Many people dedicate their lives to actualize a concept of what they should be like, rather than to actualize themselves. This difference between self-actualizing and self-image actualizing is very important… Where some people have a self, most people have a void, because they are so busy projecting themselves as this or that.
(Perls, 1969: 20, italics in original)
It might seem a strange question to ask, “Who is the client?” But inherent in the Gestalt approach is the idea that self and other are polar and co-emergent. This loses the idea of an objective client coming to see an objective therapist, each showing their “inner” selves to the other. Rather, we are together exploring this process of co-emergence.
We could even say that, for the client, coming to therapy is itself an act of self-alienation, bringing his or her incompetence to the therapist, who is seen as more competent at living. What the client shows to the therapist is not himself/herself in their fullness, but the familiar personality function, the self-image that has now become what Goodman calls “second nature.” For both client and therapist, self is the artist, not the image; the actor rather than the role. In facing the artist-client with the artist-therapist, new possibilities for actualization can form, often quickly.
I propose to elaborate on these themes, and then invite participants to bring experiences from their practice and their own therapy to discuss in relation to the theory presented.
Peter Philippson, MSc (Gestalt psychotherapy), is a UKCP registered Gestalt psychotherapist and trainer, a Teaching and Supervising Member of the Gestalt Psychotherapy & Training Institute UK, a founder member of Manchester Gestalt Centre, a Full Member of the New York Institute for Gestalt Therapy, a Senior Trainer for GiTa (Slovenia), a faculty member at IpsiG (Turin), an advisory board member for the Center for Somatic Studies, a founder member of IG-FEST, and a guest trainer for many training programs internationally. He has been working as a psychotherapist for 33 years. He is also a past president of the Association for the Advancement of Gestalt Therapy. Peter is the author of Self in Relation (Gestalt Journal Press), The Emergent Self (Karnac/UKCP), Gestalt Therapy: Roots and Branches (Karnac), and many chapters and articles. He is a teacher (4th dan) and student of traditional aikido.