Gestalt Therapy

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Gestalt therapy is a therapeutic approach in psychology that helped foster the humanistic theories of the 1950s and 1960s and that was, in turn, influenced by them. In Gestalt philosophy, the patient is seen as having better insight into himself or herself than the therapist does. Thus, the therapist guides the person on a self-directed path to awareness and refrains from interpreting the patient’s behaviors. Awareness comprises recognition of one’s responsibility for choices, self-knowledge, and ability to solve problems. Its originators, Frederick S. (Fritz) Perls (1893–1970) and Laura Perls (born Lore Posner, 1905–1990), were born in Germany and studied psychology there. They fled Germany during the Nazi regime, moving to South Africa and then to New York City. They were both initially influenced by Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic approaches and by Wilhelm Reich’s Orgonomic psychotherapy. Their later ideas on Gestalt therapy broke with the psychoanalytic tradition, moving toward existentialism and, ultimately, humanism. In New York City the Perls founded the Gestalt Therapy Institute in 1952. Their novel technique in therapy was to face the patient, in contrast to the typical Freudian technique of sitting behind a reclining person. The face-to-face positioning permitted the therapist to direct the patient’s attention to movements, gestures, and postures so the patient could strive to gain a fuller awareness of his or her immediate behaviors and environment. Another well-known approach introduced in Gestalt therapy is the so-called “empty chair technique,” in which a person sits across from and talks to an empty chair, envisioning a significant person (or object) associated with psychological tensions. By using these techniques, the Perls believed, the patient would be able to gain insight into how thoughts and behaviors are used to deflect attention from important psychological issues and would learn to recognize the presence of issues from the past that affect...
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