Geatalt therapy is a humanistic therapy which emerged during the 1950s as a reaction to therapies that focussed a lot on the person’s past (childhood, past experiences, etc.) like, for example,
This therapeutic approach is completely based on experience and was developed by Fritz Perls, his wife Laura, Paul Goodman and Ralph F. Hefferline. The name comes from what was called “psychology of form” or Gestalt Psychology (in German, gestalt means “form, structure, configuration, a unified whole resulting from all the parts”), from which it takes some fundamental principles, such as the tendency of human perception to complete unfinished forms.
This therapy is based on the “here and now”, and focusses on the present as the only space in which transformation can take place. The work may also include the past, but always to then explore and observe its present implications and how it is affecting us in the here and now.
The approach involves coming into contact with emotions (becoming aware here and now). The aim of Gestalt therapy is for the person to be who they are, not what is expected of them or something that is not their nature. It encourages using one’s own potential, self-leadership as opposed to rebelliousness, self-support as opposed to leaning on others or on things and promotes assuming responsibility for one’s own life, emotions and thoughts.
We would like to answer this question by quoting Victor Levant, a Canadian Gestalt therapist, who describes what Gestalt therapy is and how he understands being a Gestalt therapist in a wonderful article. The following text is an excerpt from that article (click here to read the full text).
I focus on the obvious and the emerging.
In the first session, I listen to their story, what brings them to therapy, the emotion behind the words what is important to them, the meaning and labels they apply to their experience, the reasons they offer for their illness, the degree of responsibility they assume, and also for everything they have done to alleviate their suffering, because it hasn’t worked.
I establish a therapeutic contract in order to give them responsibility immediately. I’ve learned to ask what they want, how they imagine themself being well, the potential impact on their relationships, the time they think it will take and how they conceive their role. If I consider their vision unrealistic, I say so.
In session, I listen to what they say, for what’s missing and the dominant theme. I’m interested in their tone of voice, their posture, gestures, how they walk, sit, stand, hold their head, how much effort they make, whether they flee or hold on to me at the end. I’m interested in their capacity to feel their body, perceive the environment, identify their needs, mobilize their resources and fulfil their goals, and everything they do to interrupt this natural process. I work to help them admit what they feel, to realize what they do, to speak from the heart, move in harmony, think with feeling, and here I’m interested in what I may be doing to obstruct it.
I support honest and genuine expression and confront the phony and the self-defeating. Here I listen for the deep needs often expressed in a twisted fashion. I work with polarities to re-establish equilibrium and natural functioning.
If they invoke an error of their past expecting punishment or absolution, I’ll ask what they’ve learned. When they interpret, I bring them back to the facts. If they propose an action in violation of their values, I ask them how they’ll live with it. When they blame someone, I may ask them to put themself in the other’s shoes. When they talk of being rejected, I ask how they rejects others or themself. I can ask them to exaggerate a gesture, an attitude, a twisted posture, or just to make a little less effort.
When I judge a reaction excessive, I’ll question what situation it reminds them of; the same thing when there’s transference. If they ask me a question, I’ll ask them to state what they’re thinking. And when I choose to respond, I do so honestly without a sugar-coating.
If they find their grief unbearable, I may share my own and let my own sorrow show.
If they’re incapable of identifying an emotion, I can whisper a word or suggest they paint their feelings.
When a client weeps for a dying loved one, I ask when they’ll cry for themself.
When a client expresses guilt, I’ll check if they feel resentment.
When they forget something they’ve said in a previous session, I may recall what they once shared. I indicate when they’re back in the past, or anticipating the future. When they seek to control everything, I remind them of the forces beyond us.
If I’m touched or bored I’ll say so. If I’m feeling angry, powerless or incompetent, I can choose to tell them how I feel. I share the messages I hear from them. If an image crosses my mind, I’ll evoke it. And at an opportune moment, I can ask a probing question.
Insofar as I accept the course of my life, my own rhythm of change, my worst qualities and my own difficulties in living, there is a possibility that my client will come out of hiding to meet me, heart to heart, in that space between regret and fear, that is called therapy.