Gestalt therapy is an experiential and mindfulness-based approach to counselling and psychotherapy that has inspired many other experiential therapies since it’s inception in the 1950’s.
Gestalt is a German word meaning ‘whole’. Our body, emotions, sensations, thoughts, perceptions and experiences, together represent the ‘whole’ person that we are. A core concept of Gestalt therapy is that we ‘creatively adjust’ or adapt to our life circumstances. This can result in us developing habitual behaviour that is not in our awareness, and can affect our capacity to function effectively and flexibly, preventing us from fully experiencing and enjoying our lives.
The primary focus of Gestalt therapy is to increase awareness. As our awareness is heightened, we develop a deeper understanding of ourselves, and how we function in the world.
Awareness is an ongoing process. With awareness we develop the ability to become fully who we are and to recognize that we have the potential within us for change. The aim is to become aware of what we are doing and how we are doing it, with acceptance and without judgement.
The Paradoxical theory of change is an important concept in Gestalt therapy. The paradox being that the more one tries to become who one is not, the more one stays the same. When we accept what is and who we are, then change can begin to take place.
Gestalt therapy focuses more upon process (what is happening – ‘the experience’) rather than content (what is being discussed). The emphasis in therapy is on our experience moment to moment and what is being thought, felt and done, rather than what was, might be, could be, or should be. For example when sharing about the end of an important relationship – the details would be the content. Tears, sadness, anger, feelings of regret, are the experience.
Gestalt therapy increases our capacity to become aware of the process of experiencing as it is happening. We become increasingly skilful at noticing our conditioned patterns of behaviour, develop a greater awareness of choices and potential for change, and experience an increasing sense of and ease and acceptance with the way things are.
The fundamental propositions that lie at the heart of Gestalt therapy relate to human functioning and how change takes place. The main principles are:
- Awareness leads to change
- Heightened awareness leads to a greater understanding of self, needs and choices.
- Through awareness we are able to take responsibility for ourselves
- Emerging, dominant needs organize our field of perception (i.e. we see and notice things dependent upon our need in that moment)
- We can only be understood within the context of our environment (i.e. influences, environment, culture, beliefs, behaviour, and our past.
- We have a tendency to perceive in wholes. If closure is not reached around an issue, or if a need is unfulfilled, this will push into our conscious awareness
- We have an instinctual need to give meaning to perceptions and experience
- We are organismically self regulating (i.e. we have the ability to be aware of and own our senses, feelings, emotions, needs, wants and beliefs – growth begins with the awareness and experience of these things)
- Learning occurs when we are curious and interested in our ‘here and now experience’
The Therapeutic Relationship
In Gestalt therapy, the therapeutic relationship is paramount, as is the quality of contact and interaction between client and therapist. The Gestalt therapist works in an open, respectful, and non-judgemental way. The therapist does not profess to know what is best for the client, but assists them to explore and discover what might be. The therapist will share their experience (what they see, feel, and think) and encourage the client to do the same, as well as communicating their understanding of the client’s experience. These experiences are referred to in Gestalt therapy as phenomenology. Through phenomenological exploration awareness is increased, and insight, curiosity, and understanding of self can be developed.
Gestalt therapy is a powerful therapeutic method, that enables individuals to develop an increased capacity for self-support, to effect change, and to live fulfilling lives.
An accredited Gestalt therapist has a minimum of four years intensive, experiential psychotherapeutic training including their own personal therapy, and an ongoing commitment to professional development and personal growth. Most Gestalt therapists have further professional training in the fields of psychology, organisational training and development, social work, occupational therapy, counselling, mental health nursing, or psychiatry.
If you would like more information about Gestalt Therapy or would like to make an appointment, please contact Diana by telephone or email.
Counsellor and Psychotherapist
Please email Diana to ensure the fastest possible response
Cottesloe Counselling Centre
11 Brixton Street
Cottesloe WA 6011
See also: Clinical Supervision