Developed in the 1940s by Fritz Perls, Laura Perls, and Paul Goodman, gestalt therapy is a humanistic and experiential type of therapy that was intended as an alternative to traditional psychoanalysis. The word gestalt comes from the German word meaning form or shape and references the essence or character of something. Gestalt therapists and their clients utilise experiential and creative techniques to enhance freedom, awareness, and self-direction.
Principles of Gestalt Therapy
At its core, gestalt therapy is the holistic view that people are convolutedly linked to and influenced by their environments and that all people simply want growth and balance in their lives. In this way, gestalt therapy is like person-centered therapy. In addition, it stresses the counsellor’s understanding, empathy, and unconditional acceptance of the client to improve therapeutic outcomes.
Gestalt therapy operates under the belief that context affects experience and a person cannot be fully understood until there is an understanding of his or her context. At the same time, gestalt therapy recognises that no one can be entirely objective. This includes counsellors whose perspectives and experiences are also influenced by their own contexts. Practitioners of gestalt therapy accept the truth and validity of their clients’ experiences.
Gestalt therapy also believes that requiring a person to change unexpectedly results in added fragmentation and distress. Instead, change comes from the acceptance of what is. As a result, therapy sessions focus on helping people develop a greater sense of self-awareness and accepting and trusting in their experiences and feelings to reduce distress.
Focusing on the “Here and Now”
The emphasis of gestalt therapy is on gaining awareness of the present moment and context. In therapy, people learn to uncover feelings that may have been masked by other feelings or suppressed and to accept and trust in their own emotions. Emotions and needs that may have previously been suppressed or unrecognised are likely to appear as well. During this process, a person’s overall awareness increases and they gain a better sense of self.
Focusing on the here and now does not reduce or deny past events or future possibilities. Remember, the past is closed linked to one’s present experience. The idea is to not dwell on the past or anxiously worry about what the future may bring. Past experiences may be discussed in therapy sessions, but the counsellor and client will concentrate on exploring what factors made a memory reappear during this moment or how the present moment is affected by past experiences.
What to Expect During a Gestalt Therapy Session
There are no set guidelines for gestalt therapy sessions. The truth is that counsellors are urged to be creative with their approach and consider the context and client’s personality. However, there is an emphasis on direct contact, experimentation, and experience, as well as a focus on the “what and how.” The refers to what the client is doing and how he or she is doing it.
Together, the counsellor and client evaluate what is happening and as a result, what is needed. Focus is on the immediate situation, which includes the client’s physical responses. For example, the counsellor may remark on the client’s slight change in posture, which can help bring a person back into the present. In this way, gestalt therapy can help clients gain a greater understanding of how their physical and emotional bodies are connected.
Gestalt Therapy Techniques
Practised in individual or group settings, gestalt therapy is done in the form of exercise and experiments. In most cases, the exercises are relatively established practices that are intended to provoke action, goals, or emotion from the client. The counsellor and client, then, evaluates the exercise’s results to increase awareness and help the client understand the experience’s “here and now.”
Different from exercises, experiments arise during the development of the therapeutic relationship and process. They are a critical component of gestalt therapy and allow the client to understand various aspects of a mental health issue, conflict, or experience.
A quintessential gestalt therapy exercises is commonly known as the empty chair technique, which is considered to be especially helpful when assisting people to become mindful of the entire situation, as well as disengaged or forgotten pieces of their own self. The client is placed across from an empty chair and is asked to imagine that there is someone there, whether it’s a partner, spouse, or boss, themselves, or a part of themselves sitting in the chair. The counsellor urges dialogue between the client and the empty chair to engage the client’s behaviours, emotions, and thoughts. In some cases, the roles are reversed and the client takes on the role of the person or part of the person in the chair.
The exaggeration exercise is another common gestalt therapy exercise. It requires the client to repeat and exaggerate an expression or movement, such as grimacing or bouncing a leg. During gestalt therapy, the spontaneous experiments and exercises allow the client to reconnect with parts of themselves they may deny, ignore, or minimise.