Gestalt Therapy

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Psychology 460 Counseling and Interviewing Sheila K. Grant, Ph.D.

• "I am not in this world to live up to other people's expectations, nor do I feel that the world must live up to mine." --Fritz Perls



Theory of Personality
• A person exists by differentiating self from other & by connecting self & other • These are the two functions of a boundary • The boundary between self & environment must be permeable to allow for exchanges, yet firm enough to enable autonomous action • When the boundary becomes unclear, lost, or impermeable, mental & emotional disturbance results 3

• A gestalt, or whole, both includes & transcends the sum of its parts • It cannot be understood simply as a sum of smaller, independent events • It is chiefly that distinctive emphasis on looking to the whole for the meaning of the parts that unites a group of theorists into what is called the Gestalt school of psychology 4

Gestalt Therapy
• Fritz Perls (1893-1970) / wife Laura Perls (1905-1990)

Gestalt Therapy
• Existential & Phenomenological – it is grounded in the client’s “here and now” • Initial goal is for clients to gain awareness of what they are experiencing & doing now – Promotes direct experiencing rather than the abstractness of talking about situations – Rather than talk about a childhood trauma the client is encouraged to become the hurt child

– Main originator & developer of Gestalt Therapy

• Gestalt therapy
– an existential/phenomenological approach

• Therapists try to increase clients’ awareness • Clients are expected to do their own seeing, feeling, sensing, & interpreting




Gestalt Therapy An Overview
• Gestalt Therapy is another type of counseling that is based upon the existential framework. Key elements include: – 1. A Phenomenological Basis—You are seeking to focus on the client’s perception of reality – 2. Experiential—The client is being asked to come to understand about what and how they are thinking, feeling, and doing as they interact with the therapist and the other people in the world

Gestalt Therapy An Overview
– 3. Existential—The person is to take responsibility for their destiny and identity • The client is also encouraged to work in the “here and now,” not in the “there and then”

– 4. Awareness—A key element in this theory is helping the client come to an awareness of what he or she is doing and experiencing • This involves dropping those behaviors and barriers that would stop someone from experience one’s self 8


Gestalt Therapy An Overview
• Experiments—The therapist designs experiments to increase the client’s awareness of what he or she is doing, experiencing, and how he or she is doing it. 9

A Gestalt View of Human Nature
• Gestalt’s basic understanding of the human being is that people can deal with their problems, especially if they become fully aware of what is happening within oneself and outside of oneself • Change happens in a person’s life when he or she can reintegrate a disowned part of the self back into the mix of identity – A disowned part of the self is something that may conflict with how one perceives the self 10

A Gestalt View of Human Nature
• Problems begin when a person tries to be who or what he or she isn’t – Living with “masks” and being inauthentic does not promote change – In fact it promotes stagnation of the personality

A Gestalt View of Human Nature
• Gestalt is a process of “reowning” parts of the self that have been disowned – This unification process leads to the goal of becoming strong enough to proceed with one’s own personal growth

• According to Gestalt, the more a person tries to be who they are not, the more they stay the same 11

• Client needs to be in their current position and be aware of what they are, as opposed to trying to become what they are not • Change takes place when a person is more aware of who and what he or she is – Once that is accepted,...
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