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Gestalt therapy was largely developed by Fritz Perls and his wife, Laura. Together they created a theory that is based on the premise that individuals must be understood in the context of their ongoing relationship with the environment. To better understand that, one must review the key concepts, therapeutic process, and the techniques of application. The first key concept of Gestalt therapy is its view of human nature.
Perls believed that genuine knowledge is the product of what is immediately evident in the experience of the perceiver.
He believed that individuals have the capacity to self regulate in their environment if they are fully aware of what is happening in and around them. There are several basic principles that underlie the practice of Gestalt therapy. Holism, one of the principles, is the interest in the whole person.
The therapist will attend not only to the client’s thoughts, feelings, and dreams. The field theory suggests that the client be seen in its environment and the figure formation process is how the individual organizes the environment from moment to moment.
Last is the organismic self, which is a process by which equilibrium is disturbed by the emergence of a need. The next key concept is the focus of “the now” in Gestalt therapy. The present is seen as the most significant tense. To help the client stay in the here and now, therapist often ask “what” and “how” questions but rarely “why”.
A Gestalt therapist’s aim is to help clients make contact with their emotions. For example, if a client begins to talk about sadness, the therapist will do what they can to have the client actually experience that sadness in the “now”.
Another key concept is that of unfinished business. When figures emerge from the background but are not completed and resolved, individuals are left with unfinished business. This can manifest in unexpressed feelings such as resentment, anger, frustration, rage, pain, anxiety, and grief. Yet another key concept is contact and resistances to contact. In Gestalt therapy, contact is necessary if change and growth are to occur. Contact is made my seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and moving and it is made effectively by interacting with nature and other people without one losing their individuality.
However, people often resist contact. Resistances to contact are defenses we develop to prevent us from experiencing the present. These defenses are called introjection, projection, retroflection, deflection, and confluence. The concern of Gestalt therapists is helping the client to become aware of how they are blocking their environment. The last key concept to talk about is energy and blocks to energy. Blocked energy is another form of resistance and it can be manifested by tension in some parts of the body such as posture, keeping one’s body tight and closed, not breathing deeply, etc?
The therapist aims to make their client aware of their blocked energy and bring the sensations to the client’s awareness. To further the understanding of Gestalt therapy, it is important to get a good idea of the therapeutic process. The basic goal of therapy is attaining awareness and with it, greater choice. Awareness emerges within the context of a genuine meeting between the client and therapist. The therapist’s function is to assist the client in developing their own awareness and experiencing themselves how they are in the present. The therapists must also pay attention to their client’s body language.
These nonverbal cues can provide a lot of useful information because they are often a result of feelings that the client is unaware of. The Gestalt counselor must also focus on the client’s language patterns and personality. The therapist will challenge the client by interventions that help them become aware of the effects of their language patterns. Gestalt practice involves a person-to-person relationship between the therapist and the client. The therapist is responsible for the quality of their presence, for knowing themselves and the client, and remaining open to the client.
Although Gestalt therapy is quite simple, that does not mean that the therapist’s job is easy. They have a number of challenging techniques and procedures they use. One of which is the experiment, which is grown out of the interaction between the client and therapist. The experiment is a way to bring out some sort of internal conflict within the client by making the struggle an actual process. A therapist may have their client play out or relive a problem situation to increase their range of flexibility of behavior. In addition to experiments, the Gestalt therapist will use confrontation.
This is not to be mistaken as a harsh attack. Gestalt confrontation is done in such a way that clients cooperate, especially when they are invited to examine their behaviors attitudes, and beliefs. This confrontation is used in correlation with the experiments. It can be used in many interventions used by Gestalt therapists. These interventions include the internal dialogue exercise, making the rounds, the reversal exercise, the rehearsal exercise, the exaggeration exercise, staying with the feeling, and dream work.
Gestalt therapy seems as thought it would be best suited for someone who has had numerous problems in the past or who has a lot of built up anger and resentment. Allowing these people to relive these feelings, they will be able to fully experience those feelings and no longer carry them around. This could also work in counseling people of various cultures, however it would need to be proceeded with caution. It would be appropriate because experiments can be tailored to fit the person individually and to fit the unique way they perceive things.
Also, the Gestalt therapist approaches the client in an open way and without preconceptions. However, Gestalt therapy tends to produce a high level of intense feelings and not all cultures value expression of feelings and emotion. This could be true with anyone though, I know I would have difficulty expressing such intense emotions. I tend to be emotionally reserved and it would be uncomfortable for me, which in turn could drive me away from therapy. However, I do agree with the theory’s use of experiments. I think it is important for the client to actively realize their faulty thinking.
Through the experiments, the client can experience feelings and become aware of how they are controlling their life. I do question, however, how effective the experiments would really be. I would have to see to believe that a person can play out a past situation and feel just as intensely as if it were really occurring. After reviewing the Gestalt therapy and its key concepts, therapeutic process, and application, I have realized that that thus far, this is my least favorite form of therapy. Though, like the others, I will take bits and pieces of it which will shape my future form of practice.