What do you mean by Gestalt Therapy?
The term Gestalt implies considering something as a whole rather than considering it as separate elements. It is a psychotherapy that makes the client focus on the present rather than the past or the future and emphasizes perception; this improves self-awareness and allows the individual to take responsibility for their actions.
Gestalt therapy was developed by Fritz Perls and Laura Perls, and Paul Goodman in the 1940s. Later in 1951, Fritz Perls, Paul Goodman, and Ralph Hefferline wrote a book on Gestalt therapy called ‘Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality.’ This book consists of two parts; the first part details self-help exercises in psychotherapy, and the second one is the core of the technique and was written mainly by Paul Goodman based on the notes of Fritz Perls.
Fritz and Laura Perls are considered the pioneers of Gestalt therapy by practicing it on the patients in their apartment in Manhattan. Both the Perls were well trained in psychoanalysis and gestalt psychology.
When To Go For Gestalt Therapy?
Potential candidates for undergoing gestalt therapy include anxiety, depression, relationship, and personal issues. Even people suffering from physical health issues such as migraines, ulcerative colitis, and back pains also benefit. Ideal candidates would be the people who are willing to focus on self-awareness but are unaware of their part in their problems. This therapy can also be used with the combination of other treatments such as art and dance.
If you feel that you or a person you know might benefit from gestalt psychotherapy, we recommend the following steps.
1. Get A Referral
Visit your primary health or mental health professional, convey your mental health issues to them and ask them to refer you to any certified gestalt therapists.
2. Inquire About The Details
Ask your potential gestalt therapist about the details of the therapy. Enquire about the duration, fees, and counseling procedure. Ensure whether your insurance covers the expenses or if they offer any installments or sliding based on your income.
3. Be Prepared To Talk Your Feelings Out
During the therapy, the therapist asks various questions regarding the past and present life. During the therapeutic procedure, the therapist asks questions about your awareness and responsibility, for example, How are you feeling at this moment? Or, What are you aware of now? So, it would be best if you are prepared to talk about your life.
How Does Gestalt Therapy Work?
Gestalt therapists focus on the present to find solutions to the client’s problems rather than the past. For instance, a gestalt therapist may ask you to re-enact the incident that occurred in the past and discuss how it makes you feel in the present. To be more precise, the therapists experiment with you through role-playing, dialogue, confrontation, and other techniques that make you experience your feelings rather than talk about them.
The goal is to bring self-awareness to understand the consequences of your past actions and learn to satisfy your needs while respecting others. Let us see the essential concepts and techniques of Gestalt therapy.
Gestalt Therapy Techniques
Of all the techniques employed in gestalt therapy, the empty chair technique is the most important and commonly used therapy technique.
A. Empty Chair Technique
Through the empty chair technique or the empty chair dialogue, the therapist tries to resolve the unfinished issues bothering us in the therapy room. Unfinished issues are the emotions concerning any issue in the past or the present that are left unexpressed. What happens if we have unresolved issues?
Imagine a group of dots arranged in the form of a circle is shown to you; your mind perceives them as a whole circle but not as random dots. This happens because our mind tends to form gestalts( imagining as a whole without focusing on the individual parts). This tendency is why any unresolved issues are left unattended and can hinder our personal growth.
Unresolved business is always due to the emotions that are not expressed. For example, not mourning the loss of a loved one or unfulfilled need and wishes, unexpressed thoughts in a relationship can lead to pent-up emotions. Most people choose to avoid expressing their feelings to appear strong or to salvage their relationship.
In the empty chair technique, the gestalt therapists set up two chairs left empty in front of the patient. The client occupies one chair and imagines the person he has unfinished business with within the opposite chair. The therapist will encourage the clients to have a conversation with the empty chair. However, one must vent out their suppressed emotion to change and continue further in their life.
The therapist may help the client to express his thoughts through language. Sometimes the therapists use this technique as a role play by making the client switch chairs and speak to themselves as though the other person is saying. Through this session, the client’s past emotions are brought to the present moment, and then the therapist helps the client process his curbed emotions.
This technique can be done to work on the client’s past or present relationships. The client may see the other person with more understanding or hold them responsible. Either way, the client will change his views on himself from being a victim to a place of higher self-empowerment.
B. Exaggeration Technique
This technique focuses on what the therapist notices when a subject is being discussed. If the therapist sees any change in your tone, expression, or movement, he asks you to exaggerate the same action. The goal is to gather the client’s attention towards his emotions specifically attached to that type of behavior and increase personal awareness.
