Have you ever heard of Gestalt therapy? And if yes, do you know what it is?

At Surf Therapy Travel, we love Gestalt! It has enriched some of our lives so much, that we cannot think of another way to connect with and contact others. It is so basic, so simple and yet not so easy. Being in a Gestalt session (whether coaching, counseling or therapy) motivates you to get in touch with your authentic self. Yes, this can be very scary! However, we invite you to embrace this amazing way of 'being' by showing you how it is done!

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Experience Gestalt during our retreats

During our retreats you get to acquaint yourself with a ‘gestalt-kind-of-way’ of contacting and connecting with us and the rest of your surf therapy tribe. In this way, you can take it back to your ‘normal’ life because you literally embody new ways of connection with the people important to you. Imagine the feeling of obtaining more deeply and more frequently what you long for in life—contact--with your mother, neighbour or the partner you so dearly love. How awesome would that be?

What is Gestalt?

Since we’re so stoked on Gestalt, we’re also keen on explaining you the basics.

  • Gestalt is a holistic form of (psycho)therapy.
  • The therapeutic relationship is the most important tool. 

This basically means that Gestalt therapy is about the relationship between client and therapist. 

You can see it as the relation you built with the wave you want to ride. You need to constantly be aware, feel, watch, express and align with what you want and need from that wave to get the best connection out of the few seconds you’re up riding it.

Gestalt as a way to align with participants

With a Gestalt basis, it becomes a lot easier for us as the team to align with what you as a participant need in the here and now. Without the need of having a whole toolbox of techniques (but we have that too ;-), we can just be with what is. The therapeutic interventions we use all aim to establish an experiential and non-judgemental connection between you and us. Now, this may sound vague to you, so let us explain.

Gestalt is Mindfulness in dialogue and a lot more than that

Gestalt can be easily described as Mindfulness in dialogue, with no prefigured set of techniques. Mindfulness itself is described as ‘the psychological process of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment which one can develop through the practice of meditation and through other training.’

Gestalt therapy uses the present and the experiences of the client that arise in interaction to reflect on the client’s behaviour and needs. A big difference between Gestalt and Mindfulness is that a Mindfulness trainer uses a set of techniques which raise body awareness focused mainly on the person itself. Gestalt has always been about being mindful in the moment of contacting.

When the client finds the safety in this contact he will speak from his heart. Once this is the case, the client can move on to discovering his or her situation outside of the practice and what hinders contact with the authentic vulnerable part of him or herself. 


A lot of creativity is involved in this way of contacting the client’s inner world and each other. Gestalt therapists are trained to lead the client and follow the process. For example, if somewhere during the process a client says she is having a hard time breathing normally, the therapist can give this information the attention it deserves and start a guided meditation focusing on the client’s breath. If the client is up for the experiment, they start to co-create. Another example of co-creation might be if the client repeatedly mentions his deceased brother to the therapist. The therapist can propose that the client feels which words are left unspoken and to share it with his brother in this moment in the therapeutic setting. The therapist now becomes the audience of the client’s expressed pain, a state in which healing can take place.

Unfinished business versus awareness

The Gestalt theory states that through having contact with a client in the present, ‘unfinished business’ may emerge to the foreground. The two examples above come from places with unfinished business. It is important for clients to know what they feel, where they feel it in their body and what they do with this feeling to fulfill their need. Therefore Gestalt therapists strongly support the development of (body) awareness.

 Awareness is a form of experience which can be loosely defined as being in touch with one’s own existence, with what is….the person who is aware knows what he does, how he does it, that he has alternatives and that he chooses to be as he is.” (Yontef 1993: 144-5; Joyce, Sills 2014: 30).

Triggered in and by many situations, this unfinished business wants to be seen and is asking for completion. It continuously finds its way from the person’s background to the foreground. Sometimes coming from a place with little awareness, the client reacts instantly. However, the therapist aims to identify Gestalts or figures (as they are also called) to find out what is happening.

Slow down beautiful soul surfer

You’re wondering what that looks like? Just like waiting for the right wave, you need to have a little patience with yourself. By slowing down the pace of contact, you become more conscious of the present and of your feelings and thoughts in the here and now. You develop as a person when through this practice your awareness grows. Now you understand that trying to beat waves is hard to do. What you realise is that you can learn how to surf! 

Gestalt cycle of contact 

To understand ‘unfinished business’, we happily explain the Contact Withdrawal Cycle

Surf Therapy Gestalt Cycle of Contact

The figure above shows unfinished business in relation to the important other in:

  • sensing
  • mobilisation
  • contacting 
  • withdrawal 
  • completion

Like a water molecule moving in the ocean, uniting itself with other molecules. If it wonders off elsewhere, it will never become part of the wave. It may feel alone, not fitting in, not worthy of love etc. However, if it unites, the energy of the water molecule becomes part of a bigger spectrum (the situation). This way it can feel connected with its surroundings. With his new friends, the molecule can move forward until it crashes, as a part of the wave, upon the shore. Slowly withdrawing back into the ocean to move into a new direction. A new cycle can begin because a cycle has been completed.

