Integrative Gestalt Practice: Transforming our ways of working with people, by Mikael Sonne and Jan Tønnesvang

A new approach to understanding and working with complexity and wholeness in people’s lives


Integrative Gestalt Practice (IGP) is a new framework and form of practice for understanding and working with complexity and wholeness in people’s lives. Amongst the many published books on the market today that are focusing on the need for specialization, manualization, and evidence-anchored methods, our book introduces an alternative approach to working professionally with people. By combining (selected) basic principles from the gestalt-approach with the integral model introduced by Ken Wilber, IGP develops a framework for integrating different forms of theoretical, empirical, and practical knowledge of human life-processes. As such IGP also introduces a framework for establishing dialogues across the many different schools of psychotherapy.

IGP as a basic theoretical and practical model is easy to comprehend and use in many different contexts: in therapy, organizational work, coaching, and education.


Ken Wilber

The book offers a review of fundamental gestalt principles and offers specific definitions and reformulations of basic gestalt terms which will appear clarifying for practitioners inside and outside the gestalt community. It further shows how Ken Wilber’s quadrant model can function as an obvious systematized field model in the new IGP approach to doing gestalt work.

For some years we have in the Aarhus Research Group in Gestalt investigated and discussed which elements of the gestalt theory and method need to be rephrased or revised to enable the approach to manifest itself in the future market of psychological approaches with the success that it deserves. On the one hand, we notice how certain new concepts, for example ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy), coherence therapy, and mindfulness approaches, very successfully apply conceptual principles and elements that already exist in the gestalt approach. At the same time, it is thought-stimulating to see how the gestalt approach itself is virtually absent from the treatment-oriented and academic psychological environments.


Fritz Perls

Perls was brilliant at taking important fundamental principles and core insights from various philosophical, psychological, neurological, and spiritual positions and integrating them creatively into a coherent approach. He also excelled in his use of creative experimentation and was able to engage people’s phenomenology in new ways that made it possible to work in the here and now with the structural patterns that make it difficult for them to lead full and satisfying lives. The outcome of these efforts deserves to be taken seriously, and that is indeed one of the primary aims of IGP and this book.

The IGP approach rests on an underlying field theory that considers both the human organism as a whole and all the aspects of the social, cultural, and societal environment that the organism is a part of. What is of particular interest is how people as human organisms in their life expressions are enmeshed (for better and worse) in their environment and how they create meaning, coherence, and a sense of direction in the environment by means of gestalt formation. In this sense, the IGP approach rests on an organismic-dialectic understanding, which renders it compatible, for example, with current neurophysiological research approaches and theories of basic human needs and self-determination. With the book, we aim to demonstrate how the field theory and the concepts of the human organism and gestalt formation can form the basis for the generation of psychological knowledge, understanding, and interventions on several levels and in a variety of contexts.

In our efforts to preserve the role of complexity and the complementarity of dualities in the field without being trapped in a dualist mindset, as IGP practitioners, we rely on the systematic field model that considers every gestalt or whole from four fundamental perspectives: a singular and a plural perspective and an interior and an exterior perspective. In relation to human life processes we thus pay equal attention to the individual’s interior phenomenological perspective (thoughts and emotions) and to what we can observe from the outside with regard to the individual’s behaviour and physiology. Similarly, we pay equal attention to interior and exterior aspects of the individual’s environment, which consists of interactions among people, system structures and system functions (in the exterior perspective) and of shared meaning making and culture (in the interior perspective). The four quadrants in the model below represent these four basic perspectives on human life processes. A chair in each corner of the figure marks the four perspectives.


The four basic perspectives on human life processes. The IGP-version of Ken Wilber’s Quadrant model.

The theoretical and practical applications of this field-oriented perspective model, which is based on Wilber’s work, will be unfolded in more detail in our book. It is essential to the IGP approach and forms a recurring theme in the book.

‘Not to be Reproduced (La reproduction interdite)’ by Rene Magritte

The meaningfulness of differentiating perspectives in the purpose of a more integrative understanding is also embedded in our overall focus on complementarities as seen in these examples:

  • the complementarity and relationship between an Of the field perspective referring to the condition that every thing and every person on the one hand can be seen as part of a larger field and on the other hand  – in an In the field perspective – is interacting with other entities in the field
  • a Looking AT versus a Looking AS perspective, referring to the complementary perspectives of outside in versus inside out: You might try to understand a person from your own outside in perspective (Looking AT) and you might try to get a sense of what it is like to be this person from inside out (Looking AS).
  • our interest in the complementarity between process and structure of any phenomenon, especially focusing on the relationship between current gestalt formation processes and the more structural procedural gestalt inclination.
  • The understanding of development as the shift in perspective from being identical with (for example an emotion) to identifying it and to dis-identifying with it in order to be able to reintegrate it at a more complex developmental level. What was subject at one level becomes object for the subject at another level.  This understanding of development has affinity with the paradoxical theory of change.

In a chapter of the book we discuss the broader perspectives of the IGP approach and its applicability as a basis for integrating different approaches for working with individuals and systems, and in another chapter we discuss how IGP can provide holistic perspectives on health, disease, and politics.

Throughout the book, there are three types of boxes: reflection boxes, definition boxes, and exercise boxes. Reflection boxes elaborate on a point or offer reflections in relation to the main text. Definition boxes specify definitions of the concepts that are introduced in the chapters. Exercise boxes describe practical exercises related to the main text with the purpose of enhacing experiential and integrated learning.

In an appendix we offer some additional proposals to supplement the training exercises that we use in our IGP training, including IGP awareness training.

36647Mikael Sonne is a psychologist specialising in psychotherapy and a supervisor at postgraduate level. He is the founder and director of the Aarhus Gestalt Institute and a co-founder of the Center for Integrative Gestalt Practice – IGP. Mikael is head of a postgraduate gestalt training programme for psychologists and head of an educational programme in personal leadership development for executives. In his practice as a psychologist Mikael works with coaching, supervision, organisational development, and therapy. He is a guest lecturer on IGP in the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences at Aarhus University. He is a leading member of the Danish gestalt therapy forum. He has a background as a psychologist in psychiatric settings, and has received gestalt training from Erving and Miriam Polster at the Gestalt Training Center in San Diego, from Natasha Mann, Barrie Simmons, Todd Burley, Gary Yontef and others, and from Bob Moore on meditation and energy work

Jan Tønnesvang, PhD, is a psychologist and professor of psychology at the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences at Aarhus University. He is head of the research unit for Integrative Psychology and the Network for Integrative Vitalising psychology, Intervention and Bildung. He is a co-founder of the Center for Integrative Gestalt Practice – IGP, and a cofounder of the Integral Network, Jan is a trained gestalt therapist and combines his academic and practical interests in efforts to develop Integrative Gestalt Practice (IGP) and Integral Vitalising Psychology (IVP) as a combined holistic approach to understand and work with human ‘Bildung’ processes. He has developed a strategy called theoretically-based practice development, aimed at developing vitalising environments in educational, psychological, and organisational settings. He has authored and co-authored a large number of scientific articles and books.

Their most recent book, Integrative Gestalt Practice: Transforming our Ways of Working with People, is published this week by Karnac Books.


2 thoughts on “Integrative Gestalt Practice: Transforming our ways of working with people, by Mikael Sonne and Jan Tønnesvang

  1. Pingback: Yoga and Autism: Making a Connection, by Nicole Schnackenberg |

  2. Pingback: The Courage of Simplicity: Hanni Biran explores the central ideas in the work of W.R. Bion |

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