In my Psychotherapy Practice, I combine Gestalt Psychotherapy, Aboriginal approaches to Psychotherapy and Anti-Oppression. But really....what does this mean?
Gestalt Psychotherapy is psychotherapy practice that was first developed by Fritz and Laura Perls, two German psychotherapists who worked in Europe, South Africa and USA in the 40s and 50s. Gestalt Psychotherapy seeks to bring awareness of thoughts, emotions, behaviours, beliefs and physical sensations into the "here and now", thus creating a greater understanding of our own experience. It's relational; this means that the therapist is not a benign and sterile authority figure that listens to the client on the couch, unimpacted. It means that both therapist and client are engaged in what is going on, co-creating the therapeutic process together. Gestalt Therapists are not authorities on the lives of their clients, but human beings with sound training on how to support and unpack what naturally comes up in-session. A Gestalt Therapist talks and listens, but also works with the client experientially, with the use of art, body work, physical expression and play. In Gestalt therapy, there is no "right" way to feel, act, think or be. There is only awareness and the impact of our presence on one-another.
Aboriginal approaches to psychotherapy means integrating traditional Indigenous understandings of emotional, mental, spiritual and physical health into the process of psychotherapy. It is informed by an Indigenous Worldview approach, as well as the teachings of several academics, community members, Elders and Healers, such as Edward Benton-Banai, Herb Nabigon and Shirley Turcotte. As Hart (2011) wrote in the Journal of Indigenous Voices in Social Work, Aboriginal approaches lays "emphasis on spirit and spirituality and, in turn, a sense of communitism and respectful individualism". This includes our connection to the land, our ancestors, our families and our communities. It recognizes the value of culture, traditions and rites of passage, as well as the impact of colonialism and racism. An Aboriginal approach to psychotherapy means all these things, and more; it can vary according to the teachings of the various nations and communities. Amongst them, there is an understanding of our relationship to the 7 Grandfather Teachings; of the roles and responsibilities of our lives through the various life stages; and to Medicine Wheel - that human beings are comprised of spirit, heart, mind and body. In this way, we are taught that our healing journey is about recognizing the way in which we seek to bring these elements into balance. Turcotte states that Aboriginal approaches to psychotherapy understands that healing is not an end-result goal, but a journey towards wholeness - one that many of us will travel throughout the course of our physical lives.
Anti-Oppression Practice (in the context of psychotherapy) means that the therapist acknowledges historical power imbalances through the effects of racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, colonialism, ageism, etc. and how it impacts client's life (as well as how it may impact the therapeutic relationship between client and therapist). Anti-Oppression practice understands that all of us - regardless of our race, gender, sexuality, ability, class - are impacted by a larger system of privilege and oppression. The effects of this system can inform our understanding of distress, frustration and confusion in our lives. This does not mean that the therapist "blames" the individual for their life, or dismisses an individual's personal responsibility amidst their hardships- rather, it becomes a tool for greater self - awareness and social responsibility. It recognizes that the therapist does not "empower" the client, but supports the client in their journey towards their own definition of empowerment. Through being able to have honest reflections on the ways in which privilege and oppression have intersected and impacted one's life, clients may gain greater insight into their experiences; more awareness into the ways in which they can connect and balance personal responsibility with social responsibility; and a critical understanding of our collective journey in healing as human beings.
Through combining Gestalt, Aboriginal approaches to psychotherapy and anti-oppression practice, clients can expect a therapeutic experience that is honest, humanizing, self-reflective, engaging and multi-faceted!