Gestalt Therapy: An Introduction to the Methodology

Gestalt therapy is a client-centred therapeutic approach that originated in the 1940s and 1950s in Germany. The therapy focuses on the present moment and aims to help individuals gain a greater awareness of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. It is a holistic therapy that encourages individuals to understand their experiences as a whole and emphasises the importance of living in the present.

History of Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt therapy was developed by Fritz Perls and his wife, Laura Perls. They were both psychoanalysts and were dissatisfied with the traditional approach of psychoanalysis. They believed that individuals needed to be seen as a complete entity, rather than just focusing on specific symptoms or behaviours. Their methodology was shaped by the philosophy of existentialism, which emphasised the importance of the present moment and individual choice.

Gestalt therapy became popular in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s, and its popularity continued to grow throughout the 1970s. Gestalt therapy has influenced other therapeutic approaches, including humanistic therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.

Key Concepts of Gestalt Therapy

There are several key concepts of Gestalt therapy that differentiate it from other therapeutic approaches:

The Here and Now

Gestalt therapy emphasises the importance of the present moment. The therapist works with the individual to bring their attention to the current experience, rather than focusing on past events or future concerns.

Personal Responsibility

Gestalt therapy believes that individuals are personally responsible for their actions, thoughts, and emotions. The therapist encourages the individual to take responsibility for their life, rather than blaming others or external circumstances.

Holistic View of the Individual

Gestalt therapy views individuals as a whole, considering all aspects of their life. Rather than focusing on specific symptoms or behaviours, the therapy aims to help individuals enhance their overall well-being.

Therapeutic Relationship

Gestalt therapy places importance on the therapeutic relationship between the client and the therapist. The therapist aims to build a trusting relationship with the individual, creating a safe space for them to explore their thoughts and emotions.

Gestalt Therapy Techniques

Gestalt therapy uses a range of therapeutic techniques to assist individuals to increase their self-awareness and gain insight into their thoughts and emotions. Some of the common techniques used in Gestalt therapy include:

Dialogue

The therapist engages in dialogue with the individual, focusing on the present experience. This dialogue helps individuals gain new insights and perspectives on their thoughts and behaviours.

Experiments

Experiments involve the therapist setting up activities and exercises to help the individual gain more insight and awareness of themselves. These activities can be creative or imaginative in nature and may involve role-play, art, or movement.

Polarisation

Polarisation is a technique that involves exploring the opposite extremes of a behaviour or emotion. This technique aims to help individuals gain a deeper understanding of their behaviour and find a middle ground.

Empty Chair

The empty chair technique involves the individual sitting facing an empty chair, imagining that someone or something is sitting in the chair. This technique allows the individual to explore their emotions and thoughts towards a particular person or event.

Who Can Benefit from Gestalt Therapy?

Gestalt therapy is a flexible therapeutic approach that can be used to help individuals with a range of mental health concerns. Individuals who may benefit from Gestalt therapy include:

  • Those experiencing anxiety or depression
  • Those struggling with interpersonal relationships
  • Those experiencing low self-esteem
  • Those experiencing grief or loss
  • Those with a history of trauma

Gestalt therapy can also be used to help individuals who simply want to gain a greater understanding of themselves or their situation.

Conclusion

Gestalt therapy is a holistic and client-centred therapeutic approach that emphasises the importance of the present moment and personal responsibility. The therapy uses a range of techniques to assist individuals in gaining insight and self-awareness.

Gestalt therapy can benefit individuals struggling with a range of mental health concerns, as well as those seeking to gain a greater understanding of themselves and their situation.

FAQs

What is Gestalt Therapy?

Gestalt therapy is a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes the present moment, personal responsibility, and the client-therapist relationship. It was developed by Fritz Perls in the 1940s and 1950s and is based on the belief that individuals have the ability to heal themselves by becoming more self-aware.

What are the goals of Gestalt Therapy?

The goals of Gestalt therapy are to help individuals become more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, to improve communication and expression of feelings, to increase self-esteem and self-acceptance, and to promote personal growth and development. The therapy aims to help clients develop greater self-awareness, so that they can live in the present moment and experience life as it unfolds, rather than being held back by past experiences or future worries.

How does Gestalt Therapy work?

Gestalt therapy is a dialogical and experiential method that emphasizes the importance of the client-therapist relationship. In this therapy, clients are encouraged to explore their thoughts and feelings in a supportive environment, and therapists work to help clients become more grounded in the present moment. Gestalt therapy often includes activities such as role-playing, body awareness exercises, and creative expression, and the therapist may use techniques such as empty-chair work or dream analysis to help clients explore their experiences in greater depth. Ultimately, the goal of Gestalt therapy is to help clients develop greater self-awareness and acceptance, so that they can live fuller and more fulfilling lives.


References

1. American Psychological Association. (2019). Gestalt therapy. https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/gestalt

2. Perls, F. S. (1950). Gestalt therapy. In E. L. Hartley (Ed.), Contributions to medical psychology (pp. 43-59). McGraw-Hill.

3. Wheeler, G. (2008). The experienced moment in Gestalt therapy revisited. Gestalt Review, 12(1), 43-62. doi:10.5325/geerrevi.12.1.0043