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Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt therapy is a phenomenological-existential therapy founded by Frederick (Fritz) and Laura Perls in the 1940s. It teaches therapists and patients the phenomenological method of awareness, in which perceiving, feeling, and acting are distinguished from interpreting and reshuffling pre-existing attitudes. Explanations and interpretations are considered less reliable than what is directly perceived and felt.

Patients and therapists in Gestalt therapy communicate their phenomenological perspectives. Differences in perspectives become the focus of experimentation and continued dialogue. The goal is for clients to become aware of what they are doing, how they are doing it, and how they can change themselves, and at the same time, to learn to accept and value themselves.

Gestalt therapy focuses more on process (what is happening) than content (what is being discussed). The emphasis is on what is being done, thought and felt at the moment rather than on what was, might be, could be, or should be.

"Gestalt" means the whole; it implies wholeness.  In any experience or interaction there are feelings in the foreground and in the background. 

The idea in Gestalt therapy is that all of us have had to repress or supress aspects of ourselves because they were not accepted or supported.  It is these aspects of our selves or our feelings that end up in the background and can become unfinished business. 

Gestalt therapy can help shed light on unfinished business by helping us to focus our awareness on our feelings (or lack of feelings) moment to moment.  Once we recognize our unfinished business,( i.e. uncomfortable feelings, stuck patterns of behaviour, or ways in which we perceive ourselves and others that  are based on our experiences as opposed to reality), we are better equipped to understand ourselves and to choose whether we want to make changes or not. 

Gestalt therapy seems to be particularly beneficial for people who are rather 'buttoned up' when it comes to their emotions; but it can be used for a wide range of mental health needs.

During therapy the client is encouraged to bring out hidden feelings and much use is made of something called the 'open chair' technique. This is when the client sits opposite an empty chair and then mentally places into that chair someone significant, who has caused them pain or trouble. The client then tells the 'person' in the empty chair what they have been unable to express before.

Sometimes the client is encouraged to swap chairs and to answer his own claims or accusations from the other person's perspective. This technique can give rise to emotional scenes, and the previously buried emotions need to be handled carefully.

Gestalt therapy, which has been known for its “two chair”work, is more an underlying approach than a series of techniques.

Exploration of communication and contact between the therapist and client is important.

Often people who are experiencing difficulties in their lives carry with them ways of meeting the world that are based on situations in their past and which are no longer useful.

The Gestalt therapist works with the client to recognise how they are relating in the present and explore new possibilities. During therapy the client is supported to become aware of their physical and emotional responses.

The therapist may slow down the dialogue and pay close attention to what is taking place between them both, bringing in the client's responses. These approaches can lead to insight and change. Ultimately, Gestalt work can bring an increased self-awareness and wellbeing.

In practice, Gestalt therapy seems at present to be a little less popular than it used to be, probably because of the advance of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).

"I do my thing and you do your thing.I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,And you are not in this world to live up to mine.You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful. If not, it can't be helped". ~ Fritz Perls 1969




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