Gestalt therapy is a holistic approach; that is, it perceives objects, and especially living beings, as totalities. In Gestalt Therapy, we say that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Everything exists and acquires meaning within a specific context; nothing exists by itself, isolated.

Along with systemic therapy, Gestalt therapy is essentially a way of living life with feet on the ground. It does not intend to direct the individual on the path of esoteric or enlightenment. It is a way of becoming in this world in a full, free, and open way, accepting and holding ourselves accountable for who we are, without using more resources than appreciating what it is.

Gestalt therapy is a lifestyle in itself; hence, it is more appropriate to call it a focus, which is a broader term, rather than therapy, which restricts its application possibilities to clinical psychology. We will tell you all about Gestalt psychotherapy concepts, principles, and techniques.

What Is Gestalt Therapy Definition

Gestalt psychotherapy is one of the models framed in the humanist psychology movement. Fritz and Laura Perls, two of the pioneers of this therapy, define it as the philosophy of the obvious, as their goal is to capture what is evident at a given moment.

To make the correct definition of Gestalt, it is important to know that it is often associated with expressions such as “awareness therapy”, “contact therapy” or “here and now therapy”. Thus, the primary goal is to help the person to become aware (both cognitive and emotional) of how he or she avoids a part of a reality, which may seem traumatic to him or her. The role of the therapist will be to prepare the person to face unpleasant things, which is to help him/her to get good contact with his / her reality.

Basis of Therapy And Gestalt Institute

Gestalt is a German term, without direct translation into English, but which roughly means form, totality, configuration. The form or configuration of anything is composed of a figure and a background. For example, at the moment for you, the letters constitute the figure, and the blank spaces form the background, although this situation can be reversed and what figure can become background.

Gestalt Institute

The phenomenon described, which is located in the plane of perception, also involves all aspects of the experience. This is how some situations that concern us are located at the present moment in the status of the figure can become other moments, when the problem or the need that caused it to arise disappears, in insignificant situations, then going to the bottom.

This occurs especially when you manage to close or conclude a Gestalt; it then withdraws from our attention to the fund, and from that fund comes a new Gestalt motivated by some new need. This cycle of opening and closing Gestalts (or Gestalten, as it is said in German) is a permanent process, which occurs throughout our entire existence.

Objectives of Gestalt Therapy

For Gestalt therapy, the therapist is his/her own instrument and, in turn, prioritizes the improvisation above a body of intervention techniques organized and corroborated experimentally. Gestalt Therapy is both an art and science that presupposes the improvisation and creativity are at the service of therapeutic ends, and need not only the intuition of the therapist but also the assimilation of a profound theoretical knowledge that allows that intuition to emerge properly. When we talk about Gestalt therapy, its concepts, principles, and techniques, it is essential to focus on the objectives, and these are as follows;

1. Purpose Of The Model Is To Mature

The purpose of therapy is to grow and mature. We could understand that growing up is following Pindar’s advice,” become what you are”. Perls describes the maturation process by saying that it is “to turn cardboard people into real people.” Rank understands the mature person as the ”creative artist“ or Erich Fromm as a person who lives from the” Being “and not from ”having“, in short, a mature person is a ” leader without being rebellious  (Fritz Perls) and as he is able to live in relation to his own center, he does not need to live by relying on things.

2. Dare To Grow

The price to achieve the maturation process is to accept unpleasant situations honestly. We do not grow up because our fears stifle us in a state of childishness and prevent us from looking for alternatives to give answers to the difficulties we face.

We could argue that it is about “taking the bull by the horns, with the awareness that each bullfighter has his peculiar way of bullfighting of his own experiences. The therapist does not have an interpretive function, as in psychoanalysis, but a questioning task.

Like maieutics, which Socrates bequeathed us, it is about bringing to light all that belongs to us, both joys and sorrows, through questions. Questions are about looking from ”a certain point of observation” to discover new perspectives of one’s own and another’s reality. Once we have been able to see new perspectives, it is about making decisions and being protagonists of our own script of life.

