Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt therapy is a phenomenological-existential therapy founded by Frederick (Fritz) and Laura Perls in the 1940s. It teaches therapists and patients the phenomenological method of awareness, in which perceiving, feeling, and acting are distinguished from interpreting and reshuffling preexisting attitudes. Explanations and interpretations are considered less reliable than what is directly perceived and felt. Patients and therapists in Gestalt therapy dialogue, that is, communicate their phenomenological perspectives. Differences in perspectives become the focus of experimentation and continued dialogue.

The goal is for clients to become aware of what they are doing, how they are doing it, and how they can change themselves, and at the same time, to learn to accept and value themselv

A core concept in Gestalt therapy is the unifying idea of "contact". Contact is where one person meets another person, or meets the outside world. Thus, there can be physical contact, but mostly what is meant by the term is metaphoric. If contact is not interfered with by what Perls-Goodman called disturbances of the contact boundary, the individual can grow, through assimilation of new experiences.

In therapy, the patient/client is encouraged to experience his or her own feelings and behaviours in the here and now, and attention is brought to bear on the way contact is interrupted. The way in which he or she interrupts contact with the present environment is considered to be a significant factor in creating and maintaining dysfunctional patterns of behavior. Some of the contact interuptions occur through projection (seeing outside one's self what belongs to one's self), introjection (swallowing whole instead of assimilating, chewing, digesting); retroflection (directing impulses towards the self that rightly would be directed to the other, as in anger directed toward self causing depression or psychosomatic symptoms); confluence (making the self-other boundary go away and merging with the other).

A disturbance introduced by Miriam and Erv Polster is "deflection," referring to a means of avoiding contact by jumping around from one thing to another and never staying in the same place for very long. All of these disturbances have a pathological and a non-pathological aspect. It is appropriate for the infant and mother to become confluent, for example, or two lovers, but inappropriate for client and therapist. When the latter pair becomes confluent, there can be no growth because there is no boundary at which the one can contact the other; the client will not be able to learn anything new because the therapist is simply an extension of the client, so to speak.

Although Gestalt Therapy reached its zenith in the late 1970's and early 1980's and has since waned in popularity, its contributions have become assimilated into current schools of therapy, sometimes in unlikely places. For example, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) shares much from Gestalt Therapy yet is considered to be a cognitive behavioral approach. Also, mindfulness is a buzzword as of 2006, yet much of mindfulness work is connected to Gestalt Therapy's emphasis on the flow of experience and awareness. You won't see too much emphasis on Gestalt Therapy in clinical psychology programs in the US, however there are Gestalt institutes all over the world, including Asia and the South Pacific. Dan Rosenblatt led Gestalt training groups in Japan for 7 years and Stewart Kiritz followed with public workshops and training workshops from 1997 through 2005. Gestalt Therapy is a very useful process for therapists-in-training of any persuasion because of its focus on the person of the therapist, barriers to full contact with others, self-awareness. And graduate students still seem to seek it out, even though it is not as recognized by the establishment as it once was.


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