People come to counselling needing support. Often they look to the counsellor to provide explanations or reasons why they may be feeling like they do.
However, psychological disturbance is complex. Attributing this cause to that effect is often too simplistic. Reasons why are based on some belief which may or may not be accurate. And then there is the question: "OK, now I know this, what next?"
I am reluctant to offer reasons-why as a counsellor. If I succumb to demands from the client to offer (my) reasons for the way they are feeling, I may be colluding in a familiar pattern through which the client has learned not to trust in their own abilities.
If I am tempted to offer explanations, the client may come away thinking they have got what they needed, but they may simply be replacing one belief with another, leaving the root of the disturbance untouched. At worst, my explaining to/for the client may be disempowering.
One of the aims of Gestalt counselling is to foster agency; to help clients identify how they have solved their own problems in the past and how they continue to do so, thus restoring faith in their own abilities. As the client and counsellor begin to trust in themselves, in each other, and in the counselling process, the need for counsellor explanation recedes, leaving space for deeper awareness to emerge.
I have been thinking about so-called 'psychological disturbance'. Gestalt therapy theory suggests that the disturbance is at the boundary between self and other, or, more widely, of the situation as a whole. What is called psychological disturbance might more helpfully be reframed as the experience of this disturbance, or suffering.
A key idea in gestalt therapy theory is assimilation (chewing), a making mine of what was previously not me, resulting in growth. This is a useful metaphor for understanding the importance of not (just) 'taking in'. My issue with this metaphor is the focus on the person over the whole situation. I would talk instead of an exchange occurring in the situation, as in breathing or a conversation.
People come to therapy wanting to change something about the/their situation. An aim is to identify what support is available in the whole situation for some (ex)change to occur. Certain ways in which I contact the world (e.g. holding my breath, not expressing to someone how I feel) reduce what might be possible, preventing exchanges from happening. Ways of contacting extend to the meaning I attach to stories and words, seeing someone or something as X.
Classical gestalt therapy theory (over-) emphasises my response-ability in the present moment. The founder of gestalt therapy, Fritz Perls, wanted to avoid attributing responsibility elsewhere, e.g. by blaming parents. And it is true that suffering can be caused by others, for example abuse.
Exploring the past in therapy can provide a witness to my suffering, or help me understand why I react now in this way, which can help move away from a fixed image of how I am. It is important to hold others accountable without forefeiting my ability to respond. What is needed is a view of the situation as a whole and to explore (ex)changes that are supported in/by the situation.