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The Gestalt Approach
Gestalt therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach developed by Frederick S. Perls and his wife Laura Perls in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Perls, better known as “Fritz”, and Laura, both originally Freudian analysts, were influenced by the principles of Gestalt psychology and existential philosophy, and drew from sources in body focused approaches, science 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.
Most of us have grown up believing that if we could only improve ourselves we could function better in the world, find a place for ourselves and have healthy relationships. In the words of Gestalt therapist and author Gordon Wheeler we have become “armies of one.” Gestalt therapy training restores the forgotten knowing that we have never been separate from our families, our communities, our peers, our enemies, our planet but rather have given up essential parts of our selves in order to belong.
We were not taught how to belong without losing our selves, nor were we taught that relating through our differences is our strongest opportunity to expand our sense of self. This ability to keep on growing is why Gestalt therapists have such satisfaction from their work – every client reveals a new aspect of self. The same is true in all our relationships. This is why Gestalt has also been called a way of living.
The Gestalt therapist works in relation to their client to deconstruct the “army of one” syndrome by making the therapy session a live laboratory for exploring new ways of being in the world. These are some of the principles of Gestalt therapy as taught at The Gestalt Institute of Toronto:
The Gestalt therapist is more interested in meeting the client than in moving the client.
- The Gestalt therapist does not work to change behaviors or symptoms that are deemed undesirable. The therapist accepts these as creative adjustments in the field for every individual that enabled them to survive in an otherwise impossible context.
Therefore any expected change in behavior or experience depends upon a dynamic change in the pattern of supports in the whole field.
- The therapist works in the space between self and client – this dynamic of the contact boundary can be felt.
- The therapist is trained in Dialog: the intention to listen with the idea of learning something from the other.
- Gestalt therapy puts us at our experiential vulnerable edge. To meet the unknown is possible in every intimate connection.
- Gestalt works from the ground up and teaches the language of the Body.
- The heart of Contemporary Gestalt is the safe and effective use of oneself in which both therapist and client grow through the encounter.
Contemporary Gestalt is accountable to clinical knowledge, issues of trauma, multiculturalism and diversity and the growing field of quality research without sacrificing its awareness that “people are not nouns” and diagnosis is of “the space between.” In the new regulated environment, the Gestalt Institute of Toronto has worked together with other therapy professionals and systems in Ontario to forge a stronger public awareness of the power of psychotherapy within the broadest range of health care.
The Gestalt Institute of Toronto’s Training Program continues to be committed to experiential and experimental learning within group process, an approach that has been our trademark since 1973. Real change is possible in a diverse group coming together to support each other and the process. We are committed to shared agreements to speak the language of responsibility, to the principle that self acceptance leads to greater acceptance of the other, to a willingness to make mistakes in the presence of others and to awareness of how we are each an implicit part of everything that occurs in our shared reality and therefore any change in pattern of one person affects the entire group.