In simple words, Gestalt therapy can be described as a holistic, humanistic and person-centred approach to psychotherapy. Instead of focusing on past experience, Gestalt therapy focuses on a person’s present life and challenges.
Counsellors who use Gestalt therapy focus on helping patients understand how they place meaning into the world around them and how to make sense of their experiences by exploring them without fear. Patients are often encouraged to bring those experiences into the light and process them with the help of a therapist.
Therapist-patient collaboration is paramount in Gestalt therapy so that the individual can increase personal awareness and actively make changes in their lives.
Gestalt therapy follows a few fundamental principles, which separate it from the traditional analytic approach some therapists use. Instead of using interpretation to help a person overcome their issues, the therapist is tasked with learning how the client perceives the world, honour that perception and use it to help patients reconstruct their life.
Some of the key principles of Gestalt therapy are:
No matter how much we try, we can never be entirely objective, because our perception is influenced by the environment we live in and experiences we go through. A Gestalt therapist will provide a safe, non-judgmental place for clients to share their own truth.
When learning about their clients’ experiences, Gestalt therapists know that context matters just as much as action. They will help individuals not only become more aware of their experiences and perceptions, but also of the way they respond to these events.
Compared to other approaches, Gestalt therapy does not focus on the past, but the present. As the patient starts sharing their past experiences, the therapist will help bring them back into the present moment, to avoid holding too much onto the past or anxiously running to the future.
Awareness sits at the core of Gestalt therapy. Gestalt therapists often use experiential exercises to help increase self-awareness in patients. Role-playing, guided fantasy or imagery, using props to improve communication and deepen understanding; these are all practical exercises therapists use to help patients open up and share their thoughts, especially when traditional methods of communication become insufficient.
A Gestalt therapist will not try to change you, or your approach on the world, but rather help you become more aware, stay in the present and use your experiences to your advantage.
For example, when we experience a painful event, our mind’s natural reaction is to create blocks that push those experiences away. But these blocks also push away self-awareness and divide someone’s mind into small fragments. Through Gestalt therapy, these blocks are identified, challenged and moved out of the way, so that we can see the bigger picture and start the healing process.
Accepting those experiences and, most importantly, taking responsibility for them, helps individuals gain a sense of control over their lives, break out of the victim role and improve the way they interact with the world.