Gestalt as Consulting

by Herbert Stevenson

As Gestalt Theory continued to be applied, a distinction between Gestalt as therapy and Gestalt as organization development evolved from thinking at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland1. During this evolutionary period, the core assumptions of each of the applications of Gestalt theory were formalized and compared. See below. This comparative distinction revealed the Gestalt thread that runs through both applications while indicating the differences.

Early Core Assumptions

Gestalt Therapy Organization Development
Learning occurs through examination of here and now experience. Learning is best enhanced through focus on the process of managerial interaction, as opposed to content.
A focus on awareness is the precursor to effective action; awareness leads to choice. Change in human systems can occur only if members of the system are involved in the process.
There is an inherent drive for people to behave as effectively as possible. The therapist’s task is to help them learn this. People in organizations have potential for solving their problems. The task of OD is to facilitate the understanding and utilization of his potential.
Growth is facilitated by the interaction of client and therapist. The presence of the therapist is a critical element. A climate of openness and trust is essential for a healthy work environment.
Growth occurs at the contact boundary, between what is known and that which is unknown or rejected. The feedback/action research model is the path to organizational learning and change.
Change is the responsibility of the client, not the therapist. Change is the responsibility of the client, not the consultant.
Individual autonomy is crucial to healthy adjustment. The small group is a highly effective unit through which to bring about change.

(Nevis, 1997,112)

From this work, the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland developed two concepts that distinguish gestalt consulting from other forms of consulting. They are the unit of work and the gestalt consulting stance.

Gestalt Consulting Stance

Consistent with the distinctions made between Gestalt as therapy and Gestalt as consulting or organization development, the gestalt consulting stance became a method for distinguishing Gestalt theory from other forms of consulting. In the following pages, each of the ingredients of this approach to consulting is described.

Gestalt Consulting Stance

Use of Self as an instrument:

1. You must become an awareness expert

2. There should be congruence between your behavior and what you want to teach others.

You provide a presence which is otherwise lacking in the system

1. Stand for certain value, skills

2. Modeling a way of solving problems and of dealing with life in general

3. Helping to focus the client’s energy on the problems, not the solutions you prefer

4. Teaching basic behavioral skills

5. Evoking conditions that enable experimentation.

Basic activities stressed by the Gestalt consultant require that you:

1. Attend, observe and selectively share observations of what you see, hear, feel.

2. Attend to your own experience (feelings, sensations, thoughts, etc.), and selectively share these experiences, thereby establishing your presence in doing so.

3. Focus on energy in the client system and the emergence, or lack of, themes or issues for which there is energy; and therein support mobilization of energy so that something happens.

4. Facilitate clear, meaningful, heightened contacts between members of the client system (and with you).

5. Help the client system to complete units of work and to achieve closure around unfinished business.

Source: Gestalt Institute of Cleveland: Center for Organizations and System Development2.

Use of Self: Awareness and Wholeness

The use of self as an instrument clearly distinguishes gestalt theory from other forms of intervention. In a nutshell, it is believed that the relationship between the Gestaltist and the client is essential to the process. To develop this relationship, the Gestaltist needs to be congruent. “An oversimplified definition of congruence is that one looks like one feels, says what one feels and means, and acts in accordance with what one says.” (Satir, 2000, pp. 21-22. ) The power of this “use of self” can be understood from the psychoanalytic principle “that the source of the consultant’s feelings is other people.” (Sher, 1999, 3) Hence, in reporting one’s internal experience, the Gestaltist is responding directly to the impact of client on oneself. Herein, the Gestaltist’s presence triggers figure/ground formations to move past unformed or fuzzy formation, thereby enabling thoughts that reside in the client’s “unthought known” (preconscious, rudimentary thoughts that the individual, group or organization is thinking, but won’t acknowledge publicly) to surface...The idea that thoughts are thought only when there is a container/receptacle to receive them, underlies the purpose of consultancy. Within the protected boundaries of the consultant-organization relationship, the Unthought Known, the vastness of unexpressed, but felt wishes and fears—the acts of becoming and the failures of being—are opened for discussion, exploration, and incorporation.” (Sher, 1999, 2; Bollas, 1989)

