Self-Gestalt is a German word which translates to “form” or “shape”, suggesting that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Thus, Gestalt therapy is a holistic process treating people as a totality of their mind, body, and emotions.
According to Gestalt Therapy, context affects experience. Hence, Gestalt therapists use techniques to enable clients to become aware of their perceptions and reactions in various situations. Gestalt Therapy states that this increase in self awareness is sufficient to facilitate clients changes.
Gestalt Therapy focuses on the present moment. Clients gain awareness of their immediate thoughts and feelings. Gestalt therapists are concerned with how clients are experiencing the moment, rather than why they do so. Through this approach, clients can discover feelings that were suppressed, and accept them. Clients gain a new sense of self as self-awareness increases.
Focusing on the present does not discount experienced in the past. Rather, past experiences are addressed by therapists by exploring with clients the factors that made the memory surface.
Fritz Perls is the main originator of Gestalt Therapy. Perls was trained in psychoanalysis, but stressed a holistic approach to personality unlike Freud who had a more mechanistic view of people. Additionally, Perls valued examining the present, unlike Freud focusing on conflicts encountered in childhood. Laura Perls (Perls’ wife) and Paul Goodman, further developed Gestalt Therapy focusing on the uniqueness of the person.
This therapeutic approach is not goal oriented. Instead, it hopes clients gain greater awareness of themselves and their environment. Knowing about the self can lead to personality changes as clients can accept and integrate previously denied parts of themselves.
Gestalt therapists use a mixture of exercises and experiments throughout the therapy journey. Exercises are planned interventions used to achieve a goal, whereas experiments are spontaneously created to fit the therapeutic process.
Empty Chair Technique
This is a role playing exercise that enables clients to imagine having a conversation with the “other”. The “other” could be a family member, friend, or colleague that clients are having conflict with. Using two chairs, the therapist first asks the client to sit in one chair and imagine engaging in dialogue with the “other”. Subsequently, roles are reversed and the client sits in the other chair, pretending to be the “other” and responds to the dialogue. Through this technique, clients draw out important perceptions that were previously not considered. Clients integrate their thoughts and accept both sides, as they are more aware of the whole situation.
This exercise makes clients exaggerate particular movements or gestures repeatedly. This is because these movements may communicate significant meanings, yet these cues may be incomplete. Exaggerating the movement intensifies feelings attached to the behaviour, making the meaning clearer. The therapist and the client may work through those emotions.
Stay With the Feeling
Instead of avoiding unpleasant emotions, clients are urged to stay with those intense emotions and explore them. Courage is needed to endure the pain necessary to for unblocking, making way for growth.
Instead of interpreting dreams such as in psychoanalysis, the Gestalt approach suggests clients to act out the dream as if it was happening in the present moment. Clients transform and create dialogue by acting as each of person, item and mood of the dream. Each part of the dream is a projection of the self. The whole dream then consists of clients’ contradictory sides. Engaging in dialogue with opposing sides allows clients to be aware of their range of feelings.
Clients that come from a less expressive culture may face challenges with this approach if the therapist views catharsis as important.
To see therapists specialised in this field, visit thetherapy.co
Janna is our in-house blog writer and therapy specialist. She is supporting The Therapy Platform users towards successful therapy experience.
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