In Gestalt Therapy the power and responsibility for the present are in the hands of the client.
The Gestalt therapist works by engaging in dialogue rather than by manipulating the patient toward some therapeutic goal.
There are many aspects to Gestalt therapy. The outline below covers the most practical aspects.
What is 'Gestalt'
'Gestalt' is a German word. It cannot be translated into English as a single expression without losing some of its original meaning. 'Gestalt' can best be described as the projection of a whole concept (e.g. an idea) into reality where it takes hold and realises itself - becomes a meaningful event (a phenomenon.
About Gestalt Therapy
Gestalt therapy was founded by Frederick (Fritz) and Laura Perls in the 1940s; or as Fritz Perls used to say 'rediscovered'. It teaches therapists and clients a phenomenological method of awareness, in which perceiving, feeling, and acting are distinguished from interpreting and reshuffling pre-existing attitudes.
Explanations and interpretations of situations are considered less reliable than what is directly perceived and felt at the time of talking. Patients and therapists in Gestalt therapy dialogue communicate their perspectives. The differences in perspectives become the focus of ad-hoc experimentation and continued dialogue. The goal is for clients to become self-aware of what they are doing, how they are doing it, and how they can change themselves at the same time by learning to accept and value themselves.
Gestalt therapy focuses more on process (what is happening) than content (what is being discussed). The emphasis is on what is being done, thought and felt at the moment rather than on what was, might be, could be, or should be.
The practice of most therapy systems encourages intellectualisation, talking about the irrationality of client beliefs, about the behavior changes the therapist believes that the client should make, etc. Gestalt therapy utilises active techniques that clarify an experience. Gestalt therapists will often experiment by trying something new in the therapy hour. Unlike most other therapies, in Gestalt therapy the process of discovery through experimentation is the end point rather than the feeling or idea or content.
The power and responsibility for the present are in the hands of the client. This viewpoint enables clients to be more responsible for their own existence, including their therapy.
In Gestalt therapy there are no "shoulds." Instead of emphasising what should be, Gestalt therapy stresses awareness of what is. What is, is. This contrasts with any therapist who "knows" what the patient "should" do.
Phenomenology is a discipline that helps people stand aside from their usual way of thinking so that they can tell the difference between what is actually being perceived and felt in the current situation and what is brought in from the past .
Gestalt therapy treats what is "subjectively" felt in the present, as well as what is "objectively" observed, as real and important data.
The goal of Gestalt phenomenological exploration is awareness, or insight. In Gestalt therapy insight is clear understanding of the structure of the personal situation being studied.
Gestalt therapy uses focused awareness and experimentation to achieve insight. How one becomes aware is crucial to any investigation into phenomenona. The phenomenologist studies not only personal awareness but also the awareness process itself. The client learns how to become aware of awareness.
The Field Theory
The scientific world view that underlies the Gestalt perspective is the 'field theory'. Field theory is a method of exploring which describes the whole field of which an event is currently a part rather than analyzing the event in terms of a class to which it belongs by its "nature" or a unilinear, historical, cause-effect sequence.
In other words: instead of looking at how you suffered bereavement, the entire context in which the bereavement occcurred would be considered.
The individual in his or her life space constitutes a field.
The field is a whole in which its parts are in immediate relationship and responsive to each other. No part is uninfluenced by what goes on elsewhere in the field - all things are interdependant. In field theory no action is at a distance; basically what has effect must touch that which is affected in time and space.
Imagine a pond in which you throw a stone, then a second stone. The ripples from both create new patterns and effects as they affect one another. Now throw in a third stone, etc.
Gestalt therapists work in the here and now and are sensitive to how the here and now includes residues of the past, such as body posture, habits, and beliefs.
The phenomenological field is defined by the observer (i.e. the therapist or the client) and is meaningful only when one knows the frame of reference of the observer. The observer is necessary because what one sees is somewhat a function of how and when one looks.
Dialogue is an essential part of Gestalt therapy's methodology and is a manifestation of the relationship between therapist and client and the perspective they establish.
All relationships grows out of contact. All contact is communication. Through communication people grow and form identities. Contact is the experience of boundary between what constitutes "me" and "not-me." Communication is the (successful/unsuccessful) attempt to bridge the boundary. It is the experience of interacting with the not-me while maintaining a self-identity separate from the not-me.
Gestalt therapy helps clients develop their own support for desired contact or withdrawal. Support refers to anything that makes contact or withdrawal possible: energy, body support, breathing, information, concern for others, language, and so forth. Support mobilizes resources for contact or withdrawal. For example, to support the excitement accompanying contact, a person must take in enough oxygen.
The Gestalt therapist works by engaging in dialogue rather than by manipulating the patient toward some therapeutic goal. Such contact is marked by straightforward caring, warmth, acceptance and self-responsibility. When therapists move patients toward some goal, the patients cannot be in charge of their own growth and self-support.
Dialogue is based on experiencing the other person as he or she really comes across and showing the true self, sharing awareness (a phenomenon). The Gestalt therapist says what he or she means and encourages the patient to do the same. Gestalt dialogue embodies authenticity and responsibility.
4 characteristics of Gestalt Dialogue
The therapeutic relationship in Gestalt therapy emphasises four dialogue characteristics:
1. Inclusion. Putting oneself as fully as possible into the experience of the other without judging, analysing or interpreting while simultaneously retaining a sense of one's separate, autonomous presence. Inclusion provides an environment of safety for the client's work and, by communicating an understanding of the client's experience, helps sharpen self-awareness.
2. Presence. The Gestalt therapist expresses him/herself to the patient. The teharpist expresses observations, preferences, feelings, personal experience and thoughts duringthe dialogue: regularly, judiciously, and with discrimination. In that way the therapist shares perspective, which aids the client's learning about trust and use of immediate personal experience to raise awareness. In Gestalt therapy the therapist does not use personal presence to manipulate the client to conform to pre-established goals, but rather encourages clients to regulate autonomously.
3. Commitment to dialogue. Contact is more than something two people do with and to each other. Contact is something that happens between people, something that arises on a basis of trust from the interaction between them. It is governed by the wish to communicate 'what I am about' to the other, in the hope that it is received and understood as intended. The Gestalt therapist surrenders to this interpersonal process. This is allowing contact to happen rather than manipulating, making contact, and controlling the outcome.
4. Dialogue is lived. Dialogue is something done rather than talked about. "Lived" emphasizes the excitement and immediacy of doing and experiencing. The mode of dialogue can be dancing, song, words, or any modality that expresses and moves the energy between or among the participants. An important contribution of Gestalt therapy is enlarging therapy parameters to include the experience by nonverbal expressions. However, the interaction is limited by ethics, appropriateness, therapeutic task, and so on.
This exposé is based on an article by Gary Yontef PhD.
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