Gestalt therapy excels by its multifaceted and flexible methods and treatment possibilities. Many of the other forms of therapy around have predetermined methods partially established in advance. These focus on working with certain human functions, for example behavior and reaction patterns, being in one’s own body, relaxation, “curing anxiety”, “positive thinking” etc.
The holistic approach
Within the Gestalt therapeutic theory the individual is viewed as a whole, thus making the entire human the continual focus in the practical work, all that she is and all the she encompasses. The therapist often works both on an intellectual, emotional and physical level, and the client’s fantasy is often employed in addition. The method of working with the client is process- and experience oriented and is constantly focused on what is most important to the client at that particular moment (see Figure X in Article X). The client is offered possibilities to constantly increase awareness of the self, resources and abilities to handle arisen issues.
Not just treating symptoms
In the process of a Gestalt therapeutic course of action, not only symptoms are treated so as to change or eliminate them. Instead, the therapist and the client jointly try to discover the cause of the symptoms. This could, for instance, involve problems previously unknown to the client, or which the client has not known how to manage: an old fear, an unresolved conflict etc. As the cause of the symptom is discovered, the focus of the work becomes the underlying cause. When working with the cause and not the symptoms, the symptoms will inevitably change or disappear. The advantages of working in this way is that the client will be less likely to develop new symptoms to the underlying issue after some time, or that the old symptoms gradually resurface. Instead, new energy is freed for the client as the work progresses. The client will then be able to find new ways to approach the issues and be able to handle it in an appropriate manner.
Gestalt therapy’s outlook on mankind
The Danish psychologist and Gestalt therapist Hanne Hostrup describes how the instigator of Gestalt therapy, Fritz Perls, in his development of the therapy rebelled against the classic psychoanalytic deadlocked view on the human as being predictable. Perls found and approached the human being as a dynamic being, always responsible for his or her own life, a self-regulating organism, who with the aid of its innate ability to be aware of its own needs and conditions, was created to survive and thrive in meaningful contact with his or her surroundings. He distanced himself further from the assumption that the psyche “looks” a certain way, thus making the human being more predictable, and instead became more enthralled in the holistic and biologically inspired ideas. The human (organism) is created to function and develop in the interplay with his or her surroundings, and it is this interplay that the therapist can examine and intervene in.
The understanding lies in the experience
Perls’ method of examining in what way the interplay works was phenomenological in nature. This scientific method liberates itself from presupposed attitudes, dogmas and theories. The work starts from a hypothesis of understanding lying in the experience itself of phenomena such as they appear in the human’s encounter with the world. It examines and describes these phenomena without trying to find reasons and explanations for them; what is shown is true. These thoughts were not Perls’, but inspired by his education and practice as a psychiatrist and analyst, and in his encounter with phenomenology, Gestalt psychology and existentialism.
Text and illustrations: Tine Sylvest
Photographs: Bo Mellberg
The author is a certified Psychotherapist, Art Therapist and Workplace Counselor/Coach born in Denmark, currently living and practicing in the Swedish-speaking parts of Finland.