“Working with our feelings as a tool to understand the organisation can inform us about the [client]. But it can also be a potentially painful and highly anxiety provoking process.” (Pieterman, 1999, 1) In basic terms, “using the self means that the [Gestaltist] has to be willing to face his or her pain, finiteness, and vulnerability, in addition to possessing and using all the other [consulting] skills.” (Baldwin, 2000, p. xxi) This is not to suggest that the Gestaltist uses the sessions for personal growth for him- or her- self, even though this might occur as a side effect. Rather, the Gestaltist seeks to be more fully human, which is another way of saying being present-centered. From this position, congruence develops around the actions and comments of the Gestaltist.

In the consulting relationship, the Gestaltist “becomes intimately involved with the thinking, conscious and unconscious, of the [client. The Gestaltist] can be said to introject the client’s projections in an attempt to work-out what is going on in the others’ mind. Searching out and focusing on the [introjecting projections process3] is a way of utilising the feelings of the [Gestaltist] to understand what is going on in the client’s mind” (Sher,1999, 3) “The process of working through what we have introjected, making sense of the data and feeding it back in a constructive way is the task of the [Gestaltist]. Working in this way is neither smooth, nor linear, nor does it follow a causal path. It involves working with ambiguity, inconsistencies, and uncertainty. Events, motives, and behaviors that may make sense in hindsight may feel extremely confusing at the time.” (Piterman, 1999, 2) Hence “congruence is the ability to see and say things as they are, while respecting the Self, the Other, and the Context....In the state of congruence, the [Gestaltist] is fully present, nondefensive, and thus vulnerable, aware of the needs, vulnerabilities, and possible defensiveness of the other, within the context of the situation...” (Baldwin, 2000, xxii) In very basic terms, the Gestaltist is capable of seeing and saying what is so, when it is so, without blame or judgment. Such congruence develops trust.

The impact of this “use of self” can be understood in an example. “One of the characteristics of the dysfunctional ...system is a lack of constructive feedback between members regarding the impact of their behavior on each other. When the [Gestaltist] does not allow his or her own self to be present... the [Gestaltist] operates under the same system as the [client]. When, however, the [Gestaltist] uses his or her own reactions as [an awareness building intervention] by sharing with the [client] how she or he is impacted by what is happening, and asking how his or her actions are impacting the [client], a new way of operating is modeled which can effectively change the...system.4” (Baldwin, 2000, p. xxii) In this case, constructive feedback can become part of the system.

Applied to gestalt consultancy, the use of self requires that the Gestaltist (1) become an awareness expert, especially in terms of organizational assessment and (2) be behaviorally congruent in action with what is discussed with clients. In other words, the Gestaltist should walk the talk.

Awareness Expert

“ being in the present” (Latner, 1986, p. 76). “To be aware of the present, to be totally in it, ensures that the self is functioning as it is meant to. The self is us, the accumulation of our experiences, our heredity, and predispositions. As our awareness is enlarged, the self comes closer to fullness and adequacy.” (Latner, 1986, p. 101) As a Gestaltist, the focus is to be as fully present with oneself and with the client as possible. It is this focus on the present-centeredness of the situation that enables the Gestaltist to provide an awareness that is otherwise lacking in the client system.

In addition, it is this present-centeredness that enables the Gestaltist to collect the necessary data to understand client dynamics. For example, “[w]hile gathering information about an organizational client may be accomplished in a variety of ways (telephone interviews, personal meetings, reports, questionnaires, etc.), the most valuable data source an O.D. consultant has is direct observation of the client system and subsystems within the work environment. Implicitly agreed upon patterns of behavior may be in direct conflict with the formally established patterns of communication channels, [or with the greater needs of the organization].... Consultants help to identify such conflicting behaviors and assist the client in coming to an agreement about how to proceed in the face of such knowledge.” (Alevras and Wepman, 1980, p. 234). It is this awareness building process by the Gestaltist that make the Gestalt intervention so powerful for the client. The Gestaltist gathers information about the client through direct contact with and observation of the individual, group, or organization, and then descriptively reports the findings to the client to increase awareness of the client. In many ways, the Gestaltist acts as a mirror for the client and adds value by enhancing the clarity of the reflection.

