Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Reflections on Gestalt - Change

Arnold Beisser wrote an article in 1970 entitled ‘The Paradoxical
Theory of Change’. In it he stated ‘that change occurs when one
becomes what he is, not when he tries to become what he is not’. It
is paradoxical in the sense that a person can change and start to
become something he is not only when he truly knows what he is. It is
a lynchpin of the Gestalt approach and one of the clearest
descriptions of an idea originally set out by Fritz Perls.
I will here reflect on what this means in a coaching relationship and
invite you to add your own thoughts. An individual who seeks coaching
will often state their requirement as a need to change for some
reason. It could be to work better with colleagues, gain a promotion
or take a new direction in what they do. The role of the coach is to
help the individual achieve the change he wants. The Paradoxical
Theory of Change tells us that the most powerful way to do this is to
help him describe exactly where he is now. By doing so the client
gains insight and understanding about the attributes and
characteristics he currently exhibits and begins to see how these
might get in the way of the change he wants. In many Gestalt coaching
sessions a client will begin to realise that many of the obstacles to
the progress he wants are present within who and what he is at that
moment. When this occurs it is a great and helpful discovery as the
client can be shown that he has control over changing things that are
going on inside him. In fact he has much more control over this than
he has over the often originally perceived idea that it is something
or someone else that is getting in the way.
The other aspect of interest in this theory is the constant flipping
of the client between a state he ‘should’ be in and the state he ‘is’
in. Invariably the client is in neither state but hangs somewhere in
between. Making the shift to a clear description of what ‘is’ will
give the client a powerful grounding from which he can then consider
Finally it is noticeable that the ‘problem’ or ‘need for change’ cited
by the client up front is often not the most important thing to fix
for the growth and development of the client. It is always related to
where the client actually is in that moment. The role of the coach is
to help him describe this in as much rich detail as is possible.
What thoughts does this prompt for you?

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