What Is Gestalt Therapy?

Gestalt therapy holds that we are always growing.

Gestalt Therapy was developed by Frederick "Fritz" and Laura Perls in the 1940s. It is a humanistic form of psychotherapy that arose as an alternative to more traditional psychoanalytic forms of psychotherapy that existed at the time. 

"Gestalt" is derived from a German word that means "shape" or "form," and refers to the whole or essence of something. Gestalt therapy maintains a holistic view of a person always in the context of his or her environment.

Orientation of gestalt therapy

Similar to person-centered therapy developed by Carl Rogers, gestalt therapy is an experiential form of therapy that views the client as always growing. People are seen as continually evolving. Additionally, gestalt therapy emphasizes the importance of unconditional positive regard, empathy and understanding as an integral part of the therapeutic process.

Gestalt therapy additionally recognizes the necessity of acceptance in order to create change.

"The curious paradox is that when I can accept myself just as I am, then I can change" - Carl Rogers.

The importance of the present moment in gestalt therapy

As with many experiential forms of therapy, the focus of gestalt therapy is in the "here and now." With help to stay present in his or her experience, a client is able to focus on feelings and emotions that otherwise may be ignored, denied or suppressed. One is therefore able to get more in touch with himself or herself, become more self-aware and create a better life as a result.

Some gestalt therapy techniques

Gestalt therapy is not a cookie cutter approach to therapy, but the gestalt therapist may draw upon certain gestalt therapy techniques, also known as experiments, throughout the therapy. Following is a list of several common gestalt therapy techniques:

Role playing - Role playing is used frequently in gestalt therapy to help the client appreciate different sides to his or her own experience that he or she may not have acknowledged.

Role playing is also used to help a client get used to or "rehearse" a new behavior, particularly if there is anxiety around it.

The empty chair technique - The empty chair technique is probably one of the most well known gestalt therapy techniques. It involves sitting a client directly across from an empty chair. The client is encouraged to imagine someone in his or her life sitting across from him, such as a parent or a significant other, and having a conversation with them. This process can help the client realize a greater understanding of the situation as a whole.

At times, parts of the client's self is placed in the empty chair, and the client has a dialogue between different parts of himself or herself. This process often amounts to the client getting a better sense of all aspects of his or her experience, and greater self-awareness as a result.

The exaggeration exercise - The exaggeration exercise involves asking a client to exaggerate certain elements of behavior in order to more greatly bring forth an emotion or experience.

For example, if a client is anxiously shaking their leg, the therapist might ask him or her to exaggerate the experience and allow a heightened emotional experience associated with it in order to more greatly understand the emotions involved.

The Gestalt Therapy Page is a project sponsored by The Gestalt Journal Press and offers more resources on gestalt therapy.

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