3. Growth Process

We have all experienced simultaneous needs and have paid preferential attention to the one that is most indispensable to us in order to survive. We can certainly find people who, in the name of the freedom or the struggle against the infidels, are capable of sacrificing their own biological existence, but it usually seems that there are two basic tendencies in every living creature. They are survival and growth. Thus, at a given time, several needs can be met at once, and several elements can be given in the environment to satisfy one of them and not to give elements to satisfy others.

Heraclitus understood the flow of life when he said that you cannot bathe twice in the same river. We cannot bathe in the same waters, although if we can realize –awareness – the waters we rise up and, to a large extent, we are responsible for our uniqueness.

4. The Management Cycle of Meeting Needs

Gestalt Cycle Have Seven Phases

  1. The sensation phase is a passive and bodily phase, defined by the stimuli that affect our senses.
  2. The second phase is the phase of consciousness, where sensations are interpreted, and cognitive and emotional factors are involved.
  3. The third phase is the phase of energization in which a series of volitive and affective elements emerge that energize the subject, through the internal emotional movement, pressing them towards the attainment of the goal.
  4. The fourth phase is the phase of action in which the subject seeks a change in relation to the environment.
  5. The fifth phase is the phase of contact, in which the intense encounter with the element of the environment takes place that had been selected.
  6. The sixth phase is the phase of satisfaction, which, once the need has been satisfied, appears a sense of homeostasis, calmness, and consummation of the process with the resolution of the problem.
  7. Finally, the phase of withdrawal in which an energy mutation occurs leading to the abandonment of the object of contact, which is a kind of “digestion of experience”.

Bases Of Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt approach

Gestalt approach has been influenced by the following trends:

  1. The psychoanalysis of Freud, taking up and reformulating his theory of Anna Freud’s defense mechanisms and work with dreams.
  2. The Existential Philosophy, from which it rescues the confidence in the inherent potentialities of the individual, respect for the person, and responsibility.
  3. Phenomenology, which it takes its attachment by the obvious, by immediate experience and by awareness (insight).
  4. The psychology of Gestalt, with its theory of perception (figure-background, Law of good form, etc.).
  5. Eastern religions, and especially Zen Buddhism.
  6. The psychodrama of J. L. Moreno, who adopts the idea of dramatizing the experiences and dreams.
  7. Reich’s muscle shell theory.
  8. The Theory of creative indifference, by Sigmund Friedlander, from which he draws his theory of polarities.
  9. Systemic therapy and family constellations

Gestalt Therapy is not only the sum or juxtaposition of the above-mentioned doctrines and approaches but its creative integration, its elevation to a new way, carried out by Fritz Perls, creator of the Gestalt approach.

Realization or Awareness

This is the key concept on which the Gestalt Therapy is based. It is a concept similar to that of insight, although it is broader; a sort of organized chain of insights. There are three areas of awareness:

  • Realizing the outside world: it is a sensory contact with objects and events that are outside of one in the present; what I see, touch, taste, or smell at this time. It is obvious what is presented itself before us. At this moment I see my pen sliding on the paper forming a word, I hear the noise of cars passing by the avenue, I smell the perfume of a young woman passing by me, I feel the taste of fruit in my mouth.
  • Realizing the inner world: it is the current sensory contact with internal events, with what happens over and under our skin. Muscle tensions, movements, annoying sensations, stings, tremors, sweating, breathing, etc. At this moment, I feel the pressure of my index finger, major and thumb on my pen when writing; I feel that I descend the weight of my body on my left elbow; I feel my heartbeats, my breathing is shaking, etc.
  • Realizing the fantasy, The Middle Zone: This includes all mental activity that goes beyond the present: all explaining, imagining, guessing, thinking, planning, remembering the past, anticipating the future, etc. Right now I’m wondering what I’m going to do tomorrow morning, will that be helpful, okay?. In Gestalt, all this is unreality, fantasy. It is not yet tomorrow, and I can’t know and say NOTHING about it. Everything is in my imagination; it is pure and simple speculation, and the healthiest thing is to assume it as such.

