A Guide to Gestalt Therapy

White Chair

Gestalt Therapy is a gentle yet powerful therapy that supports clients to become more aware of their thoughts, feelings and responses. Gestalt therapy fits very well with other types of counselling approaches such as Gottman Method and is very beneficial for couples therapy and relationship counselling, and to assist people to gain insights into how they relate and interact with themselves and others.

What is Gestalt Therapy?

Gestalt Therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach that was developed by Fritz Perls in the 1940s and 1950s. Perls was a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and psychotherapist who was born in Germany in 1893. He developed Gestalt Therapy with his wife, Laura Perls. The practice grew in popularity during the 1970s and 1980s, and is now widely practiced around the world.

Gestalt Therapy focuses on the experience of the individual in the present moment and emphasises the importance of personal responsibility. It can assist people to become more aware of what is actually happening in their lives in the here and now, and through this enables them to start and change old patterns of thinking and being in the world. Gestalt therapy is a process focussed model, so people become aware of what they think and believe and how this influences how they respond and behave.

The goal of Gestalt Therapy is to help people become more fully aware, more creative, and more experimental in their daily life. Often, our sense of fulfilment and personal growth is diminished by the way we interpret events and the actions of others. By understanding a distinction between the lived experience – what is being done, thought and felt in the moment – and the interpretation of these, people can become more aware of what they are doing and make changes to their lives. Self-awareness is the key to making positive changes and reaching your full potential.

Who Can Benefit From Gestalt Therapy?

Gestalt is a type of therapy that is well suited to almost all types of people, and anyone can benefit from the techniques used in this therapy. Because the therapy focusses on building self-awareness, individuals who struggle with this are particularly well-placed to benefit. Gestalt Therapy is often considered to be a gentle and safe therapeutic experience, so people who are nervous or unsure about therapy can find Gestalt to be supportive of their needs. Additionally, people who have trouble identifying or understanding their problematic behaviours, or who disown their own emotional reactions and aspects of their personality, find Gestalt to be helpful in addressing these issues.

Gestalt is suitable for people of all ages, and Perth Counselling and Psychotherapy offer Gestalt Therapy with children.

What Techniques Are Used in Gestalt Therapy?

Gestalt therapists may use a range of techniques and methods to help clients improve their self-awareness. These are often referred to within Gestalt as ‘experiments’. The experiments allow for deeper insights and awareness for the client. Experiments are only offered when the therapist believes it will allow for greater self-awareness, clients that do not wish to try an experiment can decline the invitation at any time.
Some of these techniques include:

  • The Empty Chair. The Empty Chair is a well-known experiment that is used often. The client is invited to sit in a chair facing an empty chair. Then they need to image someone or something in the empty chair that is causing angst or distress. The therapist will encourage the client to have a conversation with this person or thing – it may be a partner, a child, or a friend, or it could be a situation, an event, or a personality trait.
  • Dialogue. Gestalt takes forms of dialogue beyond usual talking to encourage creative expression and looking at things from a different perspective.
  • Reversal. Gestalt uses role-play to help people accept their role in conflicts and negative situations. Clients are asked to act out the behaviours, traits or symptoms which are the opposite to those that have been causing them problems.
  • Rehearsal. Acting out a different behaviour can assist clients to experiment and learn new ways of being. Rehearsing calms a person’s anxiety around doing something different, and allows the behaviour to feel more natural.
  • Dream work. Working through all aspects of a dream can take several sessions and is a very powerful way of assisting clients to increase their self-awareness

What Kinds of Issues Can Gestalt Therapy Assist With?

Gestalt Therapy is used to address a wide range of issue and problems within a person’s life. It can also be combined with other therapy methods. It can be used as both a short-term and a long-term form of therapy to deal with problems ranging from minor to severe.

Some of the issues Gestalt can assist with include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic stress
  • Family conflict
  • Marital and couples’ conflict
  • Grief
  • Trauma
  • Low self-esteem
  • Relationships

If you feel like you could benefit from Gestalt Therapy, or you want to find out more about this approach, contact us for a discussion.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy vs. Gestalt Therapy – Choosing the Right Therapy for You

Psychiatrist

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Gestalt Therapy are often considered to be very similar psychological approaches. While both focus on the importance of investigating behaviour and learning strategies for dealing with negative thinking and conflict, there are some important differences in the techniques used to help clients reach their goals.

