Principles of Gestalt
A brief overview
Gestalt is a creative, practical and integrated therapeutic approach which focuses on immediate thoughts, feelings and behavioural patterns. It focuses on experiences that happen in the here and now in order to better understand how a person (or group) relates to others and the world around them.
Gestalt is a German word which has no exact equivalent in English. The closest translations are ‘whole’, or ‘form’. As a central concept, Gestaltists believe that "the whole is different from the sum of the parts", and so Gestalt is a holistic process that views a person as the wholeness of mind, body, emotions and spirit who sees and responds to the world in a way unique to themselves.
The Gestalt approach focuses more on the process (what is happening) rather than the 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.
Gestalt therapy supports people to become more fully and creatively alive and to become free from the blocks and unfinished business that may diminish satisfaction, fulfilment, and growth, and to experiment with new ways of being.
Gestalt therapy builds contact with sensory, emotional and mental responses to life experiences through dialogue and compassionate holding. It has been shown to be effective in treating a wide range of issues such as anxiety, depression, stress, addiction, low self-esteem and relationship problems.
Whether as a long-term relationship or via a number of sessions, at times of personal difficulty, Gestalt therapy offers a safe, supportive space to explore difficult feelings, understand the underlying patterns in personal relationships and begin making practical changes.
Gestalt therapy can also be useful for helping people gain greater self-awareness and a greater ability to live in the present moment.
The three pillars of Gestalt therapy
The Phenomenological Perspective
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 residue from the past.
A goal of Gestalt phenomenological exploration is increased awareness, or insight - a clear understanding of the structure of the situation that is in the room. Awareness without systematic exploration does not usually lead to increased insight into a situation. Gestalt therapy uses focused awareness and experimentation to achieve insight.
The Field Theory Perspective
Field theory is a method of exploring that considers the whole 'field' of which the person or event is currently a part rather than analysing things as separate or isolated.
In Gestalt, 'field' refers to the totality of a personal situation. This incorporates environment, ancestry, social circles, internal and external worlds, and our ever-changing relationships between them. It is the context in which we live our lives.
In this view, a person is never independent or isolated - although sometimes it can feel this way - but lives in a dynamic, interconnected web with everything else. Events in the past may have led a person to creatively adapt and 'separate off' aspects of their life. Gestalt aims to support their healthy reintegration into the whole.
The relationship between therapist and client is the most important aspect of any psychotherapy. In Gestalt, the therapist does not attempt to manipulate an individual toward some therapeutic goal but rather seeks to engage in straightforward, warm, caring and accepting dialogue, free from judgement or directedness.
Gestaltists believe that people must be in charge of their own growth and self-support. True dialogue is experiencing another person as he or she really is. The Gestalt therapist says what he or she means and encourages mutuality in this. Gestalt dialogue embodies authenticity and responsibility.