Here and Now: Mindfulness and Gestalt

It is really difficult to accept that everything exists in the momentary present. The past exists and matters only as part of the present reality, things and memories about which I now think as belonging to the past. The idea of the past is useful sometimes, but at the same time, I must not lose sight of that, which is an idea, a fantasy I have now. Our idea of the future is also an unreal fiction, although sometimes useful when we assume it as an essay and just like that. Both our idea of the future and our conception of the past is based on our understanding of the present. The past and the future are our conceptions about what preceded the present moment, and what we predict will follow the presentation. And all this guessing happens now.

Now is The Present

Now is the present

Whether we’re remembering or anticipating, we’re doing it now. The past was, the future has not yet reached. There’s no way anything exists except the present. Perls mentioned the example that someone mediated once: if I put a disk in the phonograph, the sound appears when the disk and needle make contact. Not before or after. If we could erase the immediate past or the anticipation of what will come immediately, it would be difficult for us to understand the music of the record we are listening to. But if we delete the now, then there’s nothing. So it doesn’t matter if we’re remembering or anticipating, we still do it in the here and now. These types of principles are closely related to mindfulness therapy.

Systemic Psychology and Gestalt Therapy

By asking why all you get is some rationalization or “explanation.” Why brings an ingenious explanation, never a complete understanding. Besides, it takes us away from here and now and introduces us to the fantasy world; it takes us out of the obvious to theorize. Perls considered that words, when used to ” explain ” and move away from the obvious or reality, are more a burden than something useful.

Why it only leads us to endless and sterile investigations of the cause. If you ask yourself the question of how we are looking at the structure, we see what happens obviously, worrying about a deeper understanding of the process. How it gives us perspective, orientation. How it shows us that one of the fundamental laws that of the identity of structure and function is valid.

If we change the structure, the function changes. If we change the function, the structure changes. The pillars on which Gestalt Therapy stands are the here and the now and the how. Its essence lies in the understanding of these two words. Living in the now, trying to realize how to do it.

Gestalt Therapy: Principles and Objectives

The main objective of Gestalt therapy is to get people to unmask themselves in front of others, and to achieve that they have to risk sharing about themselves; to experience the present, both in fantasy and in reality, based on experiential activities and experiments. The work is specialized in exploring effective territory more than that of the intelligentsia.

Participants are expected to become aware of their bodies and each of their senses. The philosophy implicit in the rules is to provide us with effective means to unify thought and feeling. They are designed to help us to bring out resistance, to promote greater awareness, to facilitate the process of maturation. It also seeks to exercise individual responsibility, “semantics of responsibility”.

Gestalt Therapy Rules

Gestalt Therapy Rules

Throughout this article, we have observed Gestalt psychotherapy, its concepts, principles, and techniques. However, we still have to look at all its rules. Some of these rules can be applied as guidelines for individual therapy; however, their primary use is given in Group Therapy, in meeting groups. The main rules are the following:

I-You relationship: with this principle, we try to express the idea that true communication includes both the receiver and the sender. By asking, who are you telling with whom? The subject is forced to face its reluctance to send the message directly to the receiver, to the other. In this way, the patient is often asked to mention the name of the other person, to ask him direct questions about any doubt or curiosity; to express his or her state of mind or disagreement, etc. It seeks to make him aware of the difference between “talking to” his interlocutor and “talking” in front of him. To what extent are you avoiding touching it with your words? How is this phobic avoidance for contact expressed in your gestures, in the tone of your voice, in avoiding your gaze?

Assume ownership of language and conduct, i.e., take responsibility for what is said and/or done. This is directly linked to personal and impersonal language. It is common for us to refer to our body, to our actions or emotions, to use the 2nd or 3rd person. “You make me feel sorry “instead of” I feel sorry”;” my body is tense “instead of” I am tense”, etc.

Through the simple recourse of converting impersonal language into personnel, we learn to better identify and take responsibility for conduct. As a result, the individual is more likely to be seen as an active being, who “does things”, rather than believing himself to be a passive subject, to whom “things happen to him”. The implications for mental health and for leaving our “neurosis” behind are obvious.

