Gestalt Therapy

What is Gestalt therapy

Gestalt therapy was developed by Fritz and Laura Perls in the 1950s. The word gestalt means ‘wholeness’ or ‘shape’ and is concerned with just that. It primarily works towards the development of awareness in an individual. To do this, Gestalt therapy says that we must be, here in the present moment. Gestalt therapies often aim to develop this connection between self-awareness and being present. To do this, Gestalt therapies aim to focus on what is presently happening. In this effort we seek to help a client develop insight, knowledge, acceptance of self and responsibility for self and actions

Perls’ noted that people often avoid change or realisation for the necessity of change and so regularly interrupt their contact with experience. They do this by being deceptive and avoidant of responsibility. However, for a person to develop they need to act and become a self-reliant entity. Because of this, Gestalt therapy used confrontation to get past these interruptions.

Gestalt therapy identifies several different contact disturbances, or, ways that clients avoid contact with their gestalt. To name a few we have:

  • Confluence: This is when the boundary between an individual and others becomes weaker and people start to behave not as individuals but as part of a collective.
  • Deflection: This is when the person attempts to distract attention away from themselves as a way of avoiding contact
  • Introjection: This is when the values of others are taken onboard without being subject to their own personal valuation and scrutiny.
  • Projection: This is when a person assigns ideas of themselves onto others as a way of reducing their own personal responsibility
  • Retroflection: Retroflection comes in two forms. The first is when people behave towards themselves in ways they would like to act onto others. The other is when you do to yourself what you would like to have done to you by others.

Techniques of Gestalt therapy

Dream work

In Gestalt dream work, the client will be directed by the therapist to explore the dream from multiple perspectives of being, taking on a first-person perspective with each element in the story of the dream. By the creative exercise being different characters and even objects, the client can get deeper into the significance of the symbols and stories in their minds.

Empty chair and Two-chair techniques

The empty chair technique involves the client having a conversation with an empty seat, imagining that someone of significance is in the chair. Rather than recount what I client would say to someone, Gestalt therapy invites the client to engage in a conversation with the image of that person, exploring thoughts and feelings that may arise during the process.

The two-chair technique is a variation of the empty chair technique, in which the client engages in empty chair dialogue, but also switches and endeavours to take on the being of the other character in the situation. This aims to develop empathy for the other person in this situation and to gain more understanding of the positions both people are taking.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Strengths of Gestalt therapy

  • Gestalt therapy put an emphasis on awareness and increasing awareness of the self and others. It presents active techniques that engage the imagination and could even be fun for to engage in.
  • Gestalt therapy encourages self-dialogue. I think this will present the opportunity for self-exploration

Limitations of Gestalt therapy

  • The confrontational side of gestalt therapy could be potentially harmful to progress if used in the wrong way. I think because of this reason; many Gestalt techniques should be used with caution.

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