and then maybe the client might need another one every few months. Much more than that would be overdoing it. You are creating global, widespread change with these processes. Once you have changed something, you have changed it.