Methods of Awareness

In terms of technique, “[t]he Gestalt approach to awareness acknowledges use of both active, directed awareness and open, undirected awareness....[A]ctive, directed awareness describes the procedures most often used by organization development consultants and action research practitioners, emphasizing structured, guided questioning of members of the client system....[O]pen, undirected awareness... attempts to hold hypothesis formation in abeyance for a longer period of time....Open, undirected awareness is an attempt to reduce bias and remain as naive as possible while engaged in diagnosis.” (Nevis, 1987, pp. 110-111). It is a method to remain open to the outcome instead of attached to the outcome.

Gestalt Awareness Process

Active, Directed Awareness Open, Undirected Awareness
Goes to the world Lets the world come to you
Forces something to emerge Waits for something to emerge
Uses Structures/framework to guide what you wish to see, hear, etc. Investigates without being organized or “prejudiced” in any way as to what you wish to see hear, etc.
Focuses questioning; strives for a narrow, sharp field of vision Maintains widest peripheral vision; little foreground and everything of equal importance
Attends to things in terms of knowledge of how they work, what is present and missing in a normative sense Is naive about how things work; hopes to find something new about how things work
Searching of sensory modalities Receptive use of sensory modalities
Supports work by content values and conceptual biases Values are process-oriented, tend to be content free

Source: (Nevis, 1987, p. 111)

The Gestaltist is trained to use both modes. Neither awareness-enhancing approach is to be preferred over the other; good practice dictates moving back and forth..., keeping one’s boundaries as open as possible to receive any and all data from self and other.” (Nevis, 1987, p. 116). A comparison of the two forms of awareness building (or initial assessment) is shown above.

Walking the Talk

Walking the talk is typically associated with being consistent in thought and in action. It is often associated with “practicing what one preaches” in terms of living one’s beliefs versus simply just talking about the beliefs. However, there needs to be made clear a distinction that exists within gestalt theory. In a multicultural world or for that matter in any organization comprised of untold numbers of individuals, each with unique ways of interpreting the world, multiple realities is the only reality; i.e., there are as many perceived realities as there are individuals within the organization. As such, “this often means that the way a manager [or Gestaltist] walks the talk in the eyes of ...[one person] seen as insincere by someone else who links it with a different set of words.“ (Weick, 1995, p. 182). As such, organizations that hang the motto “walk the talk“ on the managers and/or Gestaltists are setting them up for failure. “Failure [i]s inevitable because [managers and/or Gestaltists using this motto or conceptual frame of reference] have things backward. Walking is the means to find things worth talking about. People discover what they think by looking at what they say, how they feel, and where they walk. The talk makes sense of walking, which means those best able to walk the talk are the ones who actually talk the walking they find themselves doing most often, with most intensity, and with most satisfaction.” (Weick, 1995, pp. 182-183). In gestalt theory, walking the talk is done by talking the walk. In doing so, it provides the organization with the “chance for the walking to uncover something for which the current words [in the organization] are inadequate and for which new words [that the Gestaltist might be able to provide] are needed.” (Weick, 1995, p. 183)

