Some people consider Gestalt Therapy only as a set of aggressive, provocative and confrontational techniques, which have been wrongly and/or partially widespread since Fritz Perls died.
First of all we want to counter this belief, bringing back Gestalt Therapy and its work philosophy to those principles which are the main pillars which the Gestalt approach is strongly related to and that are much more than "techniques".
The Gestalt approach is an existentialist method, inspired by deep and complex concepts, that has the goal to make people more free as well as responsible for their actions (what they do), recognising that people have the right to be who they really are and allowing them to behave with awareness in their environment in order to realize themselves
The Gestalt theory is defined by four main pillars which make the Gestalt approach a discipline which is different from other therapeutic methodologies and that allows us to identify ourselves or not in this kind of Psychoterapy. These are:
The Gestalt therapy is based on the holistic concept, the Lewin's theory of unified field, which declares that the individual and the environment are two subsystems (organisms) that are part of a total field and have a mutual relationship. This relationship between organisms in the field always happens on the contact boundary.
As a method to observe, understand and describe the meaning making of the individual when he/she meets the environment (on the contact boundary), instead of the interpretation of the human behavior.
Dialogue (presence, inclusion, engagement)
The admission of the existence of two entities (the individual and the environment, the individual and another individual), connected and separated by a boundary, suggests the I-Thou Buberian matrix relationship. The dialogical relationship is defined by a particular attitude of the Gestalt therapist who creates with the client an authentic relationship based on the "here and now."
The concept of Organism
From the Gestalt point of view, a human being is an organism (body and mind together), considered as a functional unit with the capability of self-regulation, adjustment and self-realisation.
Gestalt Therapy was founded by Friedrich (Fritz) and Lora Perls during the '40s in New York (USA) as a therapy which collected and organized the best intuitions of Freudian, Jungian, and Reich's psychoterapy as well as the principles of Lewin's Field theory and the philosophical contributions of Existentialism, Phenomenology and Gestalt Psychology from which the name derives.
The verb gestalten means "to shape", "to create a meaningful structure" and its result, the Gestalt precisely, is a structured, completed and significant shape.
The Gestalt approach underlines that the whole is different from the sum of its parts; so Gestalt therapy declares that in order to understand a behavior it is important not only to analyze it but even to have a synthetic prespective about it, or rather to relate it to a global context and the environment (Holistic concept).
The Gestalt Psychology research proved everyone is constantly exposed to a series of stimuli, but our perception selects only some of them and organizes them in a meaningful structure, or Gestalt. From a psychological point of view it means as individuals we perceive ourselves and the world as a set of selected stimuli which create a defined figure on an undifferentiated ground; so the stimuli are not perceived as separated, but they are ordered in a unit which shows the human need to make meanings from the experience of the environment.
So to isolate only some elements of a system and make meaning of them is a biased interpretative observation which doesn't consider the possible multiple interactions between all the elements nor the individual and the environment. For this reason Gestalt therapy is a phenomenological approach which prefers to carefully describe the whole in its present form rather than interprete the meanings of every single element.
So the meaning which emerges at the end of this observation as a result of all the elements is more than a simple sum of the entire system's parts and so this is the link between Gestalt therapy, Field theory, Gestalt psychology research on perception and existentialist as well as phenomenological philosophy.
Fritz Perls developed these concept and was the one who related them to psychotherapy in terms of recognizing the clients' need to experience the environment in order to make their meanings; So from a Gestaltic perspective, therapy is an analysis of the inner experience of reality to enhance the awareness of this process.
" Gestalt Therapy - Excitement and Growth in the human personality" by F. Perls, R. H. Hefferline and P. Goodman (the book that officially debuts Gestalt Therapy), states to paraphrase:
"…working on the unit or on the lack of the structure of this experience here and now will allow reconstruction of the dynamic relationships between figure and ground; the contact will be much more intense, the awareness brighter and the behavior more energic. The most important thing to establish is that a strong gestalt is a cure of the moment, and that the contact figure is not evidence of the experience, but is, in itself, the integration of the experience".
Acording to this state, Gestalt Therapy theory and practice emphasize a number of further important principles:
• Both individual and the field (as ecosystem) of which he or she is a part, are considered to be self-regulating, adaptive, and growthful. Thus what is commonly thought of as psychopathology, is seen as creative adaptive behavior appropriate to the environment in which it was developed but may not to current situation.
• Gestalt approach embraces the whole of a person's life experience — physical, psychological, intellectual, emotional, interpersonal and spiritual.
• Gestalt therapy is more interested in the awareness of process (thinking, feeling and doing) or "what" and "how" a person does what he or she does than in "why" a specific action takes place. How action is created is more important than why it is created if one is interested in facilitating change. Awareness of "how" gives the person genuine choice and hence the option of change and responsibility.
• The relationship between the Gestalt therapist and the client has enormous potential because it is a kind of laboratory where expirience can be observed and lived directly. The Gestalt therapist is more interested in the verifiable experience of the client than in the interpretation by the therapist.
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