Gestalt Therapy is forbidden to say “I can’t”; instead, it must say “I don’t want”, that is, to be assertive. This is because the subject often refuses to act, to experiment, to come into contact, disqualifying himself before even trying. You can’t force a person to do something he doesn’t want to, but you can demand responsibility, to assume the consequences of his evasive decision, regarding to the honesty that is the most appropriate.

In the same way, it is also necessary to avoid or make the patient realize his/her “but”, “why”, “I don’t know”, etc. it is necessary to remember that in the human being language is one of the means of avoidance par excellence: one can speak of everything and not come into contact with anything to put a word wall between us.

Continuum of awareness: Leaving free passage to the present experiences, without judging them or criticizing them, is something essential to integrate the various parts of the personality. Not seek great discoveries in oneself, not “push the river”, but let it flow alone, freely.

Do not murmur: any communication, even those that are supposed to be” private “or” not of interest to the group”, must be openly discussed in it or failing to avoid it. The murmurings and whispering about others are avoidations, ways of avoiding contact, as well as disrespecting the group and going against its cohesion by establishing topics “that do not fall within its competence” in its presence. This rule aims to promote feelings and prevent avoidance of feelings.

Translate questions into statements, except for very specific data. You ask like, ” Can I go to the bathroom? Can I move to? Can I go now?”. They should be translated as “I want to go to the bathroom, I want to change places, I want to go.” Thus, the questioner assumes his/her responsibility and the consequences of what he/she claims, instead of adopting a passive position and projecting his/her responsibility on the other, in order to give them the authorization.

Pay attention to the way others are treated. Who do we pay attention to? Who are we ignoring? etc

Do not interpret or seek “the real cause” of what the other says. Simply listen and realize what one feels, depending on such contact.

Pay attention to one’s physical experience, as well as to the changes in posture and gesture of others. To share with the other what is observed, the obvious, through the formula of ” now I realize …”.

Accept the experiment on duty; take risks by participating in the discussion.

Consider, even if it is not made explicit, that everything has been said and lived in the group is strictly confidential.

Cycle Of Gestalt Therapy Experience

Cycle Of Gestalt Therapy Experience

According to Gestalt techniques, the so-called cycle of experience is the basic nucleus of human life, since it is nothing more than the endless succession of cycles. It is also known as the “cycle of organizational self-regulation” since it is considered that the organism knows what is in its best interest and tends to regulate itself.

The conceptualization of this cycle aims to reproduce how subjects make contact with their environment and with themselves. It also explains the figure/background training process: how the figures emerge from the diffuse background, and how, once the need is satisfied, this figure disappears again.

The cycle of experience begins when the organism, being at rest, feels a need to emerge in itself; the subject becomes aware of it and identifies in its space some element or object that satisfies it, that is, this element becomes a figure, highlighting above the others that are the background. Next, the organism mobilizes its energies to reach the desired object until it comes into contact with it, satisfies the need and returns to rest again.

Gestalt Cycle Layers

In the classic scheme of the cycle, six successive stages are identified:

(1) Rest;

(2) Sensation;

(3) Figure Awareness Or Formation;

(4) Energization;

(5) Action;

(6) Contact.

In rest or withdrawal, the subject has already resolved a previous Gestalt or necessity, and is in a state of equilibrium, without any pressing need. Its pathological end can be autism.

In the sensation, the subject is removed from his/her rest because he/she feels “something” diffuse, which he/she cannot yet define. For example, you may feel peristaltic movements or sounds in your stomach, or else some restlessness.

In the realization, the sensation is identified as a specific need (in the previous examples, as hunger or as concern, respectively) and also that which satisfies it is identified: a certain portion of reality is delimited that acquires a vital sense very important to the subject, that is, a figure is formed. In the energizing phase, the subject gathers the strength or concentration necessary to carry out what the need demands.

In action, the most important phase of the entire cycle, the individual mobilizes his body to satisfy his need, concentrates his energy in his muscles and bones, and actively moves towards the attainment of his desire. In the final stage, the contact occurs the conjunction of the subject with the object of the need; and, in consequence, satisfies the same.

