Gestalt therapy is built upon two central ideas: that the most helpful focus of psychotherapy is the experiential present moment, and that everyone is caught in webs of relationships; thus, it is only possible to know ourselves against the background of our relationships to others.
Gestalt therapy focuses on process (what is actually happening)
over content (what is being talked about).
The emphasis is on what is being done, thought, and felt at the present moment (the phenomenology of both client and therapist), rather than on what was, might be, could be, or should have been.
Gestalt therapy is a method of awareness practice (also called “mindfulness” in other clinical domains), by which perceiving, feeling, and acting are understood to be conducive to interpreting, explaining, and conceptualizing (the hermeneutics of experience).
This distinction between direct experience versus indirect or secondary interpretation is developed in the process of therapy. The client learns to become aware of what he or she is doing and that triggers the ability to risk a shift or change.
The theoretical foundations of Gestalt therapy rest atop four “load-bearing walls”:
1 Phenomenological method – Awareness, “mindfulness”, a focus on being in the moment. One sets aside one’s initial biases and prejudices in order to suspend expectations and assumptions. One occupies oneself with describing instead of explaining. One treats each item of description as having equal value or significance
A Gestalt therapist using the phenomenological method might say something like, “I notice a slight tension at the corners of your mouth when I say that, and I see you shifting on the couch and folding your arms across your chest … and now I see you rolling your eyes back”. Of course, the therapist may make a clinically relevant evaluation, but when applying the phenomenological method, temporarily suspends the need to express it.;
2 Dialogical relationship – a mutual, ‘I-Thou’ relationship (not I-it), contact, relationship, the ‘in-between’
To create the conditions under which a dialogic moment might occur, the therapist attends to his or her own presence, creates the space for the client to enter in and become present as well (called inclusion), and commits him or herself to the dialogic process, surrendering to what takes place, as opposed to attempting to control it. With presence, the therapist judiciously “shows up” as a whole and authentic person, instead of assuming a role, false self or persona. To practice inclusion is to support the presence of the client, including his or her resistance;
3 Field-theoretical strategies – all is part of a whole though we may focus on one part, we like to explore the polarities and disowned. Field theory is a concept borrowed from physics in which people and events are no longer considered discrete units but as parts of something larger, which are influenced by everything including the past, and observation itself. “The field” can be considered in two ways. There are ontological dimensions and there are phenomenological dimensions to one’s field. The ontological dimensions are all those physical and environmental contexts in which we live and move.
They might be the office in which one works, the house in which one lives, the city and country of which one is a citizen, and so forth. The ontological field is the objective reality that supports our physical existence. The phenomenological dimensions are all mental and physical dynamics that contribute to a person’s sense of self, one’s subjective experience—not merely elements of the environmental context. These might be the memory of an uncle’s inappropriate affection, one’s colour blindness, one’s sense of the social matrix in operation at the office in which one works, and so forth. ;
4 Experimental freedom – freedom on the part of both therapist and client to explore, imagine, experience. Gestalt therapy is distinct because it moves toward action, away from mere talk therapy, and for this reason is considered an experiential approach. Through experiments, the therapist supports the client’s direct experience of something new, instead of merely talking about the possibility of something new. Indeed, the entire therapeutic relationship may be considered experimental, because at one level it is a corrective, relational experience for many clients, that is free to turn out however it will. An experiment can also be conceived as a teaching method that creates an experience in which a client might learn something as part of their growth.
Examples might include: (1) Rather than talking about the client’s critical parent, a Gestalt therapist might ask the client to imagine the parent is present, or that the therapist is the parent, and talk to that parent directly; (2) If a client is struggling with how to be assertive, a Gestalt therapist could either (a) have the client say some assertive things to the therapist or members of a therapy group, or (b) give a talk about how one should never be assertive; (3) A Gestalt therapist might notice something about the non-verbal behavior or tone of voice of the client; then the therapist might have the client exaggerate the non-verbal behavior and pay attention to that experience; (4) A Gestalt therapist might work with the breathing or posture of the client, and direct awareness to changes that might happen when the client talks about different content. With all these experiments the Gestalt therapist is working with process rather than content, the How rather than the What.
The Paradoxical Theory of Change
In what has now become a classic of Gestalt therapy literature, Arnold R. Beisser described Gestalt’s paradoxical theory of change. The paradox is that the more one attempts to be who one is not, the more one remains the same. Conversely, when people identify with their current experience, the conditions of wholeness and growth support change. Put another way, change comes about as a result of “full acceptance of what is, rather than a striving to be different.”
An edited version of the wikipedia entry