"Learning is the discovery that something is possible",
"Loose your mind and come to your senses",
- Fritz Perls -
Gestalt Therapy is a powerful experiential psychotherapy focusing on contact and awareness in the here and now. By following their client's ongoing process, with special attention to both the therapeutic relationship and the client's style of interrupting that process, the Gestalt Therapist can help their client to both work through and move beyond their painful emotional blocks. This frees them to begin to explore new behavior, first in the "safe emergency" of the therapeutic relationship and/or group and then, as appropriate, in the outside world. The emphasis of the therapy is not on talking about what has happened but on fully experiencing both what is, and what can be.
Unlike psychoanalysis, Gestalt therapy does not focus on talking about the client's past. The past is not neglected, but its importance, including that of one's childhood, is not in what happened then, but in how it affects now. What we experienced as we developed, and how we adapted to that experience, come into the present as both our "unfinished business" and our character styles, or ways of being in the world. Gestalt therapists deal directly with these elements in the "here and now", working with contact styles and focused awareness to help their clients complete and work through unfinished business and learn to experience and appreciate their full beingness. By learning to follow their own ongoing process, and to fully experience, accept, and appreciate their complete selves, Gestalt Therapy clients can free themselves to move past pain, fear, anxiety, depression or low self-esteem. They can then discover who they really are, and allow themselves to develop in the ways appropriate for them.
The origins of Gestalt Therapy derive from several sources, including psychoanalysis (by way of Wilhelm Reich), field theorists (such as Lewin), experimental Gestalt psychologists (studying the nature of visual perception), and the Humanist-Existential movement. Each has made its own unique contribution to Gestalt Therapy. From the work of Reich, we get an awareness of the impact of our early development on our current being, the tendency to hold our feelings in our bodies through tightening our muscles and constricting our energy flow, and the formation of character structure. The field theorists have helped us to see our interconnectedness, that we exist as part of our environmental field, and can only be understood in relation to that field. The Gestalt psychologists have demonstrated the holistic nature of our relationship with the world, "Gestalt" referring to the whole form or configuration which is greater than the sum of its parts. Psychodrama brought the use of role play and active experiential techniques. In the late 1940's, Fritz and Laura Perls guided the integration of these and other elements into a powerful and effective therapeutic model.
The existential roots of Gestalt Therapy come especially through the work of the philosopher Martin Buber and his emphasis on the "I-Thou" relationship. According to this view, often now referred to as the "Dialogic" or "Relational" approach, it is within the context of the healing relationship, in which the therapist practices "presence", "inclusion" and the "I-Thou attitude" that true healing takes place. Gestalt Therapy has in recent years been moving strongly in the direction of emphasizing this powerful therapeutic dialogue, as well as the importance of providing support for the client during the therapeutic process. Combining the power of the healing dialogue, in which the client can experience understanding and validation, with directed awareness and appropriately designed "Gestalt experiments", has enabled Gestalt Therapy to prove a highly effective approach to psychotherapy.
This is a brief and simple introduction into some of the rich and complex ideas behind the practice of Gestalt Therapy. For more information on Gestalt theory and the process of therapy, explore our reading list.
"Anxiety is the gap between now and later"
- Fritz Perls -