The phrase “talk the walk” is contrary to the most basic socialization process. Most individuals raised within the euro-centric social norms were indoctrinated with such cliche’s as “engage the brain before opening the mouth” or “think before talking” or in harsher conditions, “you are to be seen not heard.” Talking while walking is not normal, per se. Nonetheless, by being present centered, the gestaltist is not burdened with society’s cliche’s, or for that matter, the client’s interpretations of the past, the client’s hidden beliefs of the “ways we do things around here”, nor the client’s projections of how to be in the future. Instead, the Gestaltist is able to simply look at “what is” being said or not said, done or not done, questioned or not questioned by the client during the daily activities of the organization. Within this process of determining “what is”, the Gestaltist can initiate diagnostic tools as deemed appropriate all the while descriptively reporting the experience of what is seen, felt, heard, etc. thereby modeling the behavior of present centeredness. “To ‘talk the walk’ is to be opportunistic in the best sense of the word. It is to search for words that make sense of current walking that is adaptive for reasons that are not yet clear.” (Weick, 1995, p. 183). The gestaltist, in describing “what is,” is talking the walk. This aspect of describing “what is” can have a profound impact on the organization. At a minimum, it opens us to Merleau-Ponty’s discovery that “my spoken words surprise me and teach me my thoughts. (1964, 88) “To be surprised by spoken words suggests finding something of the self that was previously unsymbolized. An unknown part of the self is ‘put into’ the symbol and is discovered there. Language serves to organize, think about, and communicate conscious and unconscious experience. Thus, language, the individual and the group [or organization] function as dynamic containers, participating in the transformatory process through which the capacity to bear and learn from experience is enlarged.” (Billow, 2000, 250)


According to gestalt theory, the role of the Gestaltist is “to provide a presence that is otherwise lacking in the client system...”(Nevis, 1987, 69) One way that is rarely consciously developed but provides powerful impact is when the Gestaltist provides presence by creating and holding space for the client through bare attention. In this sense, holding space is similar to Winnicott’s description of creating an environment in which it is safe to be nobody and begin to find the self. This was called a process of unintegration, which ultimately leads to the capacity to be as opposed to one who can only do. It is at this point that deep awareness can surface as the client has the capacity to feel real. (Epstein, 1999, 36-38; Winnicott, 1965, 31, 59-61, 185-86) It is within this space that insights for the client can surface. It is where the Gestaltist is able to provide a “presence that is ground, asking to be written on.” (Parlett, 1991, 80; Zinker, 1987)

To understand the significance of holding space, it is critical for the Gestaltist to realize that sheer presence can have as great of an impact as any problem-solving skills. This presence is dependent upon the Gestaltist’s ability to fill each moment with relaxed attentiveness. The relaxed attentiveness requires a silence within the Gestaltist as well as between the Gestaltist and the client that permits the client to feel the gaps within themselves and to surface awareness that otherwise is out of reach. When this occurs, it is possible for real, unscripted, spontaneous communication to occur. (Epstein, 1995, 186-189) Developing this form of presence is extremely valuable for executive coaches and consultants but is also useful in working with groups and organizations.

Another aspect of holding space is to be able to witness one self and to know when the client interaction is arousing anxiety within one self. When this happens, the Gestaltist’s ability to hold the anxiety, allow the source of it to surface into awareness, and to report the internal experience directly impacts the client and his or her ability to transform the unspeakable and unthought sources of his or her anxiety5.

The second, and more common form of presence is for the Gestaltist “to be a living embodiment of knowledge: the theories and practices believed to be essential to bring about the changes in people are manifested, symbolized, or implied in the presence of the Gestaltist.” (Nevis, 1987, p. 69). To provide this presence involves five steps: (1) standing for certain values, skills, (2) modeling a way of solving problems and of dealing with life in general, (3) helping to focus the client’s energy on the problems, not the solutions you prefer, (4) teaching basic behavioral skills, and (5) evoking conditions that enable experimentation.

