Gestalt therapy was initially developed by Fritz Perls (1893-1970). Inspired by studies of cognition which suggested that humans combine discrete elements into meaningful wholes to create the experience of perception, he applied this finding to the process of psychotherapy. Perls suggested that a sense of wholeness and vitality emerges when we are able to expand awareness to all facets of experience as the come together in the present.
A key tenet of Gestalt therapy is that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. People are seen as indivisible from the facets that make them up, including environment, relationships, perception, memories, emotions, and sensations. The unique coming together of all of these elements is considered to be what comprises experience. Rather than analyzing thoughts, feelings, or other organizing principles individually, Gestalt therapy considers people as a whole and retains a present focus of whatever happens to be showing up in the foreground of one’s attention in the interest of integrating the parts of the self that may have been “disowned”.
Gestalt therapy aims to bring greater awareness to people’s subjective experience in the here-and-now with the goal of integrating thoughts, feelings, perception and behaviour into an overall greater understanding of oneself as a whole. Therapists avoid judgement or interpretations and instead try to understand how clients experience things, focusing on process rather than content. Gestalt therapy is experiential, meaning that new experiences are created in session and not just talked about. This can include activities such as empty chair dialogues to process unfinished business and bringing attention to body language to promote greater self-awareness.
References: Perls, F. (1973). The gestalt approach & eyewitness to therapy. Palo Alto: Science and Behavior Books, Inc.
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