ABOUT GESTALT THERAPY
Gestalt is a German wording meaning shape or form, referring to the character or essence of something. Gestalt therapy was developed by psychotherapist Fritz Perls on the principle that humans are best viewed as a whole entity consisting of body, mind, and soul. It’s best understood when viewed through their own eyes, not by looking back into the past but by bringing the past into the present. Gestalt therapy emphasizes that to alleviate unresolved anger, pain, anxiety, resentment, and other negative feelings, these emotions cannot just be discussed, but must be actively expressed and experienced in the present time (here-and-now moment and context). If that doesn’t happen, both psychological and physical symptoms can arise.
How it Works
Perls believed that we are not in this world to live up to others’ expectations, nor should we expect others to live up to ours. Through therapy, people learn to discover feelings that may have been suppressed or masked by other feelings and to accept and trust their emotions. Through this process, you gain a new sense of self as overall awareness increases. Your goal, as you become more aware of yourself and your senses, is to take more responsibility for yourself, accept the consequences of your behavior and choices, and learn to satisfy your own needs while still respecting the needs of others.
Exercises and experiments
Gestalt therapy is practiced in the form of exercise and experiments. Experiments arise throughout the development of the therapeutic process and therapeutic relationship. They are a core component of gestalt therapy and allow the person in therapy to understand different aspects of a conflict, experience, or mental health issue.
- The empty chair technique is a quintessential gestalt therapy exercise that places the person in therapy across from an empty chair. He or she is asked to imagine that someone (such as a boss, spouse, or relative), they, or a part of themselves is sitting in the chair. The therapist encourages dialogue between the empty chair and person in therapy in order to engage the person’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Sometimes the roles are reversed and the person in therapy assumes the metaphorical person or part of a person in the chair. The empty chair technique can be especially useful for helping people become mindful of the whole situation and forgotten or disengaged pieces of their own self.
- Another common exercise in gestalt therapy is the exaggeration exercise. During this exercise, the person in therapy is asked to repeat and exaggerate a particular movement or expression, such as frowning or bouncing a leg, in order to make the person more aware of the emotions attached to the behavior.
The empty chair technique and the exaggeration exercise are two of many gestalt therapy techniques used to help people in therapy increase their awareness of immediate experiences. Through exercises and spontaneous experiments, gestalt therapy also allows people reconnect with parts of themselves they may minimize, ignore, or deny.