Field theory

Gestalt therapy has a world view that is field theoretical. Field theories are world views that see reality as being essentially holistic and inter-related. It’s not that everything affects everything else, it’s more that everything exists in a context; I can’t not have an impact of some sort on a situation I am part of.

Gestalt’s field theory comes from Kurt Lewin. This theory states that behaviour is a function of a person in an environment. This means that a person’s behaviour can’t be viewed in isolation from the situation they are in. The ‘field’ in field theory refers to the organism/environment field; that is, the total situation of a person (organism) in a context (environment).

Imagine a fish. It is impossible to make sense of what a fish is without reference to its environment. A fish in water means something different to a fish on a sand dune. Field theory is the observation that everything occurs in some context. The meaning of any situation is determined by the relationship between the thing we’re focusing on (in gestalt we call this the figure) and the context it occurs within (in gestalt we call this the ground).

Two common problems people come to therapy for are depression and anxiety. A field theoretical perspective asks the question: ‘how is this person’s depression/anxiety a function of their situation?’. Kurt Lewin’s theory was deliberately provocative; he observed that society was expecting individuals to take full responsibility for their suffering, when that suffering was often a result of the way society was organised.

Gestalt therapy observes that people don’t exist in vacuums or spring into being wholly formed. We are constantly shaped and influenced by the situations we live through. The field theoretical outlook widens the scope of therapeutic enquiry. We explore the ways in which the wider situations you’re part of shape you, as well as how you shape them.

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