What is Gestalt Therapy?
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Claire Asherson Bartram DPsych
8th June, 2007
Gestalt means whole or configuration in the sense that 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts'. There is no equivalent word in English. This form of psychotherapy has among its roots Gestalt Psychology (a psychology of perception), Existential philosophy, psychoanalysis and bodywork. It was launched in 1952 via a book ‘Gestalt Therapy – Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality’ by Perls, Hefferline and Goodman.
Gestalt Therapy is often associated with Fritz Perls although in reality it was developed by a group of people including his wife Laura. It also has a reputation influenced by groups that were run in the sixties. These days Gestalt which has been known for its two chair work, is relational rather than confrontational and exploration of communication and contact are important.
Gestalt is a practical psychotherapy, the therapist works with the client to become aware of themselves, how they are relating and feeling. Clients will be encouraged to notice their physical and emotional responses and to explore them. Often, slowing down and paying attention to what is happening, what a person is feeling and what is taking place between the client and therapist can lead to useful insights. Unfinished past experiences are seen to repeat themselves in patterns that are happening now which may be causing difficulty. Ultimately, working in this way can bring an increased self-awareness and liveliness.
Gestalt therapy does not involve lying on a couch and is practised both as an individual and group therapy. It is communicative, the therapist is not a blank screen and uses their own experience in the session to inform the therapy work. While different therapists have different styles all will be based on tracking experience in the here and now, including the relationship between client and therapist. Where appropriate exercises may be suggested, which aim to explore new ways of being and of venturing into areas that are difficult for someone to go to.
Gestalt is practised both as an individual and group therapy.
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