approach and background
the gestalt approach
The goals of Gestalt therapy are joy of life and personal growth, to enable a creative and spontaneous contact with other people and the environment in which we live in. In order to achieve this goal, we encourage clients in Gestalt therapy to raise their self-awareness and to develop towards self-support. Each person is valued as a unique individual in society, which may not always allow for this uniqueness. We are not interested in repairing isolated “disorders”.
Through the holistic work, Gestalt therapy activates the self-healing forces inherent in the organism. What we experience as a blockage, obstacle, indecision, or even emptiness can be perceived and may be resolved. Gestalt therapists pay special attention to the contact process. Together with the client, we examine their possibly disturbing, obstructive experiences in the relationship to themselves and the environment.
In order to fulfill the holistic claim of Gestalt therapy, the therapist’s resonance, his or her closeness and authenticity are important. He is there as a real counterpart. He becomes visible as the person he is. By sharpening the perception of ourselves and others in the therapeutic process, we see blockades as inner and outer conflicts again.
We then work on these conflicts in a dialogue based conversation, we offer exercises or invite the client to experiment in a protected space. When the client can experience, perceive and accept their own needs and desires, contact with themself is established. This is significant for the inner orientation. We find the outer orientation in steering towards the environment.
At the boundary of contact, where the human being absorbs or reject something from the environment, spiritual growth or self-development takes place. The result is often a truthful discovery, something new, something that expands one’s horizon.
Gestalt therapy focuses on the here and now. Past and future are brought into the present and processed in the now. Remembering is a present activity. When we approach past experiences, inner images, feelings and body reactions emerge in the moment. Since memory is alive in the here and now, it can be worked on by incorporating current experiences. Open figures can be closed. The future can also be felt in the present: as a perspective in life, as striving for something, but also as hopelessness and much more. It is present in the present and also part of the therapeutic work.
The Gestalt approach is used effectively in many therapeutic and counseling settings: in individual and group therapy, with couples, with families and children, but also in companies and organizations in various professional fields.
Gestalt therapy developed from psychoanalysis and got its name from Gestalt psychology which deals with how reality is produced through our perception. What is perceived depends on the observer. Gestalt psychology discovered that people organize their perceptions to create a meaningful whole. Gestalt therapy made use of this insight by training the perception for the present on the one hand, and on the other hand by turning to what has remained unfinished. These unfinished open forms appear again and again in our lives as disturbances until they are completed, that is, until they reach a conclusion that is meaningful for the individual.
Gestalt therapy was developed by the German analyst couple Laura and Fritz Perls and the American writer and political activist Paul Goodman. Laura and Fritz Perls, who fled Nazism in 1930 first to South Africa and then to the United States, abandoned the so-called safe and powerful place of the analyst in their work with clients in favor of an equal encounter. The psychoanalytic approach underwent further modifications and additions; Perls and Goodman, for example, advocated the transformation of the clinical situation into an experimental one, where, for example, inhibition, resistance and refusal are not considered undesirable. Rather, in a protected therapeutic setting, clients should be supported in approaching difficult feelings and issues step-by-step by testing out. With the introduction of the figure/ground concept from Kurt Lewin’s field theory, the work with past experiences take a new direction:
Our history is the background of our existence; it is not an accumulation of facts, but the record of how we became who we are. Only when the disturbances in the background that work against the support of our present life come to the fore, so that they can be treated, is it possible for them to be transformed from deficits (incomplete Gestalts) into functions of support.
(Fritz Perls, Fundamentals of Gestalt Therapy: Introduction and Session Protocols [translated], Stuttgart 2007 (12th ed.), p. 76. The quote is from 1969.)