Gestalt therapy is highly beneficial and takes a practical, integrative approach. Psychologists who use this form of therapy strive to help patients focus on their present-day thoughts, emotions, and behavior. This is designed to assist in providing an in-depth understanding of how the patient reacts to the world and people around them.
Gestalt therapy aims to raise awareness so that the client is better equipped to view problems from new perspectives, which can serve as a catalyst for change.
What Is Gestalt Therapy?
In therapy, “gestalt” simply means that the human experience is made up of multiple perceptions that are best interpreted together rather than in isolation.
Gestalt therapy explores how patients interpret the world around them based on subjective viewpoints.
First created by Fritz Perls and his wife, Laura Perls, Gestalt therapy was developed in the 1940s. Initially intended to be an alternative to mainstream psychotherapy methods, Gestalt therapy is now used by millions of people around the globe.
Fritz and Laura, along with many other skilled mental health practitioners, worked hand in hand to create a form of psychotherapy that was highly humanistic. This means that their main intention was to focus on the unique experiences and perceptions of each patient.
Gestalt therapy is not only humanistic but holistic and specific to individual experiences as opposed to textbook models. The style of counseling was revolutionary in that it didn’t delve into the past but rather focused on present life challenges.
One of the key approaches in Gestalt therapy is to help patients take responsibility instead of placing blame. This form of therapy has been found to be just as effective as other forms of therapy and can be applied successfully both in-person and online.
Core Principles of Gestalt Therapy
1. Past experiences impact present-day perceptions
Gestalt therapy adopts a patient-centered approach, in which the Gestalt therapist is aware that it is impossible for any person to be 100% objective. Instead, it is known that world views are formed based on prior experiences.
What’s more is that a trained Gestalt therapist understands the value of holding space for patients to share these world views without judgment. In light of the fact that psychologists are also human, Gestalt therapists must take extra care to keep their own viewpoints in check.
2. The relevance of circumstances
During a Gestalt therapy session, the psychologist strives to listen to and understand the experiences of the patient. Because experiences depend heavily on the circumstances surrounding any given event, Gestalt therapists try to help patients become more aware of context.
Responses to situations are formed from perceptions that may or may not be accurate. By becoming more aware of this, patients can process reality more logically. Instead of dredging up old experiences, Gestalt therapy is focused on current reactions.
3. Present-day focus
The key characteristic of Gestalt therapy is its present-day focus. During Gestalt therapy sessions, it is essential for the psychologist to build rapport and trust with their patient. This helps patients feel more comfortable sharing their experiences.
When the client is sharing, Gestalt therapists may guide the patient back towards the present moment – should they be too caught up in the past or future. This is often done by asking patients about their body language or facial expressions as they are processing a specific experience.
The main point of this is to help bring the patient back into the present moment, which serves to assist in the processing of the experience. Read on to learn in-depth about Gestalt therapy examples of techniques.
4. Feel it to heal it
Many times, the most natural response to trauma is to shut down or suppress painful memories of past events. This actually takes a lot of energy, whether consciously or subconsciously. In Gestalt therapy, the patient is provided with a space where they don’t have to shut down their memories.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that old memories will flood to the surface, but rather that if they do, the therapist is there to hold space for them. Gestalt therapists believe that hurtful memories will arise once the patient is ready for healing.
5. Increased awareness and healing
Gestalt therapy makes use of experiential exercises in order to raise awareness in the patient, which helps with the processing of emotions. The key principle of Gestalt therapy is awareness which has an incredibly healing effect.
There are many types of Gestalt therapy exercises, which you can read more about in the next section. These are designed to increase awareness and help patients open up, particularly in cases where a patient may be struggling to share thoughts or explain their visual memories.
Gestalt Therapy Techniques
Many other psychotherapy methods focus on the psychologist’s expertise in terms of recognizing distress and symptoms in a patient. The therapist offers advice about what the patient is experiencing and how they might heal.
When it comes to Gestalt therapy, however, the patient is simply given room to explore painful experiences in a safe environment free of judgment. The patient is guided to experience emotions from the past within the present moment so that they can be effectively processed.
The aim of Gestalt therapy is a collaboration between patient and therapist that is designed to increase awareness and challenge perceptions. There are a number of Gestalt therapy techniques designed to shift a person’s worldview, including:
Releasing emotions with art
Creative activities such as ceramics, drawing, painting, collage, or any other medium are sometimes used to assist patients in gaining awareness. These activities bring the patient into the present moment where their thoughts and emotions can be processed more effectively.
Feeling emotion in the body
During Gestalt therapy sessions, a psychologist may ask the patient where they are feeling an emotion in the body. Talking about emotions is different from feeling them physically, and asking questions about the physical sensation of feelings can help to process them.
Taking ownership with language
The language and tone patients use without consciously thinking about it can be very revealing. For example, a patient might say, “If she had treated me with more respect, I wouldn’t have lost my temper!”
While this statement might be true, it lacks ownership. In Gestalt therapy, patients are encouraged to use “I” statements to get their point across. For example, the same patient could rather say, “I lost my temper when she disrespected me because it made me feel worthless, and I dislike that.”
Gestalt therapy sometimes involves the use of an empty chair as a prop. Patients are encouraged to imagine either a part of themselves or another person sitting in the chair. They are then guided to converse with the aspect of self or the person in question. This often results in bringing hidden perceptions and thoughts to the surface for processing and healing.
Another role-playing technique used in Gestalt therapy is the top dog versus underdog method. Like the empty chair technique, the patient converses with different parts of themselves – more specifically, the demanding and submissive parts of themselves. The main point of both methods is to increase self-awareness and resolve inner conflict.
Exploring body language
Gestalt therapists pay close attention to the body language of patients and may even ask them to give their tapping leg a voice. In a similar way to role-play, the patient would be asked to speak as if they were a specific part of themselves.
Mentioning body language also serves to draw patients back into the present moment. Sometimes Gestalt therapists encourage the patient to exaggerate certain body language. This is in order to process emotions and separate emotional experiences from physical ones.
Pros and Cons of Gestalt Therapy
It is always wise to remember that any form of therapy is better than no therapy, particularly if you are dealing with a mental illness. Remember that you can experience Gestalt therapy online and also in person.
However, when it comes to online therapy, there are several more advantages than face-to-face sessions. One of the main benefits is that you will be able to afford daily sessions, and you can attend these anonymously from the comfort of your own home.
When it comes to Gestalt therapy, there are more pros than cons, and the method has been found highly effective. In fact, the only real downside to Gestalt therapy is the fact that it might be more time-consuming than other methods of therapy. This is because the techniques involve greater trust between patient and therapy, which can take some time to formulate.
That being said, pros include:
- An increased sense of self-regulation
- Improved ability to regulate and monitor thoughts and emotions
- Increased awareness of emotional needs
- Better emotional understanding
- Increased levels of mindfulness
- Better communication skills
- Improved tolerance for unpleasant emotions
Gestalt therapy has been scientifically proven to be effective, and this form of counseling is used by millions of people around the globe. The main goal of Gestalt therapy is to process painful emotions in the present moment, and there are a number of different techniques used to do so. These include art, role-play, use of language, and locating emotions in the body.
It is possible to benefit from Gestalt therapy either in-person or in the form of online therapy. If you or a loved one are looking to make a change and begin online counseling, we are here to help. Don’t wait for your feelings to pass – reach out today.