Fritz Perls's Use of Gestalt Therapy: a Review

Topics: Psychotherapy, Gestalt therapy, Nonverbal communication Pages: 7 (2420 words) Published: April 22, 2013
Gestalt is a fascinating approach to therapy with many unique techniques, interventions and goals that set it apart from other approaches. "Self-acceptance, knowledge of the environment, responsibility for choices, and the ability to make contact...are important awareness processes and goals, all of which are based on a here-and-now experiencing that is always changing" (Corey, 2009, p. 200). Fritz Perls demonstrates his Gestalt therapy style in Three Approaches to Psychotherapy: A Film Series (1975). Though this film has made a significant impact in the field of psychological education, many simply remember Fritz Perls as a brash and cocky showman. This is unfortunate as he has left very meaningful contributions to the field of psychology.

In the film, Perls approaches his client, Gloria in a more aggressive way than her other therapists, Albert Ellis and Carl Rogers. It does seem to me that he is attacking her at times. From my perspective it seems that he is a paternal figure who is trying to shame her into "being strong" ironically through submission. Perls demonstrates a form of Gestalt therapy that has evolved since then. Yontef (1999) commented on contemporary Gestalt therapy, "this model includes more support and increased kindness and compassion in therapy as compared to the confrontational and dramatic style of Fritz Perls" (as cited in Corey, 2009, p.199) but Perls is entertaining to watch.

There is a lot of latent content hidden behind the body language of therapist and client. As Gloria enters the room and sits, her leg is crossed away from him as if to block herself from him. In this gesture she is sending the message that she feels defensive from the moment she sits down. On the other hand, Gloria engages in a number of flirtatious behaviors as well. She smiles in a flirtatious way, cuts her eyes away from him, she giggles, describes him as distinguished, etc. Gloria squints and often leans her head to the side which seems like it may be a manipulation on her part; those nonverbal behaviors are a part of her coy act that Perls refers to as her acting dumb and stupid.

Gloria using her "dumb and stupid" act as a tool to manipulate others into making contact with her is one theme that develops over the course of the session. Perls attempts, over the course of the session to show Gloria that her "dumb and stupid" act and her hiding in her "safe corner" are unnecessary phony manipulations. Gloria's desire for closeness with others and her simultaneous discomfort with closeness also emerges as a theme. Perls highlights her ambivalence throughout the session. He addresses both themes through a series of interventions and experiments.

Close attention to non verbal cues is a significant portion of Perls's interventions. These two aspect of his therapy (non verbal communication and intervention) are closely interrelated. Gestalt therapists often refer to concentration on non verbal cues as "attending to the obvious". As Corey explains, "Cues to the client's background can be found on the surface through physical gestures, tone of voice, demeanor, and other nonverbal content" (2009, p.201).

From the onset of the session Perls set the stage for close attention to non verbal cues. Within minutes of her walking into the therapy room, Gloria Smiles while claiming to be scared. Perls quickly highlights this incongruence. At another point, Gloria puts her hand on her chest when speaking about retreating to a corner and Perls astutely asks "Is this your corner?" while imitating Gloria's hand to chest gesture. These are just two examples of Perls's close attention to non verbal cues though there are countless examples throughout the session.

Another intervention that Perls uses in confrontation. The way that Perls confronts Gloria is very interesting. His behavior varies widely from friendly to negative to neutral. While his words are confrontational when he calls Gloria phony, his...

References: Corey, G. (2009). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy. Belmont, CA:
Brooks Cole.
Polster, E. & Polster, M. (2010). From the radical center: The heart of Gestalt therapy.
Gestalt Review, 14(1), 8-23.
Yontef, G. (1999). Awareness, dialogue and process: Preface to the 1998 German edition. The Gestalt Journal, 22(1), 9–20.
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