Gestalt is a highly positive and practical integrative therapeutic approach. Broadly, Gestalt practitioners help people to focus on their immediate thoughts, feelings and behaviour and to better understand the way they relate to others. This increased awareness can help people to find a new perspective, see the bigger picture and start to effect changes.
The birth of Gestalt
The zeitgeist in Europe in the 1930s was one of explosive change. New forms of expression were emerging culturally and politically. Science and technology was developing apace. Against this backdrop, in Berlin, Fritz Perls became interested in some of the prevailing philosophical questions, particularly those concerning existence, what it is to be human, of consciousness and how we experience the world around us.
Whilst working at the Frankfurt Psychological Institute, Perls met the psychologist and psychotherapist Lore Posner – later to become his wife Laura Perls. Together with the New York based thinker and writer, Paul Goodman, the pair channelled their existential ideas and dissatisfaction with Freudian psychotherapy into their radical new humanistic therapy, with ideas about the self and awareness at its core. Perls’ book “Gestalt Therapy” was published in 1951 and the first Gestalt institute was established in New York in the early 1950s. During the 1960s and 70s, Gestalt therapy rose to rapid and widespread popularity, especially in the USA.
Today, Gestalt is a well established, well known therapeutic approach and is increasingly popular with people looking for a practical, positive way to address problems and effect change in their lives. The Gestalt Centre has been operating in London for more than 30 years and is a recognised centre of expertise for training in Gestalt therapy.
How Gestalt Works
“I and thou in the here and now”
Gestalt is a German word. The closest translation is ‘whole’, ‘pattern’ or ‘form’. It has the sense that meaning cannot be found from breaking things down into parts but rather from appreciation of the whole. In other words, Gestalt is a holistic process. It regards the individual as a totality of mind, body, emotions and spirit who experiences reality in a way unique to themselves.
In practice, Gestalt practitioners work with clients to help them focus on self-awareness: on what is happening from one moment to the next or, as we often say, in the Here and Now. Increased awareness and understanding of the present, of one’s immediate thoughts, feelings and behaviour, and of patterns of relating can bring about powerful change and new perspectives.
For practitioners, Gestalt’s focus on the present moment, and on immediate thoughts and feelings, make it a very lively, spontaneous and creative approach.
For clients, the greater holistic awareness and increased insight into how we think, feel and act is very liberating. It builds self-confidence, frees people to address issues and helps them to live life to its fullest potential.
What is Gestalt used for?
Gestalt therapeutic work has been shown to be effective in treating a wide range of issues such as anxiety, stress, addiction, tension and depression, whether as a long-term therapy or via a number of sessions. At times of personal difficulty, Gestalt offers people a safe, supportive space to explore difficult feelings, to understand the underlying patterns in personal relationships and to begin making practical changes.
Gestalt is also a highly effective and empowering change process for working with individuals, couples, groups, teams and organisations. Beyond the therapy room, the Gestalt approach is increasingly being used by people whose work relies on relationship building, particularly those in education, health and social care. It’s also used by people-focused professionals in areas such as HR, Organisational Development, coaching and training where it can be a powerful way to effect change in individuals, in teams and across organisations.
In the meanwhile, here are some links that may be of interest:
- Read Rosemary Wulf’s essay on The Historical Roots of Gestalt Therapy Theory (opens in new tab)
“What is a human being? How does he or she function? Why do we exist? Is there a reason to exist? How should we behave toward each other? How does psychological illness develop?” Rosemary Wulf
- A Wikipedia entry covering the origins of Gestalt psychology (opens in new tab)