Gestalt Therapy

A powerful experiential psychotherapy focusing on contact and awareness in the here and now. Gestalt Therapy provides a system of concepts describing the structure and organization of living in terms of aware relations. In gestalt psychology terms, this means the application of the phenomenological method: looking at ‘what is’, not at some abstract theoretical explanation. The crucial therapeutic tool used by Perls in his reworking of gestalt theory is just this ability of the person to contact his on-going presentness.

Gestalt Therapy is based on the fact: that psychosis also occurs in connection with organic brain disturbances as the reduced function of this important organ means an impasse situation for the individual that psychosis also develops in healthy persons who are subjected to severe deprivation (thirst, prison etc.).

Gestalt therapists believe their approach is uniquely capable of responding to the difficulties and challenges of living, both in its ability to relieve us of some measure of our misery and by showing the way to some of the best we can achieve. These academic gestalt theoreticians made available contributions to perception and cognitive psychology, but they neglected the wider realms of personality, psychopathology, psychotherapy (except for some of the social-psychological work of field theorist Kurt Lewin).

THEORY: The theory of Gestalt therapy has three major sources. First is psychoanalysis, which contributed some of its major principles concerned with the inner life. Humanistic, holistic, phenomenological and existential writings, which center on personal experience and everyday life, constitute a second source. Gestalt psychology, the third source, gave to Gestalt therapy much more than its name. Though Gestalt therapy is not directly an application or extension of it, Gestalt psychology’s thoroughgoing concentration on interaction and process, many of its important experimental observations and conclusions, and its insistence that a psychology about humans include human experience have inspired and informed Gestalt therapy.

Gestalt therapy was founded in the socio-cultural context of humanistic psychotherapies. It was Friedrich (Fritz) Perls (1893-1970), whose intuition gave rise to this form of therapy together with his wife, Laura (Lore) Perls (1905-1990), née Posner. They were both German Jews, trained in psychoanalysis and Gestalt psychology. Together they fled from National Socialism in 1933, first to Amsterdam, then to South Africa and subsequently to the United States, where their theoretical and practical insights were further developed by a group of American intellectuals with a deep knowledge of psychoanalysis. Of these the most outstanding were Paul Goodman, Isadore From, Paul Weisz, Lotte Weisz, Elliot Shapiro, Alison Montague and Sylvester Eastman. The theoretical foundation of this new school of psychotherapy, which originally was named “concentration therapy”, had emerged originally as a revision of drive theory. Fritz and Laura Perls’ new approach, stimulated by Paul Goodman’s (1911-1972) social philosophy in New York, developed further as Gestalt Therapy.

What is special about gestalt therapy is its stress on the structure of the experimental moment. By here and now we mean concrete actuality, how the person contacts his existence at this very instant – his awareness, posture, breathing, tone of voice, gestures, facial expressions, etc.. Although many therapists talk about treating the whole person, in actuality they seemed to be concerned primarily with verbal material, or in some cases biographical data or psychodiagnostic classification of test protocols. In gestalt therapy, the face to face encounter fosters this working with the whole person. Focusing on the ‘gestalt’ – how the person forms his figures and grounds. And helping him become more aware of it.

Benefits/Contraindications

See professional for information.

Training/Licensing

See Gestalt Therapy website.