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Gestalt therapy: what is it and on what principles is it based?

Gestalt therapy: what is it and on what principles is it based?

June 3, 2023

Many times we associate psychotherapy with a form of intervention that can only be useful for people with serious psychological or health problems.

It is possible that this is so because of the confusion that exists when differentiating concepts such as psychology and psychiatry, or the way in which media and audiovisual fiction portray psychotherapists: people who only enter the scene to help unhappy people, who do not achieve their goals and who, in many cases, are at risk of social exclusion .

However, this is not so. Among other things, because there are psychological approaches whose objective is to provide the necessary therapeutic tools so that people can tend to the self realisation and to the creation of a meaning for their own acts. This is the case of Humanistic Psychology, within which we find a well-known type of therapy: the Gestalt therapy .

How is Gestalt Therapy?

The Gestalt therapy, or Gestalt therapy, is a type of psychological therapy that falls within the category of Humanistic Psychology in the sense that it assumes the way in which humanist thought conceives the human being, its goals and its range of needs and potential. Also, as its name suggests, collects the theoretical principles of the Psychology of Gestalt and he uses them to propose a form of psychotherapy .

The main responsible for the development of this type of psychotherapy are authors as Paul Goodman , Isadore From and, especially, Fritz Perls Y Laura Perls . Since the consolidation of Gestalt Therapy in the mid-twentieth century has worked hard to extend its applicability beyond clinical psychology as we understand it classically, and that is why it is possible to find forms of this therapy in interventions on communities, organizations or concrete work dynamics.

Definitely, Gestalt Therapy has flourished extending to a large number of social and human areas to put into practice the principles of Gestalt in all kinds of objectives . That is why, although this type of therapy is related to the idea of ​​personal development, is not limited to the scope of classical psychological consultation, but can be understood as a tool to redefine lifestyles in their entirety.

You can learn more about Fritz Perls and his thoughts by entering this article:

  • "Biography of Fritz Perls and his contributions to Psychology"

The principles of Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt Therapy emphasizes the way in which the things that are experienced are formulated mentally, rather than worrying about the content of what happens to us . This means that from this type of therapy the importance lies in the shape in which something is experienced, and not so much in that "something" in itself. Do not intervene from questions such as "what happens to us?", But from the "how does it happen to us and how do we experience it?". It is an approach that emphasizes the role of subjective sensations, as part of the approaches of Humanistic Psychology.

This emphasis on the processes above the content and the subjective above the objective can be displayed in three theoretical principles: Experimentation of the "here and now", the awareness and the responsibility.

1. Here and now

Since Gestalt Therapy, it is assumed that human beings perceive everything that happens to us as a unified experience . This means, among other things, that our idea of ​​what is in the future and the past are no more than projections of how we live in the present. In short, working our way of thinking about the present we will be intervening on our ways of thinking about the future to come and the way in which we look back to review the past.

This idea, by the way, has the support of some research that made the psychologist famous Gordon H. Bower .

2. Awareness

Gestalt Therapy is essential to take note of what happens to oneself. Only in this way can new ways of formulating the experience of the here and now be detected in terms that bring us closer to self-realization .

Looking at your own experiences and thoughts allows us, on the one hand, to be better at recognizing our style when experimenting, and on the other, to have more decision-making power when it comes to changing our way of seeing things. In other words, it could be said that being honest with our way of experiencing allows us to develop a better Emotional Intelligence.

3. Responsibility

Becoming aware of one's own acts and styles of experiencing things also implies taking on the consequences of those options . From the acceptance of the errors and the hypothesis of the risks, autonomy is gained. This opens the range of options and conception of the senses in which one can act, from an existential perspective.

Irresponsibility is considered the result of an illusion, a denial of the present and a refusal to take conscience. That is why Gestalt Therapy emphasizes the need to assume responsibilities, not only to improve coexistence with others, but to be more free and more able to give meaning to our lives.

Definitely, the therapists who subscribe to Gestalt Therapy understand that their interventions should focus on the autonomy and potential of the person . A good way to experience what happens can serve to know how to guide oneself through that jungle of possible options, ways of conceiving one's existence.

Criticism to this practice

Gestalt Therapy has been harshly criticized, among other things, for not having a unit of concrete analysis, with which it is possible to work experimentally without getting lost in words without clear definitions. This fact, which has to do with the attempt to approach the subjectivity of this form of intervention (starting from rigid definitions could leave part of the reality of the patients, according to this perspective) does not guarantee the effectiveness of the therapy.

On the other hand, the markedly eclectic nature of Gestalt Therapy also creates misgivings, given that it does not base its proposals on a unified and systematized theoretical system, as the behavioral perspective does, for example. In addition, his inspiration in Freudian psychoanalysis, based on the idea that there are parts of the psyche that come into conflict, is also seen as part of a heritage of thought that is outside of science.

Bibliographic references:

  • Brownell, P., ed. (2008) Handbook for Theory, Research, and Practice in Gestalt Therapy, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
  • Castanedo, C. (1993). Six approaches to psychotherapy. Modern Manual Mexico.
  • Ginger, S. (2005). Gestalt. The art of contact. Integral - RBA. Barcelona.
  • Martín, A. (2007). Practical Manual of Gestalt Psychotherapy. Desclée de Brouwer. Bilbao
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