Gestalt Therapy is a complete, complex, and highly developed approach to human psychological functioning. A German word, “Gestalt,” points to a main theme of the therapy. It describes the unified nature of a pattern of elements and, in Gestalt therapy practice, refers to our tendency to see and act in unified wholes, instead of parts. In Gestalt Therapy, the whole and the integrity of the whole are crucially important.
A core Gestalt concept is that we are born whole and full of possibilities and that we create adjustments as a way to cope with adversity. Gestalt Therapy seeks to resolve these “creative adjustments,” which have become rigid and often out of awareness, in order to enhance people’s creativity, liveliness, and presence in the world.
It is useful to conceptualise Gestalt Therapy as a wheel, with each of the spokes, or concepts, having the same importance and contributing to the overall function. Gestalt Therapy works through the interconnection of concepts. Here are a few that are key:
- Present-centered awareness. Gestalt Therapy focuses on the present. Living now is more central than dwelling in the past — or imagining a future divorced from the present. Described by noted Gestalt practitioner and scholar Isadore From as the “therapy of the obvious,” the process starts from the surface and follows a person’s experience – not seeking out the unconscious, but staying with what is present and aware. Awareness is seen as curative and growth producing.
- Profound respect. Gestalt Therapy approaches the client — whether an individual, a couple, a family, or an institution — in a deeply respectful manner. This greatly influences the therapist’s attitude toward resistance and change. Gestalt Therapy acknowledges that there is always some element of health in how a client seeks to stay the same – or even continue to engage in destructive behaviours – and that the process of growth can actually be speeded by acknowledging the resistance. Therapy becomes a balance between support and challenge.
- Emphasis on experience. A person’s experience is more than just ideas and memories, though they are certainly important. Experience also includes emotions, perceptions, behaviour, and body sensation. Therapy aims to support experiencing in all of these ways, vividly in the present.
- Creative experiment and discovery. Gestalt Therapy’s experimental methodology requires that therapists constantly “test” their hunches against the client’s experience and modify these ideas accordingly. The therapist is disciplined to be highly creative and flexible, while concentrating on the client’s process. The collaborative efforts of the client and therapist often produce a fascinating process of discovery.
- Social responsibility. Gestalt Therapy acknowledges responsibility for self and for others and its principles extend into the broader social realm. In demanding respect for all people and a high regard for the differences among them, it supports a humanistic, egalitarian approach to social life and encourages people to live these principles in the community at large.
Relationship. Relating is central to human experience and survival, and relationally is the central healing mechanism in Gestalt Therapy. One becomes fully alive when one is in congruent relation to oneself and achieves good relationship with others. Presence, dialogue, and visibility of the therapist characterise the therapeutic relationship in Gestalt Therapy.