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What is Gestalt Coaching?

What is Gestalt Coaching?

Kevin William Grant
July 03, 2023

Gestalt Coaching refrains from labeling clients or viewing them as inherently dysfunctional. Instead, it guides clients to understand that all their experiences, whether beneficial or detrimental, are responses to their surrounding world.

Gestalt coaching is an approach to coaching that draws on principles and practices from Gestalt psychology and therapy. It is focused on supporting individuals and groups in gaining self-awareness, developing personal growth, and achieving their goals. The coach gives clients a variety of creative life "experiments" where the client explores their personal life "operating system" they are currently using.

The term "gestalt" comes from the German word meaning "whole" or "pattern." Gestalt coaching emphasizes understanding the whole person's thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and physical sensations. It views individuals as complex systems and seeks to explore the interplay between different aspects of their experience.

Gestalt coaching emphasizes the present moment and the client's immediate experience. Coaches using this approach help clients become aware of their patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving in the present moment and explore how these patterns may influence their goals or challenges. Through this process of self-awareness, clients can gain insights and develop new perspectives that can lead to personal growth and change.

Gestalt coaching often utilizes techniques and interventions to facilitate this self-awareness, such as role-playing, guided imagery, body awareness exercises, and creative expression. The coach and client work collaboratively to explore and understand the client's experiences, beliefs, and goals and to identify new possibilities for action and development.

Overall, gestalt coaching is a holistic approach that integrates different aspects of a person's experience and facilitates personal and professional growth. It is often used in executive coaching, leadership development, and personal coaching contexts.

Gestalt Coaching is About Awareness

Gestalt Coaching encourages the client to fully acknowledge all "operating systems" within them and explores where these systems "took root "in their life. Once the client is aware of these systems, choosing what to hold onto and what to abandon is up to them. Through an "experiential process," this awareness removes residue from their past encounters and interactions. As a result, the client gains a sense of peace and is free to be who they really are, selecting behaviors that enhance their lives rather than remaining at the mercy of their engrained automatic reactions.

Move Beyond an Intellectual Understanding

Gestalt Coaching is a method grounded in Gestalt psychology that stimulates self-awareness and promotes personal transformation. The central tenet of this approach is to facilitate individuals in recognizing and understanding the entirety of their internal "operating systems" (Frew, 2007). An individual's "operating system" encapsulates their habits, patterns of thinking, emotional responses, and general worldview, which are usually established over a period and often subconsciously.

This coaching technique assists clients in tracing the origins or the "root" of these patterns within their life trajectories. An in-depth exploration of these roots helps them understand how these systems were formed and how they might have been reinforced throughout their lives (O'Neill, 2000). Knowledge about one's patterns can indeed be empowering. Once a client is aware of these systems, they possess the choice to either retain or abandon them, consciously crafting their behavioral path.

Gestalt Coaching employs an "experiential process" grounded in the present moment and directly engages with the client's experience. The objective of this process is not to dwell on past experiences but rather to create a new understanding by reliving them in a controlled environment and gleaning new insights (Frew, 2007). The experiential process cleanses past residues, including unresolved issues, emotional baggage, or long-held beliefs, enabling the individual to find peace and authenticity.

This process results in profound effects on the client. They can break free from their automatic reactions, primarily influenced by their ingrained patterns, and instead consciously choose behaviors that enhance their lives. The end goal is not just behavior modification but also fostering a sense of freedom and peace within the individual, allowing them to be more genuinely themselves (Nevis, 1997).

In conclusion, Gestalt Coaching is an effective approach that emphasizes the importance of self-awareness in personal development and change. By making individuals aware of their internal operating systems, Gestalt Coaching enables them to break free from their automatic reactions and choose behaviors that enrich their lives.

Transitioning from Reactivity to Responsiveness: The Core of Gestalt Coaching

A fundamental transformation facilitated by Gestalt Coaching is shifting clients' interactions with their world from a 'reactive' stance to a 'responsive' one. Reactive behavior is primarily driven by automatic, unconscious responses deeply embedded within our internal operating systems (Nevis, 2008). These responses are quick, often instantaneous, and are influenced by past experiences, ingrained beliefs, and unprocessed emotions. While such reactions can be effective in certain situations, they can often lead to adverse outcomes, especially when they are not suited to the present context or are based on outdated beliefs or unresolved issues (Frew, 2007).

Gestalt Coaching endeavors to move individuals from this reactive mode of operation towards a more thoughtful, considered, and 'responsive' manner of interaction. A responsive action emerges from a place of awareness, integrity, and presence (Nevis, 2008). Responsiveness involves:

  • A conscious evaluation of the present situation.
  • Understanding one's feelings and thoughts.
  • Choosing the most beneficial and appropriate action to the context.

