Gestalt Therapy and Approaches: A Brief Review

In this brief review of Gestalt Therapy the topics discussed are, essential concepts, the therapeutic process, the techniques, the uses of the therapy, and some critiques.  Firstly it’s important to understand, Gestalt Therapy is rooted in the belief that people have problems, because they are lacking and in need of wholeness, integration, and balance.  Gestalt therapists believe this may happen because of the individual’s unawareness of their own feelings, bodies, and other people. 

Gestalt Therapy and its origins

Frederick Perls is the most identified person of Gestalt Therapy.  He incorporated ideas and theories from German Gestalt psychologists as well as contributed his own beliefs and ideas of the human experience to develop this theory.

            Some of the essential concepts include: (a) awareness, (b) polarities, (c) contact, (d) boundaries and support, (e) and interference in health tendencies.  Awareness is the key to positive change and growth in an individual’s life.  Clarkson and Machewn, 1993, say awareness is; “The capacity to be in touch with your own existence, to notice what is happening around or inside you. To connect with the environment, other people and yourself and to know what you are feeling, sensing or thinking. How you are reacting at this very moment” (Day, 2007). 

What are the polarities & contacts identified in Gestalt Therapy?

Polarities are the inner conflict all individuals face throughout life.  In other words, Polarities are two extremes on the spectrum. A great example would be: funny vs. serious, Asian vs. Mexican, or independent vs. dependent.   Polarities can also be outward as well with the key concept being that both sides need to be integrated into itself.  Gestalt therapists believe that ideally, everyone is centered, and that one will know which side to give attention to, achieving a balance between the two sides.

Contact on the other hand is an awareness of what is happening in the here and now and going with the flow of things.  The boundaries are the lines between individuals, either connecting people or separating them. Support comes from the individual, from within, the environment, and other people.  “In Gestalt Therapy the term anxiety occurs when we feel that we do not or will not have the support we need. Perls notes that anxiety comes especially from preoccupation with future events that we fear we can’t handle” (Day, 2007). 

The four types of interference and how do they relate to Gestalt Therapy?

Lastly, interference with health tendencies is broken down into four types.  These four types are shoulds (tactics of neurotic self regulations), contact boundary disturbances (failure to make contact with self and others), interruptions (automatic self regulating actions), and lastly intrusion of unfinished business (unresolved emotions and issues from the past that affect the present), (Day, 2007). 

Through the therapeutic process the goal is for clients to realize that they, the individual, actually has all the inner support they need within themselves.  Gestalt therapists also believe that the therapist should act bored, irritated, or impatient with the client to purposely frustrate them if needed.  Polster (another Gestalt expert) in regards to the client counselor relationship stated, “ It is enough for the therapist in this extraordinary context to exercise ordinary kindness, simplicity, clear-mindedness, good language, recognition of implication, and enduring fascination.  With an optimal exercise of these qualities by the therapist, the patient’s connection with the therapist develops considerable magnitude.  The relationship is then in a position to compete for influence with the patients life long adherence to anachronistic selves,” (Day, 2007). 

Polster's three stages of change that must occur

Now moving to Polster’s view of Gestalt Therapy, he believes there are three stages of change that must occur for individuals to move forward. They happen to be discovery, accommodation, and assimilation.  Perls explains this therapeutic relationship in the analogy of “peeling off an onion’s layers”.  The onion layers going from outward in are, the phony layer, the phobic layer the impasse layer, the implosive layer and the explosive layer.  All these layers and stages of the therapeutic process will effectively work through many different techniques. You can see how these 3 changes of change overlap into Perl’s 4 layers of change. 

Some of the techniques associated with Gestalt Therapy include: (Body Awareness, (b) Experimentation, (c) Role Playing, (d) The Empty Chair Technique, (e) Dream work, (f) Psychodrama, (g) Group Work, (h) and Language Modification, (Day, 2007).  These techniques are modified for the individual through the many uses of Gestalt Therapy.  These techniques have most often worked with people who are overly socialized and who are usually considered rigid.  Aside from these two identified personality types, the therapy can be used very universally with many types of people. In closing, there are just so many uses for gestalt therapy as it’s approach can be very universal. 

How Gestalt Therapy goes from Theory to Practice

Some of the primary uses of Gestalt Therapy include: (a) gendered lives, (b) couples and families, (c) traumatized clients, (d) and psychosomatic complaints, (Day, 2007).  Because of this broad variety of application, there are some critiques that professionals have made.  One main critique is that Gestalt Therapy is cultural and individually limited.  An example being, the therapy tends to only accommodate White American males. This would be leaving the rest of the world’s population on the outskirts from this technique. In addition to, the therapy has been accused of being anti-intellectual, further ostracizing others who pride themselves as intellects.  These individuals might be very opposed to putting their emotions and not intellect at top priority.

NorthStar Counseling & Therapy, has therapists that believe the style of Gestalt Therapy can be very useful for particular clients. Especially due to the fact it’s spectrum in practice can be so broad, there is still a potential for its’ use in the modern clinic. 


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Megan Corrieri

Megan Corrieri

Owner, Clinician, Wife & Mom

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