Key Concepts Behind Gestalt Therapy
In a gestalt therapy practice session, the therapist does not follow any specific process, but they uniquely approach each client depending on their personality. However, there are a few key concepts that are consistent in dealing with every client. Here are a few concepts that are emphasized in Gestalt therapy.
Rather than simply sitting and listening, the gestalt therapist encourages the client to participate in a few creative exercises to improve their awareness. These may include making the client experience mental health exercises such as role-play, communicating through props, or guided imagery.
b. Working Through Pain
The nature of human tendency is to shut or suppress our emotions no matter how hard it is because the thought of the painful memory makes us vulnerable or weak. In gestalt therapy, the therapist identifies what is happening and offers you space to let out your emotions so that you don’t have to work hard to suppress them anymore. But this can happen only when the clients accept support and are ready to heal.
c. Influence On Perception
Our environment and our past experiences influence us, and gestalt therapy is no exception. The therapist’s views can influence the clients, which can change the way they intend to think. This concept of Gestalt therapy is a client-centered approach, so the gestalt therapists focus on the client’s world and offer them space to let their feelings out without imposing their judgment on them.
d. Focus On The ‘Here’ And ‘Now.’
This therapeutic process focuses on the client’s awareness of the past and its importance in the present context. Often therapists consider that the past is not related to the present moment, but this theory ignores the past, denying the client an insight needed to change.
This gestalt technique helps clients understand the importance of the past in the present moment and brings awareness of how the past presents itself in the present as” here” and “now.”
e. Body Language
Similar to the use of language, present gestalt therapy also believes that body language plays a significant role in altering the psychology of a client. The therapist notes the client’s body movements during the session, such as tapping the feet, certain facial expressions, and squeezing their palms or hands.
The therapist may ask their clients why their body language or even repeat the same behavior while incorporating language. In addition to body language, the clients are also encouraged to perform additional activities such as painting, drawing, or sculpting to help them gain personal awareness.
Therapists believe that creative arts or any other techniques different from the traditional sitting and talking allow awareness and the chance for healing.
f. Theory Of Paradoxical Change
The concept of this theory is that the more a person tries to be different, the more they end up being the same person. So, instead of changing one’s life, it is essential to accept who one is, and living in the present moment is by gaining self-awareness. Through this theory, the therapists practice empathy and unconditionally accept the client’s personality, making it easy to accept himself.
How Does Gestalt Therapy Benefit You?
Here are a few phenomenal benefits of gestalt therapy.
i) Personal Growth Through The Self-Regulation
Gestalt therapy exercises minimize pain or distress and make the client tolerate negative emotions; this helps the client overcome any trauma-related situation. It makes the client strive for growth by improving the sense of self-control.
ii) Ability To Cope With Stress
Once they gain self-awareness and self-acceptance, it will be easy to cope with stress and anxiety arising in the future. This therapy also works on improving the ability to monitor and regulate one’s mental health.
Gestalt therapy makes the clients own their mistakes and behavior rather than pining them on others. Accepting their feelings makes them more responsible in the future.
iv) Personal Responsibility
Gestalt therapy makes the client understand his responsibility and own his problems rather than pinning them on others. This is one of the therapy techniques that focuses on the words and language the client uses to express his emotion. For example, instead of saying, “If she didn’t say that, I wouldn’t have been hurt,” the therapist may encourage the client to say, “It hurt me when she said that because it made me feel insignificant, and I don’t like it.”
Here the word “I” is important to make the client feel responsible through a language that creates a sense of personal ownership.
v) Improves Communication Skills
A few techniques used in the therapy, such as role-playing, empty chair technique, need the patient to form a dialogue with the therapist or himself. The practice of these techniques supports the client’s mental health and makes them more outspoken.
Drawbacks Of Gestalt Therapy
- Every treatment technique has its pros and cons, and gestalt therapy is no exception.
- The major limitation of gestalt therapy is that it cannot modify the psychological effects of hereditary behaviors.
- It also doesn’t help if their thoughts do not influence the psychology of the person.
- It also does not help in diagnosis and testing.
- Few might find the exercises on emotions and body language uncomfortable and make them vulnerable instead of helping them.
- The process requires one to focus on the present moment but revisiting the past can be much more critical and valuable for a few people. For these people, gestalt therapy cannot offer much support.
- The gestalt therapist plays a vital role in the therapy. Therefore, he should be well versed in the therapeutic process and theory of gestalt therapy. Attempting these techniques heedlessly may not yield any result.
Points To Take Home
Gestalt psychotherapy is more humanistic and client-centered. So, the technique is focused on the person and their unique experience. This therapy sees that the person comes to terms with himself and becomes aware and responsible for his life in the present context, ignoring the past or future.
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