The stage culminates when the subject feels satisfied, he can say goodbye to this cycle and begin another. So ad infinitum.

Among the various links that make up the cycle, self-interruptions can be formed, giving rise to different types of pathologies. Defense mechanisms also work over there. In general terms, it can be said that the cycle of experience, given in a specific and significant context, constitutes itself a Gestalt.

An interrupted cycle is an unfinished Gestalt; an entity that will parasitize the organism by consuming its energy until it is satisfied.

Strata of The Self

According to Fritz Perls, in the self of every human being, there are six layers that cover, in the form of onion, being authentic of people. These layers or strata of the Self, as they are known, are the following:

1) False;

2) Itself;

3) Phobic;

4) Implosive  or Quagmire;

5) Explosive;

(6) The Self true:

  1. In the false stratum is our “facade”, which we place in our display case of ourselves and let others see.
  2. Then comes the stratum ” as if”; there are the roles, the games we use to manipulate others, to act ” as if ” we were this or that. It is our usual and rigid character or way of acting.
  3. If in the therapeutic process, we go through the false stratum and the “as it were” stratum, we reach the phobic stratum. There are all our fears and all our insecurities in front of ourselves; our best-kept secrets and our narcissistic wounds; sorrow, pain, sadness, or despair; that which we do not want to see or touch from our personality and even less discover in front of others.
  4. If we get past the phobic, we will feel a sense of emptiness, of immobility, of lack of energy, of death. We have arrived at the quagmire, where we feel “stuck”, with no way out.
  5. Behind it, however, lies the implosive stratum, where all our unused energies are found, our vitality “frozen” or directed toward ourselves to maintain our defenses.
  6. Finally, behind the implosive lies, the explosive stratum, where stagnant forces shoot out in a burst of authenticity, giving way to the true self that remains hidden. There are basically four types of explosion: joy, grief, orgasm, and courage.

On the basis of the above, we can imagine a person X, that at the start of the therapy will be displayed superficial, formal or conventional (good morning, how warm it is, what a pleasure to see you, blah, blah, blah). Behind this, we will find their fears, their “traumas”, their evades, which need to be confronted. We’ll put them in a temporary quagmire, where they will live without strength, almost dead.

However, if you trust your body and give it freedom, it will show you its unused forces, which will emerge freely as figures as the field of avoidance clears its true potential, and experience a veritable explosion of joy, pleasure, anger, or sorrow (all positive, therapeutic, and necessary) that will give way to the true human being behind subject X.

This should be done repeatedly, at every time of therapy, until the subject is sufficiently known and can perform the process on his own.

A mature person can experience and sustain all kinds of emotional experiences in the “here and now”; in addition, he uses his own resources (self-support) instead of manipulating others and the environment to get support.

Family Groupings and Systemic Therapy

The therapies and the Gestalt institute usually work hand in hand with other complementary tools from an approach far from the more traditional therapies.

  • First, family groupings are defined as a dynamic of emotional therapy based on group sessions where each individual plays a role as a family member involved in the life of the person to whom the family grouping is being performed.
  • On the other hand, the focus of systemic therapy is based on working the dynamics of relationships (family, couple, friendship, work) in each session so that therapy is not reduced to solving a single problem.

Both approaches are very compatible with the gestalt approach that we have been studying throughout this article on Gestalt therapy: concepts, principles, and techniques.

Process of Gestalt Therapy

In short, Gestalt therapy pursues:

  • Live in the now.
  • Live in the here.
  • Stop imagining and fantasizing in excess by replacing real contact.
  • Stop thinking unnecessarily by replacing action.
  • Stop pretending or playing “as if”.
  • Express or communicate.
  • Feel the unpleasant things and the pain.
  • Do not accept any “should”, more than your own, imposed by yourself based on our needs and experiences.
  • Take full responsibility for your own actions, feelings, emotions, and thoughts.
  • Whatever you are… no matter what you are.

This article is merely informative on our website, we have no faculty to make a diagnosis or recommend treatment. We invite you to see a psychologist to deal with your particular case.


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