Theory and Praxis in Experiential Education: Some Insights From Gestalt Therapy

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Background: Higher education policy increasingly conceptualizes industry-linked, service, and place-based forms of education in terms of experiential education. Although potentially promising, this turn toward experience risks instrumentalizing and marketizing experience, which is exacerbated by individualized theories of experiential learning. Purpose: Some scholars have therefore called for more sociological accounts of experiential learning, inviting deeper consideration of how individual experience is connected to social, cultural, or environmental factors. Methodology/Approach: This article responds to that call by explicating the praxis of Gestalt therapy, often associated with the individualistic human potential movement, but which nevertheless offers a framework for reconceptualizing theory and pedagogy of experiential education in more sociological terms. A brief history of Gestalt therapy foregrounding its sociological and experiential basis is followed by explanation of the three pillars of Gestalt therapy (commitment to dialogue, phenomenology, and field theory). Findings/Conclusions: This framework is shown to support a more sociologically oriented theory and praxis of experiential education that also integrates divergent understandings of experience. Implications: Given the turn toward experience in higher education and contemporary flourishing of cooperative social processes in general, defining experiential education more explicitly in terms of Gestalt praxis promises a timely enhancement of both, in the service of socially responsible objectives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)156-170
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experiential Education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


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