Gestalt therapy is a counseling practice used to treat mental and emotional problems. The key concepts of the therapy can explain how this counseling technique works.
What is Gestalt Therapy?
According to experts, Gestalt therapy is a counseling technique in which a Gestalt therapist helps clients develop an awareness of the senses and the body and mental and emotional states. Developing this sense of awareness is the focus of this counseling technique and is achieved through the following key concepts of the therapy:
This concept involves a strong connection between the client and the Gestalt therapist, in which the therapist senses the client’s experience as being a part of his or her own body. The relationship between client and therapist is critical, but the therapist does not set an agenda for treatment.
- Focusing on “here and now”
Per this concept, therapy sessions should focus on the present. If a client discusses past or future situations, the discussion should center on how the client feels about those situations in the present moment.
- Practicing phenomenologically
This therapy focuses on the life events that the client brings to each counseling session, and this concept stipulates that the therapist should keep the client’s experience central and dig deeply into it.
This concept comes from the theory that emotions are present in the body as physical tension. To address this concept, some Gestalt therapy techniques may involve the therapist observing breathing, inviting the client to pay attention to a particular gesture, or asking the person to evaluate bodily sensations during a counseling session.
This idea holds that each event, multiple factors cause a client experience. A Gestalt therapist may pay respect to this concept by asking clients to explore how their surroundings and past relationships have contributed to the present situation.
- Working on contact processes
This technique involves focusing on a client’s contact processes, which are how a person reaches out to the environment, or other people, to have needs met.
This idea involves the Gestalt therapist and the client working together on experiments, in which a client tries a new behavior to determine if this helps with creating some sort of meaning or bringing the client to a new level of awareness. It may also be thought of as empty chair therapy, given the chair work that often is included among Gestalt therapy techniques. The empty chair technique involves a client pretending that an important person is sitting before them in an empty chair. Through dialogue, the client works out unresolved conflict or problems. Empty chair therapy can also involve the two chairs model, in which a client can explore polarities within the self. For instance, one chair may represent a desire for control, whereas the other represents the opposite. This method helps clients to integrate polarities into their overall sense of self.
How does Gestalt Therapy work?
- As experts have explained, the therapy works by addressing unfinished “gestalts” or situations from clients’ lives. Gestalt theorists have asserted that life contains limitless unresolved or unfinished situations. These unfinished gestalts contribute to dysfunction, but Gestalt therapists help clients to resolve them.
- It also works by helping people to create a holistic view of themselves. It accomplishes this by bringing awareness to polarities so that clients do not rigidly view themselves from a one-sided perspective.
- Gestalt dream theory works by letting people enact their dreams to let them express their emotions in a better way.
- It also helps people to achieve an awareness of dysfunctional contact styles or ways of interacting with the environment and others.
- Finally, it can work by assisting people in developing different ways of responding to situations through experiments.
Uses of Gestalt Therapy
This therapy can be used to address a range of social, emotional, and mental health problems. A review of the research shows that it can be used for the following:
- Treating depression in both children and adults
- Improving confidence levels
- Developing communication skills
- Reducing anxiety in adults
- Treating depression and anxiety among older
- Assisting with conflict resolution
- Treating nightmares, primarily through the Gestalt technique of lucid dreaming
A case study found that this therapy was also useful for a client who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and substance use disorders. This form of treatment helped him to identify unmet needs and improved his overall wellbeing.
Concerns and limitations of Gestalt Therapy
While Gestalt practice can be applied to various problems, it is also essential to consider the limitations of Gestalt therapy. As experts have explained, much research is with Gestalt group therapy activities rather than individual counseling sessions. The therapy may be effective for individual people, but more studies are needed to confirm that this therapy model is effective. Furthermore, some research shows that Gestalt techniques are not effective for prison inmates suffering from psychopathology, so the approach may not be useful for severe psychological problems. There is a place for Gestalt theory in counseling. Still, until more research is conducted, it is difficult to say with certainty that this method is as effective as other, highly-researched therapies.
How to prepare for Gestalt Therapy
Given the fact that this therapy focuses on developing greater awareness and experimenting with new behaviors, you must prepare to approach a Gestalt therapy session with an open mind. You should also prepare for the possibility that therapy may require you to step outside of your comfort zone to explore unresolved situations from your life. Beyond this, you must come to therapy, ready to share your story. Gestalt therapists are interested in your personal experience and will expect you to share it.
What to expect from Gestalt Therapy
- Since this therapy has its focus on phenomenology, or clients’ unique experiences and perceptions, you should expect your therapy session to begin with you telling your story as you see it.
- Your therapist will connect with you and come along on your counseling journey, but you should not expect them to simply give advice or tell you what you need to do.
- You can also expect to engage in specific Gestalt therapy techniques and activities, such as resolving conflict through empty chair counseling or focusing your attention on your bodily sensations and reactions as you tell your story.
- You can expect your therapist to use various experiments of this nature to determine if they allow you to achieve greater awareness.
If the Gestalt technique seems beneficial for your situation, you can find a therapist who practices this method through the Gestalt Therapy Network. You can also contact a local mental health clinic or psychology practice and ask to work who is a trained therapist in Gestalt therapy techniques.