Gestalt Therapy (A Comprehensive Overview)

This blog post will talk about Gestalt Therapy and discuss its main concepts, techniques, benefits and when it is used. We will also be talking about its criticism.

What is Gestalt Therapy?

Gestalt Therapy is a type of Humanistic Psychotherapy with a client-centered approach. It helps the clients to acknowledge and accept the present situations and challenges of their lives, instead of blaming them as a result of past experiences. 

Gestalt Therapists, uses observational techniques to strengthen client’s awareness and helps them to accept their feelings and experiences. In this therapy, the importance is placed upon what is actually happening rather than what is being said by the client. Both therapist and the client focus on the present feelings and thoughts rather than what could’ve happened in the past.

Gestalt comes from a German word that means a form or shape. Gestalt therapy was introduced by Fritz Perls and his wife Laura Perls in the 1940s. It was developed as a substitute for Psychoanalysis. Fritz and Laura both were trained in Psychoanalysis but he did not agree with some Freudian theories and hence, created his own type of Psychotherapy.

Gestalt therapy is led by the holistic view that treats their client as a whole (the mind, body and soul) instead of an individual experience. Just like in any therapy session, it also requires the therapist to have unconditional positive regard, empathy and understanding for the client. 

Gestalt therapy doesn’t aim to change their client. It is very difficult to change someone and can even cause more distress and pain. Hence, the gestalt therapy sessions aim at increasing the client’s self awareness, making them more resilient in dealing with stressful life situations and accepting, trusting their feelings and emotions.

Main Concepts of Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt Therapy believes that people are influenced and connected to their environment. It’s a common saying that an individual is a product of their environment and every person wants growth and assurance. According to Gestalt Therapy, a person’s situation/environment affects their experiences.

Following are some main concepts of Gestalt Therapy:

  • Awareness – Gestalt Therapy aims at making the client aware of their present situation, thoughts and feelings. This is the most important concept of Gestalt therapy. The attention is placed on the “Here and now” instead of getting concerned about the past or future.

By this therapy, the suppressed feelings, emotions and needs are brought to the client’s awareness. The client discovers their unacknowledged feelings or emotions that they might have covered up with other feelings and accepts and trusts them.

  • Growth Disorder – According to Martin Seligman, growth disorder is an emotional problem caused by individuals who don’t have self awareness and are disconnected from their environment completely. Due to this, when they are faced with challenging situations, they become defensive and can’t cope with those situations.
  • Wholeness – Gestalt Therapy believes that an individual works as a whole (mind, body and soul). The client’s mind and body is treated as a single unit and not as two separate parts. The client may be having difficulty in integrating in their environment and hence, Gestalt therapy facilitates them to fit in their environment as a whole.
  • Unfinished business – According to Seligman, unfinished business refers to those individuals who are unable to finish things in their past. Due to this unfinished business, they’re still dwelling on the past and unable to focus on the present. One of the main goals of Gestalt therapy is to help people resolve their past unfinished business, so that they can move ahead.
  • Energy Blockage – Gestalt Therapy also focuses on the energy and how it could be causing a blockage in the body. Energy blockage could be a type of unwillingness to accept something. For example, the therapist may ask the client, when they feel tense in any situation, in which part of their body they feel that uneasiness. This helps in identifying and releasing that blockage that might be affecting the client’s awareness.

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Techniques used in Gestalt Therapy

There are various techniques and experiments used in Gestalt Therapy. They are as follows:

  1. Empty chair technique

This is a very popular technique used in Gestalt Therapy and during counselling. It is a type of role play. In this technique, two chairs are placed facing each other. The client is asked to sit on one chair and then asked to imagine and indulge in a conversation with another person or another part of themself.

This technique is very beneficial as it brings out useful information and perceptions that helps the client to be more aware of their psychological experience and start their healing process.

  1. Experiments

To increase the client’s self awareness, gestalt therapists conduct certain experiments like role plays, homeworks, etc. For example, a person who has social anxiety is invited to an office party. He has to go there after a week. The therapist will give him an experiment to enact a conversation with a colleague who he doesn’t talk to regularly in the office. He has to think about what he’s going to say and talk about to that colleague. 

This experiment will increase his self awareness and also give him confidence to be in a social setting.

  1. Confusion – In therapy, the client might be confused and hesitant to talk about an uncomfortable event. They might try to avoid talking about that event or zone out in between. By drawing the client’s attention to this confusion, it allows them to work through this problem and makes them more self aware.
  1. Topdog & Underdog – This is also a commonly used role play technique in Gestalt Therapy. It is used when the therapist observes two conflicting opinions in the client. The client is asked to separate these two opinions and play the role of each. 

