What is Gestalt?
How Gestalt Psychology works.
“Our mind has a need for completion. We have a need for completion. That completion is the closure, the closure is of the whole and the whole is GESTALT.”
What is Gestalt?
Gestalt, by definition, refers to the form or shape of something and suggests that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There is an emphasis on perception in this particular theory of counselling. Gestalt therapy gives attention to how we place meaning and make sense of our world and our experiences.
Gestalt therapy is a client-centred approach to psychotherapy that helps clients focus on the present and understand what is really happening in their lives right now, rather than what they may perceive to be happening based on past experience.
“Experience Transformation using Matrix”
How Gestalt works
“I and thou in the here and now”
Within Gestalt therapy, the client has space to safely explore their experiences without fear of judgment. In fact, the clients are encouraged to not simply talk about their emotions or experiences, but to bring them into the room so they can be processed in real-time with the therapist.
Instead of simply talking about past situations, clients are encouraged to experience them, perhaps through re-enactment. Through the gestalt process, clients learn to become more aware of how their own negative thought patterns and behaviours are blocking true self-awareness and making them unhappy.
For practitioners, Gestalt’s focus on the present moment, and on immediate thoughts and feelings, make it a very lively, spontaneous and creative approach.
For clients, the greater holistic awareness and increased insight into how we think, feel and act is very liberating. It builds self-confidence, frees people to address issues and helps them to live life to its fullest potential.
The science of Gestalt Therapy works on the basic premise that much before any situation – be it pleasant or otherwise – affects a person at the mental or emotional level, the human body not only experiences it first but also manifests the effects it has had on the person through non-verbal cues and bodily symptoms.
With 93% of human communication being non-verbal in nature, Gestalt Therapy focuses on the incongruities between a person’s words and his non-verbal bodily cues that tell the real story behind the words.
By focusing on experiencing one’s own body, breathing, levels of energy, and blockages in certain areas of the body, one is empowered to cleanse and heal themself and march ahead in life without any baggage from the past.
There are a number of key principle ideas that come into play with Gestalt therapy.
1. A Phenomenological Basis—You are seeking to focus on the client’s perception of reality.
2. Experiential—The client is being asked to come to understand about what and how they are thinking, feeling, and doing as they interact with the therapist and the other people in the world.
3. Existential—The person is to take responsibility for their destiny and identity
• The client is also encouraged to work in the “here and now,” not in the “there and
4. Awareness—A key element in this theory is helping the client come to an awareness of what he or she is doing and experiencing
• This involves dropping those behaviors and barriers that would stop someone from
experience one’s self
• Experiments—The therapist designs experiments to increase the client’s awareness of what he or she is doing, experiencing, and how.
There are a number of key principle ideas that come into play with Gestalt therapy.
Laws of closure
We tend to mentally close the contours to simplify reality. If we see a slightly curved curve that is practically closed, we will notice a circumference. It is also possible to apply this law to verbal messages.
Law of proximity
The elements closest to each other tend to form a group as if they were one set. If you look at three piles of candy, you’ll notice three groups instead of seeing all the candy separately.
Law of similarity
Similarity occurs when forms, colors, sizes or objects look enough alike to be perceived as a group or pattern in the viewer’s mind.
Figure and ground
Figure-Ground refers to the relationship between an object and its surroundings. Do you see the figure in front of you or the background? Sometimes, it’s easy to pick out the Figure, which is the object (the positive space) from the Ground, which is everything else (the negative space). But it can be difficult, at other times, to pick out the figure from the ground. It’s important to keep a balance between the negative and positive space as well as making the figure a quick read. In other words, be sure to make a clear distinction between the figure and the ground. We have all seen Rubin’s glass at one time or another; it is the best-known example of this phenomenon. We will have realized that it is impossible to perceive the faces and the cup at the same time.
Law of simplicity
The law of simplicity indicates that our mind perceives everything in its simplest form. Mastering design simplicity requires you to balance two often competing considerations: the use of uncomplicated shapes and objects and the need to produce striking design effects.
Law of symmetry
The Law of Symmetry is the gestalt grouping law that states that elements that are symmetrical to each other tend to be perceived as a unified group. Similar to the law of similarity, this rule suggests that objects that are symmetrical with each other will be more likely to be grouped together than objects not symmetrical with each other. This is a lawful statement of the role of symmetry in determining figure-ground perception.
