The psychologist Fritz Perls felt that all our behaviour – the way we talk, breathe, move, laugh, scorn, look for causes and so on – is the expression of our dominant needs. So examining our behaviour in minute detail raises awareness of those needs. Gestalt techniques offer one approach to exploring ‘here and now’ behaviour – often focusing on a body movement, a word, a particular phrase or breathing pattern to try to understand the motivation for different types of behaviour; for example, self-defeating patterns of behaviour such as constantly being late, failing to meet deadlines, or acting in ways which ensure that others reject us. The following exercise will give you a taste of this sort of investigation.

[box type=”bio”]Think of a recent situation when you felt stressed or anxious. These questions will help you to identify which needs you were meeting (note, do not choose a situation where you suffered a panic attack or similar very severe reaction):

  • What thoughts went through your mind during the event you have chosen?
  • Which of these thoughts were related to the actual event? Which were familiar thoughts about yourself?
  • What feelings did you experience? How were the feelings relevant to what was actually happening?
  • Did you experience any physical sensations (e.g. blushing, tension, pain?)
  • Are these sensations familiar? Did they help or hinder you at the time?
  • What did you actually do? Looking back, did your actions help you to meet your objectives?


The Gestalt approach to counselling places great emphasis on taking responsibility for yourself, which means being willing to be accountable for everything you think, feel and do. This means you need to accept that, whatever other people seem to be doing to you, your response happens in your mind and body and arises from your perception of the situation. You are choosing to respond in the way that you do. It is the willingness to accept this ‘response-ability’ that will help you to make changes in your life.

Learning to explore and communicate emotions is not easy, and we often stop ourselves from doing so. You will avoid sabotaging your own journey in this way if you:

  • stay aware of what is happening in your mind and body;
  • stay in the present rather than with memories of the past or fantasies about the future;
  • realise that your thoughts and feelings aren’t right or wrong in themselves.

Being aware of how you are reacting will also give you some insight into your deeper self.

If you try to avoid a feeling, it doesn’t go away but hangs around and pops up again and again. It is more effective to work through feelings and deal with the issues or emotions raised.

For instance, we have a way of avoiding any distasteful or unacceptable aspects of ourselves by ‘projecting’ them on to other people. We can then ignore, avoid or criticise them, while continuing to remain unchanged ourselves.

[box type=”bio”]Conjure up an image of someone who you find difficult to get on with. When you can see him or her clearly in your mind, imagine that you have become this person. Imagine speaking, standing, laughing, working, sitting as they do. When you have finished, think about your experience. How easy did you find this mental role-play? Did you find yourself actually enjoying acting as the other person? Is there anything of this person in you?[/box]

The theory is that exploring relationships which cause us some kind of problem allows us to check whether we are projecting some part of ourselves on to the person. If we are, we can take responsibility for the projection and change our response as a result.

[box type=”bio”]Now spend ten minutes writing down a list of all the things you like about yourself. This might be something about your appearance, or the way you move or behave. It might be about the way you treat other people, or the way you perform in your work life. It might be aspects of all of these. Pin your list up somewhere where you can see it. [/box]