Surf Therapy Travel_ Gestalt client

Photo copyright Studio Liefde 2019 / Wendy Bos photography 

A Gestalt client example

To explain the Contact Withdrawal Cycle  we start with a therapist – client example to make it more tangible. In this example, we name the client Noah. He is a 38-year-old single man.

Noah:I’m feeling insecure. It feels the same as when I was in high school. Now I know this made me insecure for a long time and I am totally OK with it now.

Therapist: Perhaps you want to tell me a little bit more about that?

Noah: Well, you know, I was never part of the ‘cool people’ nor the nerdy ones. I was somewhere between. And some people were just genuinely mean. So mean.

Therapist: That sounds like a very difficult time in your life?

Noah: …..Yes it was. I have few good feelings when I think about that time [silence]. I just don’t understand why people treated me this way. How come they thought I deserved that? [Client cries]. Now this is stupid, I thought I got over this, but apparently not.

Therapist: [Looks client in the eyes for a longer while] I see it hurts. Allow the hurt in [silence].

Noah: [Closes his eyes, shrugs his shoulders, tears are streaming down his face).

Therapist: [Waits till client has opened his eyes again and looks at the therapist] Do you perhaps recognise this feeling?

Noah: Yes my dad also never made me feel I was welcome with my emotions or just as the joyful boy I was.

Therapist: That sounds sad.

Noah: Yes it is. He was never available [client looks down].

Therapist: [Silence] How is it to share this with me?

Noah: Scary, I feel ashamed.

Therapist: Perhaps you can look at me again? Maybe you want to check with me if I still see you?

Noah: [Looks up and looks the therapist in the eyes]

Therapist: Do you believe me when I say I see your pain and that I see a wonderful man with a big heart who has so much to give to this world?

Noah: [A little smile shows up on his face] I might….[sigh]

What happens in contact?

What happens in this cycle of contact is that Noah is sensing insecurity (sensing - sensation in the figure). This insecurity is something he developed in his childhood. His dad was emotionally unavailable and did not see his need for attention nor comfort.

After sensing, the first connection a person makes is with the context that gives direction and meaning to how he or she will respond. This makes the person aware (awareness in the figure). This awareness is translated by words, images or symbols that make the person move (energy / mobilisation in the figure) and is expressed in an action (action). The person can then integrate this action into the situation that makes contact possible. In this example, Noah believed his emotions were not welcome with his father. Therefore, he feels ashamed sharing his sadness with the therapist, as if it is too much to ask for a little comfort and space to be himself. When contact takes place, the person works towards a closure (resolution / closure). There is the possibility to let attention flow away (withdrawal of attention), so there is room for a new cycle. Noah left the sad side of him out of contact and became the joyful person people we now meet.

The body holds information that is not readily accessed through words. It is our job to bring this material into awareness." (Gillie, Marion 1998)

No closure of the contact-cycle asks for adaption

In the case of Noah, closure of the cycle never took place because he didn’t get what he initially needed in contact with his father. The cycle was left unfinished. Due to this felt rejection, Noah felt unworthy of love, felt his existence didn’t matter and adapted his behaviour so he would get the attention he so desperately longed for. He started to be nice to everyone and to make jokes, so people would love him and laugh because of him. What happened on the other side of this behavior was that he let go of his boundaries in contact with the other. Swallowing his pain, anger, fear and sadness in many situations caused him to developed a depression.

During a Gestalt session a cycle can get closure when the therapist can hold the space for the client’s pain, whether that is in fear, anger or sadness.

The above example shows how a Gestalt (or the figure as it is also called) of not being welcome with all of his emotions emerges as an insecurity to the foreground in the here and now in search for completion. The example also shows well that reactions to situations are often related to experiences running on the background of the clients’ consciousness. Gestalt therapists are curious and with this curiosity they invite the client to become curious of themselves. In other words, they want to discover what their sensations, feelings, emotions and behavior mean at the moment a Gestalt comes knocking on the door. This continuous process of curiosity supports the development of self-reflection, sensing, feeling and expressing.

From the world outside to the world within

To sum up: Gestalt therapy doesn’t focus on people’s problems or flaws. When a person experiences any pain and finds him or herself in a fearful, sad or angry state there is still a part that is healthy. Growth within a person comes exactly from this place!

Changing your world one wave at a time!

And this is what we will also do during our Surf Therapy Retreat. We will address this healthy part to support you in exploring yourself, improve your self-awareness, and develop your potential so that you can form a responsible attitude towards your live. Once you surf this wave of growth, you choose love instead of fear, life instead of death. The only question left is: will you allow us to support you in changing your world one wave a time?

Surf Therapy Travel_team 2019

Team Surf Therapy Travel 2019 - Philippe Declemy and Sabine Wensink

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