Law of continuity
We prefer to ignore the abrupt changes in an image we are seeing. Generally speaking, we pay more attention to the characteristics of a stimulus that allow us to perceive a smooth continuity. One example is that if we are walking around and notice on a poster an A covered in half by a street lamp, we will continue to know that the letter is A and read the text without difficulties.
A few key concepts of Gestalt Therapy are:
Person-centered Awareness- To focus on the future and imagine it divorced from the present past which is essential.
Respect- A gestalt therapist has to always remember to treat a client with respect. A client will open up to a therapist when the client feels comfortable and is provided with a balance of support and also a challenge.
Emphasis on Experience- An individual's emotions, experiences, physical sensations etc alike every other type of therapy Gestalt has also attracted people who seek shortcuts and quick fixes but it has also attracted people who are experienced clinicians who have found Gestalt therapy to not only be a powerful type of psychotherapy but also a viable way of life.
Creative Experiment and Discovery- To test their client's experience, therapists use a range of experimental methodology that involve creative and flexible techniques to help their client open up.
Social Responsibility- According to the gestalt approach humans have a social responsibility towards others and themselves.
Relationship- When an individual has a good relationship with themselves and others around them, that individual is considered as "whole" according to gestalt therapy.
Below are common exercises used in Gestalt therapy:
Role-play- To help individuals experience different feelings and emotions role-play is a powerful method.
The 'Open Chair' Technique- This technique makes use of role-play. In this method the client sits on one chair and one chair is placed opposite the client. The chair is empty. In this way through role-play the client faces emotional scenes and helps them accept conflicts in their lives.
Dialogue- Dialogue helps to engage the client in meaningful and authentic conversations with the therapist. It helps to guide them in a particular way of behaving and thinking.
Dreams- Dreams help individuals to understand aspects of themselves that are spontaneous.
Body Language- A subtle indicator of intense emotions is body language which a gestalt therapist concentrates on through therapy.
How It Helps
Gestalt therapy intends for the client to gain greater awareness of their experience of being in the world. Gestalt therapists do not have a goal of changing their clients. In fact, clients are encouraged to focus on becoming more aware of themselves, staying present, and processing things in the here and now.
The working, collaborative relationship between therapist and client is powerful to the healing process in Gestalt therapy.
It is suggested that the way we learn how to survive experiences, particularly painful experiences, is to create blocks or push things out of awareness so that we can move forward. As effective as it may seem, it can create trouble for us as we become more compartmentalized and fragmented in our sense of self and our experiences.
The very techniques we once used to help ourselves become blocks to self-awareness and growth. Increasing client awareness allows for these blocks to be identified, properly challenged, and moved out of the way so we can find healing and personal growth.
A key goal in Gestalt therapy is to allow clients the opportunity to own and accept their experiences. In blaming others, we lose our sense of control and become victim to the event or the other person involved in the event. Gestalt therapy encourages clients to challenge those old ways of how we may have created meaning about an experience.
Learning how to accept and embrace personal responsibility is a goal of Gestalt therapy, allowing clients to gain a greater sense of control in their experiences and to learn how to better regulate their emotions and interactions with the world.
Self-Regulation and Growth
Gestalt therapy suggests that, inherently, people strive for self-regulation and growth. However, we sometimes develop techniques to emotionally survive unfortunate and painful experiences. Some of these techniques feel helpful in the short-term because they can help minimize our pain or distress. However, over the long-term, they leave us is more emotionally shaky places, unable to express ourselves. We may find it hard to interact with others, and difficult to learn how to effectively regulate ourselves and be whole, responsible beings.
Gestalt therapy believes that, despite some of these setbacks, people are still wired for this sense of wholeness and feel distressed when we are not able to achieve it. Our distress might look like physical illness, emotional reactivity, isolation, and more.
There are a variety of conditions that Gestalt therapy may be used to treat, including:
As Perls suggests, becoming aware of ourselves is healing. During our process of therapy, we can uncover and heal parts of self that have been lost for some time, discover parts of self that have not yet had an opportunity to thrive and gain a greater sense of self along the way. As we work to heal and integrate these parts of self, we can become healthy and whole individuals.