Standing for Something

“Presence is defined as: the living out of values in such a way that in ‘taking a stance,’ the intervener teaches these important concepts. That which is important to the client’s learning process is exuded through the Gestaltist’s way of being.”(Nevis, 1987, p. 70). For example, it has been suggested by Nevis that a Gestaltist will generally develop and employ the following skills:

As the Gestaltist masters these skills, the skills become part of how the Gestaltist interacts with the clients. Hence, “[p]resence denotes a good integration of knowledge and behavior. [For example], by making here-and-now behavior an enactment of what the person knows [an internalized body of knowledge], presence becomes a powerful force. The more compelling or intriguing the knowledge and its enactment, the richer is the presence.” (Nevis, 1987, p. 70).

Modeling Behavior

“While the phenomena involved are often hard to operationalize in specific terms, it is important to try to identify concrete, specific behaviors that form the basis for client and Gestaltist effectiveness. By modeling these behaviors personally, the Gestaltist enhances the learning of the client system.” (Nevis, (1987, p. 90). For example, by listening without judgment to every aspect of the client’s experience, the Gestaltist is modeling the notion of listening to oneself. And, by being accepting and nonjudgmental of the feelings within the client, the Gestaltist is modeling a nonjudgmental self-acceptance in the client. By being real and congruent and genuine, the [Gestaltist] is modeling that kind of behavior for the client. In these ways, the [Gestaltist] does serve as a useful model. (Baldwin, 2000, p. 31)

If we apply the concept of “bare attention” to consulting, we would discover it is accomplished by “pay[ing] attention, moment by moment, to exactly what you are experiencing, right now, separating out your reactions from raw sensory events. [In short, the Gestaltist] just registers the bare facts, an exact registering, allowing things to speak for themselves as if seen for the first time, distinguishing any reactions from the core event.”( Epstein, 1995, 110) As an example, the Gestaltist models being present-centered by not becoming overly involved with the content of the client’s situation and staying aware of the how it is being described and stating it. Though awkward in common verbal exchanges, the naming of how something is being communicated creates a “here and now” awareness for the client. Typically, this awareness will result in some self consciousness and possibly a sense of discomfort for the client. Nonetheless, it results in the client seeing how someone else is able to stay present-centered and focused.

Focusing on Client’s Problems, not solutions

In general terms, the Gestalt approach to consulting is not so much to solve a problem by creating a solution, but by helping the client to see in a new way. This does not mean that information related to a solution is withheld from the client when the technical expertise of the Gestaltist can help to solve a problem. Rather, it means that the Gestaltist focuses on “what is” here, now, while descriptively assessing the situation as it unfolds. The descriptive assessment provides a deeper and broader problem definition, that through the sheer awareness of this enhanced definition, may provide a clear solution to the problem that was not available until that moment of awareness. Hence, the “client’s theory of change is an ‘emergent reality’ that unfolds from a conversation structured by...curiosity about the client’s ideas, attitudes, and speculations about change.” (Duncan & Miller, 2000, 182) As the Gestaltist describes the situation, and an awareness of “what is” emerges, “then that experience is added to the individual’s sum of experiences and that sum is changed, not only quantitatively, but qualitatively as well. The personal organization of the individual is inevitably changed.” (Merry & Brown, 1987. p. 280). This transformational experience could be from something as simple as the Gestaltist helping the client to see the obvious, similar to a child stating that the emperor has no clothes.

Teaching Behavioral Skills

“Presence is not manufactured: it is something everyone displays at all times, whether one is aware of what others respond to or not. However, presence is most powerful when it embodies a compelling model or theory of learning. While some learning models are more useful than others in influencing adult behavior change, the important point is that the Gestaltist has internalized one that has proven useful over time.” (Nevis, 1987, p. 75).

A primary tenet of gestalt theory is to “state the obvious” and then to be able to teach the client to see it and say it as well. In Gestalt theory, the focus is on descriptive versus evaluative perception and/or feedback. In teaching the client to use descriptive feedback, the Gestaltist enables the client...”to learn the difference between fantasy (which may be the product of imagination and concepts distorted by the inappropriate hangings-on to the past, or being caught up with wishes for the future) and the reality of the present moment....[T]he emphasis within the Gestalt approach is consistently on the ‘here and now’. This is the reality with which we can deal. The rest is conjecture.” (Merry & Brown, 1987, p. 277).

