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Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt therapy is a form of psychotherapy that relates to the process of human perception and works on a basic concept of the Gestalt approach «The whole is different from the sum of its parts.» This approach in Gestalt psychotherapy describes the process of perception in addition to the psychic equipment in general.

The Gestalt approach originated from research that was initiated by psychologists specializing in human perception which demonstrated that humans do not recognize objects as separate elements and instead organize the objects into significant totalities via the process of perception. The concept of Gestalt psychotherapy was then formally developed by Fritz Perls during the 1950s, a well known psychiatrist and psychotherapist that initiated an entirely new approach to psychotherapy. The name «Gestalt» means «form» and is derived from Hans-Jurgen Walter's «Gestalt Theory Psychotherapy» which is based on Gestalt psychology.

Gestalt psychology relates to the interconnection of the individual and the increase in awareness where the individual's senses and behaviors merge together. Gestalt therapy was created to help individuals with problem solving. Fritz Perls noticed that the concept of individualism was a positive one but there was also a reverse side to this theory. The people who were looking for the answer to their hopes and dreams looked to Gestalt therapy as the answer which eventually became a weak point in the methodology. He added that for a person to reach their full potential they must build relationships and collaborate with others to reach a common goal and so he created Gestalt psychotherapy.

An example that relates to Gestalt psychotherapy is when you look at an object that has a geometric shape. Human perception views it as a single object as opposed to four lines and four angles which are perceived as the whole in which the final outcome differs from the sum of all the parts. Consequently, this means that the properties of a system must be analyzed in its entirety rather than being described solely on its components.

When Gestalt psychotherapy is applied to human beings it creates a vision of each individual as a whole being that is much greater than the parts that make up the individual. The parts include the individual's body, mind, thoughts, imagination, and movement that are viewed as the entire human being. When looked at from this point of view, you cannot treat one aspect of the individual as the cause of a problem because this means that you would be creating a synthetic fragment of something that in reality, works as a whole.

Gestalt psychotherapy is specifically focused on the process of homeostasis which refers to the individual's ability to control their internal environment to ensure stability when responding to changes in the external environment. The process of homeostasis oversees the basic functions of life while maintaining the internal equilibrium to ensure the health of the individual and their ability to function in varying conditions.

The consequence of the process of homeostasis is coherent and sufficient behavior that is focused on the satisfaction of multiple needs. The individual must cope with various needs which are often exhibited simultaneously which mean under normal circumstances the individual is required to prioritize the needs into a hierarchy which addresses the most urgent need while temporarily transporting other needs to the background.

The advantage of Gestalt psychotherapy is it views the functioning of the individual as a reflection of the background dynamic. If the process of homeostasis fails as the result of the individual being unable to identify their most important needs due to lack of sufficient contact with the environment the Gestalt remains unfinished. As a result of this incompleteness, the Gestalt will interrupt the flow of exchange between the individual and the environment. This creates inflexibility in the way the individual interacts with the environment. This is the key element that exemplifies the difference between a healthy well-adjusted individual from one that is in conflict with their environment.

According to this theory, one of the primary objectives of Gestalt therapy is the ability to restore the self-awareness which is lost when a psychological disorder becomes evident. This is accomplished by restoring the individual's ability to differentiate, which helps the individual to identify what is and what is not a true part of the self, what provides the individual with a sense of self-realization and achievement and what leads to frustration. The person is guided towards a sense of integration, in the search for an appropriate balance in terms of the limit between the self and the rest of the world.

The process of awareness is one of the primary methods used in this approach which focuses on extending the individual's knowledge of self and their understanding of the external environment in every aspect. When this method is applied during Gestalt therapy, awareness is created by the implementation of five principle questions:

  1. What do you do?
  2. What do you feel?
  3. What do you want?
  4. What do you avoid?
  5. What do you expect?

During Gestalt therapy the individual's awareness starts with multiple levels of examination which begins at the surface and then works through layers to reach the emotions and eventually the cognitive and unstable processes. This is accomplished through the five principle questions as well as non-verbal responses or body language of the individual.

Client and therapist

Gestalt therapy assists patients to build up their support for preferred contact or withdrawal (L. Perls, 1976, 1978). Support means anything making contact or withdrawal achievable, such as energy, support of body, breathing, data, interest in others, language, and et cetera. Support activates means for either contact or withdrawal. For instance, to support the enthusiasm coming with contact, one should have sufficient oxygen.

The Gestalt therapist is occupied with involving the client into dialogue rather than by means of manipulation aimed to reach certain therapeutic goal. The signs of this contact are simple caring, warm attitude, approval and self-responsibility. As therapists lead patients to certain aim, the clients cannot be responsible for their development and self-support. Dialogue is founded on experiencing the individual to make him reveal the real self and share this way phenomenological awareness. The Gestalt therapist explains what the person means and persuades the client to act the same way. Gestalt dialogue is based on genuineness and responsibility.

In Gestalt therapy the therapeutic relationship accentuates 4 attributes of dialogue:

1. Inclusion. This is immersion into the experience of the person without judgment, analysis or interpretation while maintaining a sense of one's detached, independent presence at the same time. The phenomenological trust in direct experience is revealed here through interpersonal and existential application. Inclusion grants an environment of protection for the client's phenomenological work and, in the course of communication the understanding of the client's experience, contributes to sharpening of the client's the self-awareness.

2. Presence. The Gestalt therapist opens herself to the patient. Remarks, fondness, feelings, private experience and opinions are expressed on a regular basis, sensibly, and with discrimination. The therapist shares with the client her perspective. This way the therapist forms phenomenological reporting, which contributes to client's learning of trust and application of immediate experience to increase awareness. If the therapist counts on interpretation which is derived from theory more than relying on personal presence, she makes the patient trust the phenomena not thanks to his own direct experience as the instrument for increasing awareness. The therapist does not utilize presence in Gestalt therapy to influence the patient by means of manipulation to comply with the goals set before, but rather induces clients to control themselves on their own.

3. Commitment to dialogue. Contact means something deeper than just something two persons do to each other. Contact is a process, which takes place between people. Contact arises from the communication between them. The Gestalt therapist is involved in this interpersonal procedure. This is closer to letting contact occur than making contact, manipulating, and calculating the effect.

4. Dialogue is lived. Dialogue is closer to action rather than words. "Lived" stresses the enthusiasm and closeness of doing. The dialogue can have various modes, such as dancing, words, songs, or any method expressing and moving the energy between the parties. A significant input of Gestalt theory to phenomenological experimentation is expanding the parameters in order to embrace explanation of experience in nonverbal way. On the other hand, the interaction is restricted by such aspects as ethics, correctness, therapeutic assignment, and et cetera.