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Gestalt Questioning: London Psychotherapy Information

As far as I can tell, there is no such thing as ‘Gestalt questioning’ per se. What I mean by this is that the expression, as far as I know from the literature, has not been used regularly in this form. Only Sapp (2010) and Hall (1977) use the expression in this form. However, questioning in Gestalt therapy is an extremely important tool/technique in Gestalt therapy. Gestalt therapy focusses on the here and the now.  Questioning using the words what and how can be used to help clients’ awareness of the moment. It helps client to ask themselves how they are feeling and to enjoy or discover information about the present, whereas why question illicit inwardness and rationalizations. Here is an example of this. If the therapist asks the question, ‘What is happening now?’, the client will think about the experience at that moment. Other questions such as, ‘What are you feeling at this time?, and ‘What does that hand position you are doing mean to you?’ can also help in this process. The Gestalt therapist encourages his client to experience the moment and to live his feelings rather than to talk about them. It is perhaps the questions that help clients to be able to re-enact the past in the present. Nevis (1987) talks about guided questioning. He points out that by using questions, the therapist can help the client to re-discover the present and feelings of the moment in a form which he describes as ‘open, undirected awareness’.

Nanci Bell (1991) uses her questioning skills in her work which focuses on Gestalt imagery. She feels that it is important in therapy for her clients to be able to visualize a whole image. She points out that some individuals are unable to visualize a complete image during language communication and that, despite having good communication skills, they are sometimes unable to embrace the meaning of some verbal interactions such as understanding directions, a joke or group conversations. She describes this as being one of the main causes of dyslexia. She uses her questioning skills to help her dyslexic clients to illicit more specific information. Nanci showed her clients pictures and ask her clients to describe in detail what was happening. The questions she asked included ‘What does it look like?, ‘What shape is it?, ‘What colour is it?, ‘Where did it happen?’. What mood is being evoked?, and so forth. This form of questioning helps her clients to understand the elements of the image. Questioning using choice and contrast provides the client with more control of the images presented to him. Later, Nanci uses her questioning to ask the client what words can be used to describe an object or a person; finally, she asks the clients how to describe stimuli using sentences.

But I feel that in the consulting room, if one uses what and how questions, one challenges the client to think about how he or she behaves, feels and thinks in the moment. Perls (1967) spoke of the ‘safe emergency’ of the situation. During the interaction with Gloria, it seemed as if he believed that the confrontation was safe and that by accepting our actions we can move on to understanding our reality. He constantly challenged Gloria by asking how and what questions in order or her to act authentically in the here and now. And, during this ‘playful’ exchange, he was encouraging her to be able to interact successfully with him so that she could then do it with other people.

When Gloria says that Perls was not sharing her pain and anger, and that he was detached, Perls asked the question, ‘How should I be?’, and ‘Tell me you fantasy; How should I behave?’ With these questions, Perls is encouraging Gloria to accept her ‘authentic’ feelings.

These questions are very helpful in Gestalt therapy, and I would be happy to use these sorts of questioning in psychotherapy where appropriate.


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