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Gestalt Self

Re-visiting and re-energising our self through the



The meaning of


Through the Perspective


Gestalt Psychotherapy

A CPD workshop with Gestalt Training Group. June 2007

Workshop Notes


Mackewnnotes that the self is an elusive and controversial concept and is the subject of much lively debateamongst theoreticians of Gestalt and other orientations[1]. (Mackewn 1997 p73)

Rather than me/self being a structure, e.g., composed of id ego and super ego, Perls et al, the founders of Gestalt view Self as a process. Self is considered to be the system of contacts at any moment. (Perls et al., 1951 p235)

The Self is made of the experiences of these contacts and are either identified with or alienated from. There is an identification that the Self preserves and carries forward in contact after contact some enduring qualities and habits. Rather than this define Self - as in meaning structure of self, this illustrates personality, a certain identification of being, and equally a certain alienation of being; because Gestalt is concerned not only with what is but also with what is not.

persons are reflections of an interpersonal whole, and personality is best taken as a formation of the self by a shared social attitude (Perls et al., 1951 p351)

Self is not a structure, such classification argues against Gestalt principles (Phillipson 1995 ) and field orientation, that, without other there is no self. Rather than a structure, there is Identification (of the Self System[2]Process[3])

Self, as a process, is active, is changing, is evolving, is experiencing and preserving; the Self composes its identifications - this is me, and its alienations - this is not me. (Phillipson 1995 )

Perls states An organism preserves itself by growing. (Perls et al, 1951 p372)

Growth and preservation are a continuum; self preserving and growing are polar. (Perls et al, 1951 p372)




So there is a balance with more preserving, less growth; and less preserving, more growth. This fits with the personality manifesting the enduring qualities; and does not deny the potential for change.

I have a sense of this fitting with Beissers[4] (1970) paradoxical theory of change that says, succinctly that change occurs when one becomes what he is, not when he tries to become what he is not. Indeed Beisser opens his article acknowledging Perls as very much implying this in his (Perls) work.

So, the self lives, and survives, in contact; by making meaning, identifying and accepting or rejecting and alienating with all that it is not-self. In noticing what presents as different the self responds with assimilation or rejection, thus maintaining, and making, the self through this contact. This growth is the Self in contact in the moment and in this temporal sense then,

the self (is) the function of contacting the actual transient present. . (Perls et al, 1951 p371) This gives:


This formula represents the growth process, and S is Self, t is the transient present (the now moment of time); and C is Contact.

[1]is it possible to list various authors to reflect this comment

[2]SYSTEM: a combination of related elements organized into a complex whole Encarta Dictionary

[3]PROCESS: a series of actions directed towards a particular aim ENCARTA Dictionary

[4]Not sure, today, how I arrived at this thought


Lobb, M. S., (2000), The Theory of Self in Gestalt Therapy, in Gestalt Therapy. Hermenuetics and Clinical. (2000) Editor Lobb, M. S., Angeli Publishing House Milan

Lobb, M. S., (2007) Whats Gestalt Therapy. Accessed online April 2007.

McLeod, L., 1993, The Self in Gestalt Therapy Theory. The British Gestalt Journal, vol2 No1, pp25-40

Perls F, Hefferline, R, Goodman P. (1951:1984) Gestalt Therapy Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality, Souvenir Press, New York.

Perls F, Hefferline, R, Goodman P. (1994) Gestalt Therapy Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality, Gestalt Journal Press

Perls, F., 1957, Finding Self Through Gestalt Therapy. Available Accessed 2nd September 2005

Philippson, P., (2001) Self in Relation, Karnac Books, London