Expanding Awareness with Gestalt Psychotherapy
Finding the right kind of therapy can be tough. So many modalities. So many therapists. So many choices. You want support and results.
While Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) receives most of the attention in today’s psychology field, Gestalt Therapy is an alternative modality that I strongly believe provides a more solid platform for greater integration and holistic healing.
Gestalt therapy, a humanistic, client-centered psychology that evolved during the 1950s and 1960s, is an inclusive therapy geared to explore and expand one’s external and internal awareness. Utilizing tenets from phenomenology, existential philosophy, somatic work, and theory of change, Gestalt Therapy exists as a vehicle to investigate one’s emotions and thoughts through a “here-and-now” lens. Depressed? How does that “depression” show up in the therapy room? Relationship problems? How does your pattern of conflict repeat itself in relation with your counselor? Gestalt therapy challenges people to meet their actions, feelings, and thoughts with curiosity and wonder in the present moment. In Gestalt Therapy, there is no “right” or “wrong.” There are parts. There is a “part” of you that may want to move on from a relationship. And there may be a “part” of you that wants to stay locked in the current, yet dissatisfying cycle. There is a “part” of you that may want to change your eating habits. And there is a “part” of you that enjoys your current diet, despite the undesired consequences. Gestalt Therapy encourages acceptance of all the parts of you, the parts you shun and the parts you embrace. In the contact between these parts, answers emerge, consciousness builds, and the seedlings of action begin to form.
In this article series, I describe how I utilize Gestalt work in my own practice and the ways in which I believe this type of therapy can benefit you.
The Principles of Gestalt Therapy
1. “Lose your Mind and Come to Your Senses” - Fritz Perls
Utilize those 5 senses. Sight, Sound, Touch, Smell, Taste. Well, and I’ll add a 6th: Intuition. What do you notice? What do you sense your body communicating to you? From the gurgling of your tummy to the tingling in your toes, what are you aware of as you sit silently, engaged in your lived experience? While thoughts and memories can be important to discuss in therapy, try to stay present with what is happening in the here-and-now and how your attention shifts from sensation to sensation, moment to moment. This can simply begin with focusing on your breath. Gestalt therapy holds the belief that your body is coded by your past. Your body exists as a time capsule of all your lived experiences. By allowing feelings and visceral sensations to show up organically through the body, you unlock doors to healing opportunities, chances to resolve unfinished internal conflicts and trauma. Gestalt theory suggests that every experience has the capacity to be a healing experience. Listening to your body plays a key role in the process. Be curious about what you notice, letting judgment go, simply being with what is.
YOU are the expert of your life. Not your therapist.
The Gestalt Therapist acts as a non-judgmental witness, facilitator, and companion along your journey toward greater self-understanding…not a GUIDE. While you may not think you know what to do, I (and others in the Gestalt community) firmly believe you hold the answers to your questions and the solutions to your own problems. You may just need some support uncovering, discovering, or recovering what you need.
Gestalt therapy is a non-pathology based theory. This means that the therapist does not attach diagnoses or labels to your experiences based on the symptoms you describe. Rather, the Gestalt therapist will want to provide more space for your symptoms to exist, so that they can begin to speak their truths, in the name of wholeness. This therapy is not about “treating clients,” but about helping people “live with who they are in their entirety,” even the parts they wish would vanish instead.
Fritz Perls states, “What we want to do in Gestalt therapy is to integrate all the dispersed and disowned alienated parts of the self and make the person whole again. A wholesome person is a person who functions well, can rely on his own resources, and can resume his growth, wherever the person gets stuck in his growth” (Perls, 1973, The Gestalt Approach & Eye Witness to Therapy, p.179).
Gestalt therapy encourages self-responsibility so that you learn to tap into your personal power and make self-directed changes in your life, decisions created in the pursuit of following your own aliveness and truth.