Directly tied to stating the obvious in descriptive terms is teaching the client how to stay present-centered by learning how to witness the ongoing process. This can be done by talking about what is going on as experienced by the individual and the system. As the skills evolve, the client will begin to see its own process and determine how this process is serving and not serving the tasks at hand.

Evoking Experimentation

The presence of a Gestaltist is to evoke some form of change in the system through creating awareness. This awareness can “evolve out of experience and experimentation” (Goodman, 1999,63) or the more commonly used organizational term to create a “pilot”. In basic terms, the Gestalt experiment is used to expand the range of the client by showing how to alter habitualized behavioral patterns. (Polster & Polster, 1973) The presumption is that learning can begin with experience and the focus of experimentation is to create the opportunity for an insight into how the client does him or her self. The client becomes the teacher because the insight is self generated through an awareness created from the experiment. It will always exceed advice or theory because the client experiences the new awareness.(Dewey, 1938; Kolb, 1984) In organization development, it is through Gestalt experiment that the client is able to reveal habitualized patterns and experience other ways of behaving that might prove to be more effective within the organization.

Noteworthy is the fact that “[a]ll Gestalt experiments are anchored in the... experiential life as present[ed] in the situation. Arbitrary exercises thrust on the person (or group), devoid of experiential roots, are not within the realm of phenomenology and of Gestalt theory,...because they do not carry...a living context for the client. It is within this living context that most lasting learnings take place.” (Zinker, 1977, p. 88; Dixon & Ross, 1999, 443))

The basis of the experiment or pilot is that “all living systems start small.” (Senge, 1999, 39) As such, organizational experiments are a small scale test, wherein the success or failure of new business directions are revealed at a much smaller cost to the organization than a large-scale implementation. Experiments can vary widely from impacting an individual, group/team, department or division, as well as the size of the budget, the criteria for success, and the departments that perform the experiment. (Tomke, 2001) The benefit of an experimental approach is that all outcomes are valuable. The experiment reveals a possible new way of being that could be an insight that supports the CEO to discontinue unconscious and undermining behaviors, a team redirecting its energies, or the organization determining whether to move forward with a large-scale change or to take another path.

Experiential Cycle of Learning6

Concrete Experience

(An Event)

Active Experimentation Reflective Observation

(What is to be done differently) (What happened)

Planning for Implementation Abstract Conceptualization

(How to be differently) (What was learned, future implication)

For the experiment to be a learning experience, there are five steps that the client will pass through. These five steps form a learning cycle that is a unit of work in the sense that the experiment has a beginning, middle, and end similar to systems theory’s input, throughout, and output. Moreover, the experiential cycle of learning is a process that the Gestaltist will witness while guiding the client through the experimental or pilot process. This cyclical process creates a lens from which to observe and to frame the learning experience of the client. This framing leads to the ability of the Gestaltist to hold the client’s “what is” before and after the experiment or pilot and therefore support the client in framing what is different or new or possible. Zinker (1977) further clarified this process in listing the goals of creative experimentation.

Goals of Creative Experimentation

Adapted from Zinker, 1977, 126

Over the last five decades, experiments by gestaltists have been often referred to as “creating a safe emergency” wherein the client is given the opportunity to try something new or untested or different to determine what is or is not possible. In the safety of the experiment, the client is able to create new awareness of what is possible and therefore how things could be different. This applies to individual, group/team and organizational levels.

Basic Activities

In summary, the basic activities stressed by the Gestalt consultant include the following

Unit of Work

The unit of work evolved from the realization that a transparent structure to support the consulting process might be useful. It is a transparent structure in that it generally is something that is used by the gestaltist without necessarily disclosing its use with the client. Nonetheless, it has proven to be a valuable tool.

