What Is Gestalt Therapy?

Gestalt therapy is a form of psychoanalysis.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 28 July 2014
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Gestalt therapy is a form of psychoanalysis originally developed by Laura and Fritz Perls, and Paul Goodman in the 1940s. It has changed in some ways since then, but basically, it is reactionary against the typical Freudian analysis of patients, where patients are interpreted by therapists and shown which issues they have. Instead, Gestalt therapy posits that patients must arrive at conclusions and awareness about themselves. This aspect of this therapy is frequently practiced today.

One of the keystones of Gestalt therapy is the idea of how a person’s contact with others is interrupted through a variety of behaviors. Full contact, and thus knowing and loving others (in a sexual, parental or companion way), cannot be achieved until a person recognizes the way in which he or she has set up barriers to such contact.

Some of the ways in which this type of therapy helps the patient to evaluate interrupted or faulty contact is by evaluation of the sum of a patient’s communicative abilities. Evaluating the whole presentation, not simply what a patient says, but how they act, how they speak, words they choose, and body language can help the patient discover barriers to complete contact.

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Thus, part of the way Gestalt therapy works is through interactive observation; for example, the therapist might address the patient's body language when the patient speaks. For example, a Gestalt therapist might ask, “Why do you keep wagging your foot when you speak of your husband? What does that mean?” A Gestalt therapist would keep track of this sort of nonverbal communication as a way of looking at the whole person, not merely the subject the person discusses.

Another feature of this practice is the concept of mindfulness. Being mindful of more aspects of communication and interaction may help in the pursuit of contacts and understand when contacts fail. Through the therapist's comments and observation, the patient is hopefully led to enlightenment. This is often called the “Aha!” or “Gestalt” experience. In fact, people often use the term Gestalt to refer to a particular moment of insight.

These Gestalts are crucial to becoming more mindful and discovering the path to overcoming problems or symptoms of mental disturbance. This type of mindfulness is also employed in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as well, though it lacks the interactive observational qualities for which Gestalt therapy is known.

Gestalt therapy has fallen out of favor. There are still a few Gestalt practitioners, but mainly newer forms of therapy developed in the 1980s and onward have become more predominant and more popular. However, the process of the patient discovering paths through gradual self-awareness is key to many modern therapeutic techniques.

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Discuss this Article

anon269957
Post 8

What are the major barriers between therapist and the client in a multi-cultural therapeutic situation?

Bryanr12
Post 7

Gestalt therapy is a psychotherapy, wherein patients are taught to become more aware about various aspects of their mind and body like feeling, perceiving, doing, etc.

anon184417
Post 5

This is all nuts! and in the end, the patient is 'hopefully' led to enlightenment, just 'hopefully'. Bull. You better read the works of Anthony Robbins and/or work with his programs that do work. Try it. I know it works, and the best is that you do it without some well intentioned 'professional' telling you, who you are and where your problems lie. Don't let anyone define you, but yourself.

Qohe1et
Post 4

If someone eliminates barriers to sexual contact, that seems to be not much different than sex therapy. I don't think it is the job of psychiatrists to make people try to be more sexy. This might have negative effects in the long run, such as an inclination toward promiscuity and sex addiction.

Proxy414
Post 3

@hangugeo112

There is a limit to how far psychology can delve into the non-apparent modes of communication. Even Freud and Jung did not fully understand the libido, and their works were foundational but still fairly simple. Today we have recognized the importance of dealing with the immediate barriers first. Gestalt Therapy's aim is to do this effectively.

hangugeo112
Post 2

This seems like a very pragmatic and outward approach to psychoanalysis. What about the inner libido? Should psychology dismiss the inner urges which can actually be hidden behind non-linguistic communication? I feel like eliminating barriers is just a first step toward a healthy mind.

anon98352
Post 1

Contemporary gestalt therapy is not about confrontation in the way that Fritz Perls practiced. These days, Gestalt draws on intersubective and relational approaches which are focused on exploring the here and now - what is being created together between therapist and client/patient. (See for example the writings of Lynne Jacobs and Gary Yontef.) Through these explorations, clients come to a deeper self awareness regarding long term core relational themes which have history in our earlier attachment relationships.

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