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.

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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.