Essentially, it is about making thoughtful choices rather than operating on autopilot.

Clarity and mindful engagement are the outcomes when we respond from a holistic, aware, and fully-present stance. This involves recognizing and integrating all aspects of oneself - the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual (O'Neill, 2000). Such a state of full presence allows for a richer understanding of the current situation, leading to more effective and satisfying interactions with others and the world.

However, the transition from reactivity to responsiveness is a challenging task. It requires an ongoing commitment to self-awareness, acceptance, and growth. It involves unraveling old patterns, facing unresolved issues, and embracing new ways of being. Yet, the reward is a more authentic, peaceful, and satisfying way of engaging with the world, often devoid of the regret that typically follows reactive interactions (Frew, 2007).

Gestalt Coaching is an essential vehicle for individuals to shift from automatic, unconscious reactions to more mindful, conscious responses, thereby enhancing the quality of their interactions and overall life experience.

Unlocking Potential through Gestalt Coaching: A Deep Dive into Its Mechanisms

Identifies What You're Avoiding

One of the fundamental mechanisms through which Gestalt Coaching yields results is by assisting clients in identifying areas, emotions, or experiences they may be avoiding. This approach is grounded in the idea that people often unconsciously avoid certain aspects of their experiences due to discomfort, fear, or ingrained beliefs (Frew, 2007). However, these avoided experiences can hold vital information about one's behavior patterns and growth areas. Through Gestalt Coaching, clients are gently guided towards acknowledging these 'blind spots' or 'shadows,' leading to greater self-awareness and fostering personal growth (O'Neill, 2000).

Gives You the Gift of Self-Compassion

Gestalt Coaching promotes self-compassion, which is a fundamental aspect of personal transformation. This therapeutic approach recognizes that individuals can be overly critical of themselves, often due to internalized societal expectations and standards (Neff, 2003). Gestalt Coaching encourages clients to adopt a kinder, more compassionate stance toward themselves, thereby mitigating the effects of self-criticism and promoting self-acceptance (Frew, 2007). Research has shown that self-compassion can enhance well-being, resilience, and psychological health, making it a valuable component of the coaching process (Neff & Germer, 2013).

Focuses on the Present Moment

Gestalt Coaching is firmly anchored in the 'here and now'—the present moment. Rather than getting entangled in past experiences or future anxieties, this approach encourages clients to fully engage with their current experiences (Frew, 2007). This emphasis on the present allows clients to observe their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as they occur, thereby gaining real-time insights into their operating systems. Focusing on the present moment also prevents the distortion of experiences by memories or future anxieties, leading to a more accurate and clear understanding of oneself and one's interactions with the world (O'Neill, 2000).

In conclusion, Gestalt Coaching uses various methods, such as identifying avoidance patterns, fostering self-compassion, and focusing on the present moment to facilitate deep and lasting changes in clients' lives.


This article details the principles, practices, and effects of Gestalt Coaching, a method derived from Gestalt psychology and therapy. Gestalt Coaching is about promoting self-awareness, personal growth, and goal achievement. It operates on the concept of the individual as an "operating system" comprising of thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and physical sensations, and aims to develop a comprehensive understanding of these components.

Gestalt Coaching is characterized by its focus on the present moment and the client's immediate experiences. Coaches help clients recognize their patterns and explore how these patterns impact their goals or challenges. Through this process, clients can gain insights, develop new perspectives, and catalyze personal growth and change.

Gestalt Coaching aids in the identification of areas, emotions, or experiences clients may avoid, promotes self-compassion, and encourages the focus on the present moment. As clients develop an awareness of their internal operating systems, they can choose to retain or abandon certain behaviors, leading to a sense of freedom, peace, and authenticity.

The article also discusses the shift from reactive to responsive behavior that Gestalt Coaching facilitates. Reactive behavior, influenced by past experiences and ingrained beliefs, can often lead to regret. In contrast, responsive behavior, arising from a state of full awareness, allows for more thoughtful and satisfying interactions.

In summary, Gestalt Coaching is a holistic approach that combines various techniques to facilitate personal and professional growth by fostering self-awareness and enabling the shift from automatic reactions to thoughtful responses.



Frew, J. E. (2007). Gestalt therapy and coaching. Gestalt Review, 11(1), 79-91.

Neff, K. D. (2003). The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and identity, 2(3), 223-250.

Neff, K. D., & Germer, C. K. (2013). A pilot study and randomized controlled trial of the mindful self‐compassion program. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(1), 28-44.

Nevis, E. C. (1997). Gestalt therapy and organization development: A historical perspective. Gestalt Review, 1(3), 222-232.

O'Neill, M. B. (2000). Executive coaching with backbone and heart: A systems approach to engaging leaders with their challenges. Jossey-Bass.