Gestalt psychology views a human being as a whole and not the mere sum of their behaviours or emotional states. This notion is also applied to human experiences whereby, all the bits of data (parts) in the environment are subjectively structured by individuals into a “whole” experience1. The bits of data are interpreted differently from one person to another based on their needs, impulses, etc. This system forms the basis of all human experiences. Gestalt therapy considers awareness and acknowledgement of personal experiences as an important element of experiencing closure. The primary goal of gestalt therapy, therefore, is to increase the awareness and acknowledgement of personal experiences.
Gestalt View of Personality
The gestalt school of thought considers interpersonal relationship to be an intricate part of an individual’s life. According to this viewpoint, no individual (self) is separate from one’s environmental field2. In this context, self refers to “self-in-relation”. The contact boundaries are therefore essential, as they help separating oneself from others. It is the disturbance of these contact boundaries that cause an individual to feel unbalanced. This disturbance can be manifested by different patterns such as accepting other people’s viewpoint without reviewing it (introjections), dismissing personal features of oneself by assigning them to others (projection), etc.
Goals of Therapy
Gestalt therapy assists clients’ to3:
- Develop fuller awareness of oneself, feelings, environment, etc.
- Own their experiences rather than projecting them
- Develop awareness of needs and skills
- Establish better contact with sensations (smelling, tasting, etc.)
- Experience the ability to support themselves
- Taking responsibility for actions and their consequences
The techniques used in gestalt therapy are not explicitly set. Almost all techniques are considered experiments under the gestalt framework. This is because most of the techniques allow the client to imagine, or act out situations, feelings, and emotions. In addition, the main focus of these strategies is to facilitate awareness and psychological closure in clients by some degree. Thus, the key element of any gestalt technique is it uses gestalt therapy principles and facilitates therapy goals. Therefore, gestalt therapists are often encouraged to devise new and innovative ways as per clients’ needs.
Nevertheless, some common approaches are described below:
- Enactment: Clients are often asked to engage in actively describing their thoughts and feelings in different ways. One example of enactment is the “empty-chair” technique It involves helping the client imagine that an unclear aspect of their life is in a chair or some other place of choice. This technique attempts to bring a sense of clarity in the client about the issue at hand by trying to separate it from them. The client is therefore involved in the process of putting their thoughts into action. Creative expressions, in the form of journal writing, art, etc., are also means of enacting.
- Reversal: The reversal technique allows the client to consider two opposing points of viewing the same issue. This exercise allows in awakening awareness about different sides of the issue and encourages closure.
- Guided fantasy, and Imagery: Gestalt therapists often stress on visualizing experiences to increase awareness. This is made possible by the use of techniques such as imagery and guided fantasy. For example, a client who is nervous about a trip to a hilly area, is asked to imagine the situation and explain what they feel at that moment. Such an exercise is useful in allowing the client to learn supporting themselves as well.
- Focusing: This strategy is applied to the process of awareness and feeling within the therapeutic alliance. This intervention helps the therapist guide the client on differentiating important aspects of their experiences. Focusing includes an empathic understanding of client experiences as well as exercises that allow a client focus on their awareness of experiences. For example, the therapist often asks if the client is aware if what they feel right at the moment of the session. The aim is to assist the client sort through their range of emotions gradually.
Gestalt therapy is quite distinct from other forms of therapy. Gestalt therapy provides the opportunity to apply various unique elements simultaneously. For example, allowing the use of cognitive, emotional and behavioural techniques. With growing evidence base, gestalt therapy can be successfully applied to issues such as anxiety, depression and substance use3.
1.Wagner-Moore, L. E. (2004). Gestalt therapy: Past, present, theory and research. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 41(2), 180-189.
2.Yontef, G. & Jacobs, L. (2013). Gestalt Therapy. In D. Wedding & R.J. Corsini (Eds.), Current psychotherapies (pp 299-338). Belmont, CA:Brooks/Cole
3.Sharf, R. (2012). Theories of psychotherapy and counselling-Concepts and cases. Belmont, CA:Brooks/Cole
4.Van De Riet, V., Korb, M., & Gorrell, J. J. (1980). Gestalt therapy-An introducation. New York; NY: Pergamon Press