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT, is a short term, goal-orientated approach to therapy. It has been shown to be successful in the treatment of a range of mental and emotional issues, including anxiety and depression. The aim of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is to identify thoughts that are negative and unhelpful to you, and challenge them in a way that encourages more positive thinking.

CBT practitioners focus on teaching practical self-help strategies to clients, giving them the tools to make changes when they identify negative thoughts. This can be helpful for people who are struggling to live happily or to reach specific goals due to damaging self-talk. The basis of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is that negative thinking is a bad habit, but like other habits, it can be broken through hard work.

Anyone that struggles with negative thought patterns and mental health issues can benefit from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Practitioners use a range of strategies, such as thought monitoring and challenging, to help clients alter their negative thinking habits. Issues that can be effectively addressed by CBT include depression, anxiety, obsessions and compulsions, stress, anger management problems, and phobias.

What is Gestalt Therapy?

Gestalt Therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on the experience of the individual in the present moment. The primary focus of the therapy is on the process itself. Gestalt Therapy emphasises the importance of personal responsibility, encouraging clients to focus on what is actually happening in their lives in the moment, rather than what their past experience may lead them to believe is happening.

The goal of Gestalt Therapy is gaining better self-awareness and making positive changes based on this improved understanding of the self and our own ways of thinking. Often, our sense of fulfilment and personal growth is diminished by the way we interpret events and the actions of others. Reaching your full potential depends on living in the moment and not focusing on a negative interpretation of what is happening.

Gestalt Therapy is a very gentle form of therapy; often, people who are sceptical or intimidated by the idea of therapy find Gestalt to be an easy and supportive method that works well for them. Gestalt can be used to address a multitude of issues, including depression, anxiety, chronic stress, family conflict, martial and couples’ conflict, grief and trauma. Anyone who has trouble identifying their problematic behaviours or owning their emotional responses can greatly benefit from the techniques used in Gestalt Therapy. Additionally, Gestalt Therapy can be used with children.

Why Choose Gestalt Over Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

While both forms of therapy have their merits, Gestalt Therapy is ultimately the best type of therapy for addressing issues and living more positively.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy operates on the premise that all emotional responses are due to the way that a person thinks, and that therefore changing our thinking can solve any emotional difficulties. Gestalt Therapy takes a far more nuanced approach, recognising the complexity of human emotion and realising that while some emotional responses are irrational, that does not mean they are not truly occurring. CBT will teach you strategies to think differently so as not to feel negatively about yourself. In contrast, Gestalt will assist in unearthing buried emotional reactions to people, situations and events and will help clients to accept their role in conflicts and learn new ways of being.

Gestalt is a more creative and free method of therapy, which is why it is often seen as very accessible. The techniques commonly used in Gestalt – including the ‘empty chair’ experiment, role playing, and movement – encourage creative expression and looking at things from a different perspective. Gestalt practitioners believes that doing things which can bring joy heightens the sense of experiencing the present moment.

While Gestalt is a free-flowing therapeutic approach that deals with issues as they arise, CBT is far more rigid. CBT is often considered a short-term approach, and clients are encouraged to discuss a specific issue. A time-frame is agreed upon to tackle a particular problem. Part of the CBT process is dependent on measuring your progress so that you can gauge whether you are improving. This can create the sense that the therapy is “not working” and be disheartening for clients, especially those who were counting on the short time frame espoused by CBT for quick results.

There are many similarities between Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Gestalt Therapy, but Gestalt is the better option for people hoping to explore their internal selves in a freeing and creative environment, and looking for long term solutions to deep and complex issues.

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As restrictions surrounding COVID-19 begin to ease in Western Australia, Perth Counselling and Psychotherapy is once again offering face-to-face sessions, in addition to online sessions. For those of you visiting us in-person, rest assured that we are strictly following social distancing regulations and will not have any physical contact with clients. If you have any questions, please contact your therapist for more information.