To put it simply, Gestalt therapy is a client-centred approach to traditional psychotherapy, in which the counsellor helps the client focus more on the present and the actions happening in their life right now.
Compared to traditional therapy, which often focuses on past experiences and asks the client to talk about past situations, Gestalt therapy encourages the patient to experience those situations through a variety of exercises. This includes role-playing, which can teach them how to observe negative behavioural patterns and prevent them from blocking their journey to self-awareness.
Revisiting the past is very important for identifying stuff that was left unhealed. Still, Gestalt therapy focuses more on the here and now and how these experiences influence how we perceive the life around us. It teaches the patient to take responsibility for their actions, rather than searching for something or someone to place the blame on.
In order to understand more about Gestalt therapy and how it works, we must first understand how it began to be used.
Gestalt therapy originated in 1930s Germany and was devised by psychoanalysts Frederick (Fritz) and Laura Perls. In 1933, the Perls left Nazi Germany and settled in South Africa, where they began setting up a psychoanalytic training institute. It was here where they started working on developing the main principles of Gestalt therapy, but after World War II, the couple moved to New York, to further continue their research.
In 1952, Fritz and Laura founded the first Gestalt Institute in their very own home, a Manhattan apartment. Here is where they began seeing patients, some of which they later turned into trainers, and conducted seminars to share their new view on psychotherapy.
Fritz wrote numerous books on Gestalt therapy, including Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality, which was divided into two parts and contained the core of Fritz’s Gestalt theory.
Fritz began his work on the now infamous Gestalt therapy because he was unsatisfied with certain Freudian theories, so he began developing his own form of psychotherapy. He started from the idea that, when organisms are confronted with a set of elements, they don’t focus on the small bits and pieces, but rather the whole pattern. He believed healthy individuals organize their experiences based on well-defined needs to which they respond. For example, if a healthy person experiences hunger, they will eat, but an unhealthy person will interfere with the development of the actual need and does not deal with it.
Because it is a humanistic therapy, the Gestalt approach assumes the individual is inclined to wholeness, well-being, health, and uncovering their full potential.
Other potential benefits of Gestalt therapy include:
Better communication skills
Improved tolerance for negative emotions
Increased awareness of an individual’s needs
Ability to monitor and control mental states