Gestalt Therapy

What Is Gestalt Therapy?

Gestalt therapy is a client-centered approach to psychotherapy that helps clients focus on the present and understand what is really happening in their lives right now, rather than what they may perceive to be happening based on past experience. Instead of simply talking about past situations, clients are encouraged to experience them, perhaps through re-enactment. Through the gestalt process, clients learn to become more aware of how their own negative thought patterns and behaviors are blocking true self-awareness and making them unhappy.

When It's Used

Gestalt therapy can help clients with issues such as anxiety, depression, self-esteem, relationship difficulties, and even physical ones like migraine headaches, ulcerative colitis, and back spasms. Good candidates for gestalt therapy are those who are interested in working on their self-awareness but may or may not understand the role they play in their own unhappiness and discomfort. Gestalt techniques are often used in combination with body work, dance, art, drama, and other therapies.

What to Expect

A gestalt therapist focuses on what is happening in the moment and finding solutions in the present time. For examples, rather than discuss why something happened in the past, the therapist will encourage you to re-enact the moment and discuss how it feels right now. In other words, you will be asked to experience your feelings, rather than simply talk about them. The therapist will ask you questions like, “What’s going on in this moment?” or “How does this make you feel now?” Your therapist may experiment with dream work, guided fantasy, role-playing, confrontation, and other techniques that can help bring past and current struggles to life in the therapeutic setting. Your goal, as you become more aware of yourself and your senses, is to take more responsibility for yourself, accept the consequences of your behavior, and learn to satisfy your own needs while still respecting the needs of others.

How It Works

The word “gestalt” means whole. Gestalt therapy was developed by psychotherapist Fritz Perls on the principle that humans are best viewed as a whole entity consisting of body, mind, and soul, and best understood when viewed through their own eyes, not by looking back into the past but by bringing the past into the present. Gestalt therapy emphasizes that to alleviate unresolved anger, pain, anxiety, resentment, and other negative feelings, these emotions cannot just be discussed, but must be actively expressed in the present time. If that doesn’t happen, both psychological and physical symptoms can arise. Perls believed that we are not in this world to live up to others' expectations, nor should we expect others to live up to ours. By building self-awareness, gestalt therapy helps clients better understand themselves and how the choices they make affect their health and their relationships. With this self-knowledge, clients begin to understand how their emotional and physical selves are connected and develop more self-confidence to start living a fuller life and more effectively deal with problems.

What to Look for in a Gestalt Therapist

Look for a licensed, experienced psychotherapist with a gestalt approach toward therapy. In addition to fulfilling their general education and licensing requirements, some therapists may take continuing education courses and training in gestalt therapy techniques. Once you have established that a therapist has the credentials and experience you are looking for, be sure you understand and are comfortable with the process as explained by the therapist.

Sources

American Psychological Association: Gestalt Therapy with Gordon Wheeler, PhD.

Grant, Sheila K. California State University Northridge. Psychology 460: Counseling and Interviewing Presentation.