Cycle of Awareness and Contact

In Gestalt therapy the Cycle of Awareness and Contact is concerned with our ability to meet our needs.  Awareness has to do with knowing what our desires and needs are, and contact has to do with taking actions to meet those desires and needs.  This cycle is made up of several different steps, and they are explained below in a simplified, non-technical manner.  It is important to understand this cycle to skillfully find satisfaction and happiness.

This cycle goes by a variety of names in different books.  It is also known as the Hunger/Satiation cycle or the Contact/Withdrawal cycle.  For our purposes here we describe what happens when it works well.  We’ll talk about problems that can arise in other posts.

The first three steps below have to do with awareness:  out of all the noises, sights, emotions and bodily feelings of a given moment something forces its way to our attention.  The sensations gradually get clearer and we notice that we are hungry or are hearing a noise we do (or don’t) like, etc.  This in turn evolves into an awareness of some concrete desire or need.  (See examples in the diagram below–note that the text goes clockwise around the arrows.)

Awareness is an active process that requires practice and skill, and performing this part of the cycle successfully is very important to our happiness.  After all, how often to we labor for that which doesn’t satisfy?  Fortunately, a big part of therapy is the gradual learning of what we require for our happiness.  

If the process of awareness is followed by action, we at least have a shot at getting what we need.  Circumstances can get in the way of course.  However, even superficially “getting” is not enough–we must actively receive and integrate the results into our lives to get the actual benefits.

When we finally receive enough of what we really need we feel satisfied.  Eventually the original desire will fade from your awareness, only to be followed by some other awareness related to something else.

These cycles can be short or long in duration.  One can feel thirsty and be satisfied very quickly, or be aware of a desire for further education, which may involve quite a long cycle of awareness and contact.

Developing our awareness skills and our contact skills will improve our lives.  Therapy, personal growth books, and workshops can all help, as well as lots of other activities.  So dive in and enjoy–it’s worth it.

We’ll also discuss some of those skills here.  Stay tuned and watch for additional posts under the category Gestalt.


This entry was posted in For the professional, General, Gestalt, Optimal Living. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Cycle of Awareness and Contact

  1. David – this is quite lovely. I have an extensive background in gestalt training, phenomenology, and Buddhist philosophy, and I talk about gestalt from the perspective of mindfulness. You do a very nice job of putting together this lovely cycle. You can check out my thoughts on awareness and Gestalt on my site too. Good work! Beth Someone has come to my site from yours as this site showed up in my stats. I am always happy to see thinking, feeling awareness happening. 🙂

    • dbissette says:

      Beth, thanks for the great comment. I like the post on your site a lot also (Gestalt Therapy II)…it’s a good description of many key gestalt concepts.
      There’s also a book about parenting that you might like. I’m going to mention it here soon…it’s called “Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids” by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross, Ballentine Books, 2010. The book is a gem and right up your alley in terms of your blog topic.
      Thanks again! David

      • David
        Thank you for the reference, I will check it out. I just finished a book due out in June called Turning NO to ON, The Art of Parenting with Mindfulness. I hope you get a chance to look at it too. It should be available on Amazon.
        Great work on your blog. There is such good stuff out here when we look for it – it’s that awareness thing, right!
        Thanks for the kind comment about my blog too, very nice. Beth

  2. Ron Howard says:

    Doing research on Gestalt for a class on practice of counseling. Thanks for taking a complicated idea and putting it in layman’s terms.

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