It continues as a conversation, where the topdog is an obedient child and does things in a specific way, whereas the underdog is a rebellious child. This leaves the client making an effort to take control.

  1. Use of Language – Gestalt Therapists choose words and language that motivates change in the clients. When questions are being asked, “What” and “How” are mostly used, so that the client’s state of mind remains in the present situation. 

The therapist also encourages the client to accept and recognize their emotions, behaviors and feelings. Clients are also motivated to take responsibility for their feelings and use “I” statements, rather than putting blame on others. 

  1. Repetition – If the client repeatedly taps their feet during the session, the therapist may ask them to amplify this gesture and talk about the emotions that come up immediately. The session then goes in that direction to resolve this blocked awareness. 

When is Gestalt Therapy used?

Gestalt Therapy can help with various issues, such as:

  • Relationship issues
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Finding self-awareness

Gestalt Therapy has also been beneficial in treating clients with borderline personality disorders. It is mostly used for clients with anxiety and depression. It is also very successful in counselling of couples, family or groups.

Benefits of Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt Therapy serves many benefits. One of its key benefits is that it promotes self awareness and growth of the client. When we go through difficult situations in our life, we often push those painful memories out of our awareness and it can often create energy blockage and also hinder our growth. These blocks can be recognized, challenged and removed by increasing the client’s self-awareness.

Another main benefit of Gestalt therapy is that it helps the client to take responsibility for their actions and experiences. We lose our self-control when we blame other people and act like a victim. Gestalt therapy motivates the client to challenge those old patterns of thoughts that may be leading us to behave in such a manner.

People always aim for growth and self-control but sometimes to survive some distressing situations, they may indulge in dysfunctional techniques. These techniques may seem helpful initially but in the long term it can be harmful. Gestalt therapy explores these dysfunctional techniques of the client and aims at removing them so that the client can move towards growth and self-regulation.

Criticism

Gestalt therapy has its set of advantages and disadvantages. Gestalt therapy is criticized because it only pays attention to the present. For some clients, just focusing on the present cannot be beneficial. Exploring the past is important to identify what needs to be worked on but Gestalt therapy pays attention to “Here and Now”

Gestalt therapy also pays attention to client’s body language and their emotions. This can make a client feel conscious and uncomfortable. During therapy, it is essential to assure the client that they’re in a safe and non judgemental environment. Due to this therapy, the client might feel otherwise. 

This is a client-centered approach and only focuses on individual development. It also does not have some strong theoretical foundation and does not work with diagnosis and evaluation. There is also a danger of therapists misusing their power on the clients. 

Conclusion

In this blog post, we talked about Gestalt therapy. We also discussed its main concepts, techniques, benefits and when it is used. Gestalt Therapy is indeed a useful type of Psychotherapy for certain mental conditions. Its central theme is to focus on the “Here and now” 

What we recommend for Counselling

Professional counselling

If you are suffering from depression or any other mental disorders then ongoing professional counselling could be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): Gestalt Therapy

What is the main goal of Gestalt Therapy?

The goal of Gestalt Therapy is to identify the set patterns of the individual that they might have gained throughout their life experiences and raise awareness. By gaining awareness, the client can face the past issues and work with the therapist to move towards growth and self-regulation.

What is an example of Gestalt Therapy?

An example of Gestalt Therapy can be explained by empty chair technique. If a person has some deep rooted trauma from a person in their life, they are asked by the therapist to imagine that, that particular person is sitting in front of them on an empty chair and they can vent out whatever they want to say to them. 

What are the strengths of Gestalt therapy?

Gestalt therapy can:

  • Increase client’s self awareness
  • Makes the client resilient in dealing with stressful situations
  • Improves the client’s self confidence
  • Increases client’s responsibility in owning up for their behavior instead of blaming others

What are the synonyms for Gestalt?

Summary, abstract, outline, review, draft, brief, essence, analysis, view, etc. are some of the synonyms for Gestalt.

What does Gestalt mean?

Gestalt is a German word that means the way things have been put together. In English, gestalt translates as form or shape. But in Psychology, it usually means a pattern or arrangement.

References 

Gestalt Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.counsellingconnection.com/index.php/2007/10/16/gestalt-therapy/

What is Gestalt Therapy? Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-gestalt-therapy-4584583

Gestalt Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/gestalt-therapy