Gestalt therapy

Gestalt Therapy
A whole new approach
Goal of therapy
 To make whole
Mind and body
Emotional, behavioral, and cognitive
Past and present
Theoretical assumptions
 Humans perceive things as wholes and the whole is more than the
sum of its parts (i.e. holistic)
 Life is best understood by knowing the subjective, internal rather
than the objective, external (phenomenological)
 Awareness is ever-changing and each moment is one of choice
based on evolving awareness. We are the creators of our own
destiny (existential)
 The path to wholeness and health is to interact with nature and
with other people without losing one’s individuality (contact)
 People are manipulative, avoid self-reliance, and are not willing to
accept their own perceptions as valid.
 Change happens in the present.
If you want to go to Alaska, where do you start?
Theory of pathology
 All forms of human psychological dysfunction are attempts at
simplifying experience, alleviating uncomfortable feelings, or
managing difficult adjustments. Therefore, they are considered
“creative adaptations to inhospitable situations in a person’s life”
(Crocker, 1999, p.134).
 Unfinished business leads to psychological symptoms
Feelings about the past are unexpressed
These feelings are associated with distinct memories and
Feelings not fully experienced linger in the background and
interfere with effective contact, resulting in
Compulsive behavior
Oppressive energy
Self-defeating behavior
Layers of Neurosis
 Perls likens the unfolding of adult personality to the
peeling of an onion
Phony layer - stereotypical and inauthentic
Phobic layer - fears keep us from seeing ourselves
Impasse layer - we give up our power
Implosive layer - we fully experience our deadness
Explosive layer - we let go of phony roles
Pathway to pathology:
Lack of awareness of some aspect of self
 Polarity = false distinction about different aspects of self
 Lack of contact = superficial relation with the world (instead of aware
and intimate)
Confluence: the condition of no-contact. Instead of an ‘I’ and a ‘You’ there
is a ‘we’ or a vague, unclear experience of self.
Introjection: the individual experiences
something as him/herself when in fact it belongs
to the environment (false identification).
Projection: the individual experiences
something in the environment when in fact it
belongs to him/her (false alienation).
Retroflection: the individual holds back a
response intended for the environment and
substitutes it with a response for him/herself.
Paradoxical theory of change
Only by being what and who one is can one
become something or someone else. Effort,
self-control, or avoidance focused exclusively
on the future will not bring about change. We
must become our truth (ourselves) first before
we can move from it (change).
Gestalt Awareness Model
Influenced by psychoanalysis, but…
 Past
 Present
 Reductionistic
 Holistic
 Deterministic
 Phenomenological
 Unconscious
 Disowned parts
 Energy system seeking
 Energy system seeking
 Biological compulsion
 Closure
Comparisons with other therapies
 Some similarities with humanistic and existential
Focus is on the here and now
Emphasis on individual freedom and responsibility
Insight oriented
The “I-Thou” relationship
Holistic (integrated)
 But also different
 More confrontational and directive than humanistic
 More micro-behaviorally focused than existential
Goals of therapy
 To become fully capable of organismic self-regulation (be “centered”)
 To have direct, immediate awareness of the total perceptual field
 To establish contact with the world
 Eating and digesting are treated as metaphors for what we do with
every dimension of experience. Do I bite into something, chew it up
thoroughly, spit out what I don't like, and assimilate what I find
nourishing and healthy, or do I
"swallow whole" what others have told me to whether I like it or not?
The mechanism of change and growth
 Path to awareness has two components
Techniques to sharpen awareness
Becoming aware of our defenses
 Focus on the present, rather than past or future
Unfinished situations from past are worked in terms of person’s
present experience of them
Concerns about future regarded as manifestation of current anxiety
 “What” and “how” are the focus (not “why”)
“Why did you do that?” is a statement concealed in a question
Interpretations are avoided (self discovery has greater value)
Therapeutic Techniques
 The therapist’s attitude is more important than any technique
 Techniques are intuitively adapted to particular client/situation
confrontation (to force client to attend to current functioning)
acting-out exercises (to enable client to establish contact)
Between verbal and non-verbal behaviors
Often used in alcohol and drug treatment
Falling into someone’s arms (trust)
Arguing with spouse (communication)
games of dialogue (to promote contact & suppress inauthenticity)
Role-play both sides of polarity
Play the projection (e.g., I can’t ask him out because...)
“I take responsibility”
May I feed you a sentence
Paradoxical comments