What is Gestalt Therapy?

By February 12, 2015

Today’s psychology focus is on Gestalt Therapy. You will love this approach if you:

  • like active imagination
  • want to get more in touch with your feelings
  • prefer a client-centered approach that sees you as the solution
  • enjoy taking action by experimenting with new behaviors in the safety of a healing relationship

gestalt-therapyGestalt Therapy’s originator is Fritz Perls, a German psychiatrist who immigrated to the US in the late 1940’s. His work has proliferated into training centers across the globe and made its way into life coaching as well as human organization and development industries. Gestalt therapy, like systems theory, sees the individual as composed of parts, and that all of these parts – together – make up something greater than the sum of the parts. Gestalt Therapy works to support this “greater” broader definition of the self.

Gestalt therapy focuses on the “how” (what is actually happening in the moment emotionally and otherwise) over the “what” (the content of what is being talked about). It is called a “phenomenological” approach or in other words: the focus is in on the lived experience, in the moment.

What happens in a Gestalt session?

The goal is to increase awareness. The counselor will continuously reflect back the implicit and explicit processes like, “I see you shifting in your seat as you talk about your son” or “I notice a furrow across your forehead as you recall this difficult conversation.”

You are encouraged to be authentic, right or wrong, and you are not challenged to change embattled thoughts, reactive feelings, or mitigate your behavior.

Experimentation is used in a variety of ways. For example, instead of talking about a co-worker who annoys you, your counselor may ask you to imagine he is sitting in the chair next to you and to talk to him. This is known as “empty chair work.” You may be asked to role play a new behavior such as standing up for yourself by asserting your needs or to exaggerate a tone of voice or repeat a phrase that has significant emotional charge.

In Gestalt Therapy, change is believed to come from fully accepting who you are in the moment without judgment or analysis when given permission to fully express your feelings. This has been termed “emotional release,” which enables you to move forward.


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