Theory of Gestalt Therapy

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Theory of Gestalt Therapy

“What is Gestalt Therapy?” This is a question that has divided therapists for decades. Although Gestalt Therapy is based on a set of techniques, it is ultimately the therapist own defined style that makes it unique – from the theatrical techniques of Fritz Perls to the one-on-one approach of Jim Simken.

According to G.M. Yontef (Awareness, Dialogue and Process Pg 203), Gestalt Therapy is: 1. a bringing about of awareness
2. it is based on the I and Thou contact withdrawal process 3. its world view is based on holism and field theory

Each and every one of us seeks to make sense of life’s events, and as such a considerable amount of time is spent in trying to analyse and explain these events. As Fritz Perls himself declares “…man does not perceive things as unrelated isolates, but organizes them in the perpetual process into meaningful wholes.” (The Gestalt Approach and Eye Witness to Therapy). By being able to look at the life we lead and to some extent to the ideas that give it the form it has, we will engender understanding of the world around us and consequently a ‘field theory’ which is fundamental to Gestalt Therapy is formed.

Field Theory

In ‘field theory’ a person is one with his environment and his behaviour reflects this aspect. “Behaviour is a function of the field which it is a part. Experiencing is also a function of the field of which it is part”. (GM Yontef ibid pg 305).

Each field is organized by the dominant need of that moment. Once a need is felt, a figure ground formation develops. The individual meets this need by contacting the environment. When a need is met, the gestalt it organised becomes complete and it no longer exerts an influence. The organism is then free to form new gestalten. Unmet needs on the other hand claim our attention and interfere with the formation of new gestalten.

Cycle of Contact

Gestalt formation is always accompanied by awareness. (Fritz Perls, Hefferline + Goodman – Gestalt Therapy Pg 238). The point at which awareness is formed is the point of contact. In Gestalt therapy we find a four-phase process called the ‘cycle of contact’.

• Fore contact – this is the first phase of the cycle where the individual is aware of a need and the balance is disturbed. As this point the need is figure and everything else is ground.

• Contact – in the contact phase, how the need is going to be met is evaluated. Once a possibility of restoring the balance arises, this possibility becomes the figure, and the individual calls upon all his resources to overcome any obstacles that may be encountered. As he identifies more and more with this contact figure, it becomes more distinguished from the ground.

• Final contact follows the contact phase. Here the individual becomes fully engaged with the figure. It is the quality of this contact that will now determine whether or not the need is met. ‘It is the point at which I experience “me” in relation to what is not “me”, when I experience “me” as distinct from “you”. (P. Clarkson + J. Mackewn – Fritz Perls Pg. 55)

• The fourth and final phase is “post contact” where one experiences full satisfaction if contact has been good and complete. At this point growth takes place and balance is restored.

Sometimes the contact cycle is interrupted. It is part of our basic human ability to transcend the situation in which we are able to interrupt the contacting process if it produces too much anxiety or not to our liking. However, gestalt therapy emphasises non-confluence between therapist and client. Thus, although the client can interrupt contact, the therapist, because he does not require any particular contact but relates to what the client does, may not be interrupted and client may re-establish contact.

However, if a need arises and full contact is not made, the need will remain unmet and the gestalt will be incomplete and continue to demand...
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