What is Gestalt therapy?
- Gestalt therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach developed by Frederick S. Perls and his wife Laura Perls in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Perls who was better known as “Fritz”, and Laura, originally Freudian analysts, were influenced by the principles of Gestalt psychology and existential philosophy and drew from sources in medicine and psychiatry. Gestalt became part of the humanistic approach to psychotherapy, and was groundbreaking in shifting the focus from the analyst as observer to the inclusion of self by the therapist, expressed in a dialogic relationship between therapist and client.
Gestalt Therapy, in its purest application, addresses what is happening in the moment in relationship between the therapist and client. Therapists are trained in the safe and effective use of self to be able to co-create with the client in a way that is always fresh and new. The Gestalt approach brings into the client’s awareness, in the present, the more obvious discrepancy between the individual’s presentation or responses and their current life situation.
The Gestalt therapist does not work at changing behaviours or symptoms that are deemed undesirable but rather these are essential elements in the therapy process, both in individual and in group therapy. How the individual resists contact in the here and now, or how change is resisted, is the resource from which the therapist draws interventions that are original, efficient and effective. The cure for the past is in the present encounter; when we are dwelling on the past or fantasizing about the future we are not living fully.
Once we are fully present in the here and now, we are able to take responsibility for our responses and actions with more excitement, energy and courage to live life directly. Although Gestalt does not directly address the concept of spirituality, what emerges out of the therapy is increased compassion, humility and respect. The “whole” (the Gestalt) of one’s existence includes in any given moment the impact and exchange of impact with all others in one’s surroundings. There are “no innocent bystanders” in Gestalt. Responsibility is a natural price of existence rather than a perceived social burden.
Since its inception in the 1950’s Gestalt has matured and developed a broader range of effectiveness and cooperation with other therapy professionals and systems. It has become more accountable to clinical knowledge, issues of diversity and the need for quality research. Today’s Gestalt therapy has contributed methods and approaches to most treatment modalities. Our students and graduates bring their skills into a broad range of applications from private practice to working in clinical settings.