The unit of work is a tool to organize interventions. As defined by John Carter, “work... means processes of change or development, either naturally arrived at or deliberately orchestrated. A finished ‘unit of work’ is a coherent, assimilable experience; it may be the completion of a task, the resolution of an issue, or a learning experience. A successful unit of work creates energy that is sustained and purposeful.” (Carter, 2000, 99)

Unit of Work Structure

The Beginning:

Assessing “what is”

The beginning of the unit of work involves heightening the client’s awareness of what already “is” by describing, defining, and assessing the current situation. Change that embarks from “ground” that is not fully explored risks confusion, frustration, and failure. Hence, the Gestaltist spends more time here for building adequate ground that will lead to deeper and quicker interventions.


Beginning to Middle—

Choosing what to attend to

When it is clear that energy/support is building around a topic, the intervener can select what to attend to. It does not require that support or involvement of the entire group is required.

The Middle:

Acting on the choice

At this point, themes are articulated that include the energy for change and the energy for the status quo (sameness).By noting the opposing forces, both sides can begin to examine the tension between the two forces of change. At this point, it could become clear that the issue is a “problem to solve” or a “polarity to manage.” If clarity does not surface, an experiment or pilot could be proposed that would further heighten the awareness of the situation.


Middle to End—

Closing out the Activity I

The first step to sustaining the new awareness is to anchor the work through agreeing on what is new or clearer. Too often this step is done too quickly. It is better to spend more time so that the discoveries or accomplishments have a chance to sink in and stick to the individual ir group.

The End:

Closing out the Activity II

Appreciation, recognition, and assimilation are critical. Having each person express what is new or different anchors the process. Greater shared meaning can evolve which can lead to more commitment and cooperation. A clearer understanding of the new “what is” evolves.

(Adapted from Carter, 2000, 100-101)

Applying this definition of work, a unit of work is a procedural frame of reference that helps to organize intervention change activity. It consists of four steps: (1) assessing “what is” by heightening awareness of what appears to happening; (2) choosing what to attend to by defining patterns or themes that exist; (3) acting on that choice by creating awareness of the pattern, suggesting an experiment or pilot that tests alternative ways of doing things; and (4) closing out that particular activity by acknowledging the new “what is” that evolved from the experience or pilot. (Carter, 2000, 99)

The unit of work is like a trademark for the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. It was realized that by consciously following a structure that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, the gestaltist creates a tool to stay in the moment while waiting for a figure to surface from the ground of the individual, group, or organization. It is this willingness to be patient, that distinguishes gestalt from other forms of consulting.


The gestalt consulting stance and the unit of work are tools that create a frame of reference in terms of how to be with the client as well as when to intervene. Its strength has been that there are no immutable laws or rules. There is only the need to be yourself, fully in the moment.


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1Edwin Nevis, John Carter, Carolyn Lukensmeyer, Leonard Hirsch, and Elaine Kepner founded the Organization and Systems Development Center at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland approximately 30 years ago..

2A comprehensive coverage of the gestalt approach to consulting can be found in Nevis’ book Organizational Consulting.

3In psychoanalytical terms, this process would be called counter-transference

4An oral communications from Virginia Satir, November, 1985).

5“Keeping track of all available evidence, including the consultant’s own emotional state and how it is affected by the work, serves the [Gestaltist]. These methods help to distinguish between my fantasies and the client’s fantasies; to distinguish between what is fantasy, what is indirect information and what is fact; namely using all the data that separates and distinguishes what is conscious and what is unconscious.” (Sher, 1999, 3)

6Adapted and Integrated from: Merriam, Sharan B. & Caffarella Rosemary s.(1999) Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 225. Original source: Barnett, B. G. (1989) “Reflection: The Cornerstone of Learning from Experience.” Paper presented at the University Council for Educational Administrators Annual Convention, Scottsdale, Arizona, October. 3.

Knowles, Malcolm S. Holton, Elwood F. & Swanson, Richard A. (1998) The Adult Learner. 5th Edition, Houston, Texas: Gulf Publishing Co. 147-148. Original source: Kolb, David (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

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