What is Gestalt therapy?
Gestalt therapy is interested in a person’s whole self– her cognitive, emotional, embodied, and even spiritual experiences. These experiences are what make up the reality of our lives and are therefore the foundation of our work in every session.
While addressing the issues that bring someone into therapy the Gestalt method also teaches important skills which support each person in creating the life he wants. One of these skills is awareness– the ability to notice internal and external stimuli such as the tightening of the stomach which may indicate fear. Some people are easily in touch with this sensation and are consequently able to respond appropriately to situations which evoke fear. Others have become so desensitized to their own fear that they have lost the ability to notice and protect themselves from danger. Such people often end up engaging in risky and unsafe behaviors. As the develop the capacity to be aware of the way they experience fear they begin to change their lives.
Gestalt therapy is also relational. That is, Gestalt is based on the fact that people do not really exist in isolation– we are not little islands. Instead, Gestaltists believe that because we are always connected to other people and to our larger environment, therapy must honor this reality by working with relationships. Often this shows up in the relationship between therapist and client– and both people change because of their work together. There is a mutuality to Gestalt therapy which makes it stand out from other ways of working.
The Contemporary Gestalt Institute of Cincinnati defines Gestalt therapy as :
. . . a psychotherapeutic approach that embodies the word “wholeness.” Gestalt philosophy supports the concept that mind and body function as a unit. As individuals, we need to get from and give to our environment. The most basic adjustment in life is learning how to manage that boundary so that our needs are met while assuring that we are connected to those around us and maintain our integrity. The therapeutic process works to increase awareness of thinking, feeling, bodily and behavioral responses leading to an increased ability to make contact with self and other. A uniqueness of Gestalt therapy is that it is action oriented. Clients are assisted in bringing feelings and behaviors into the therapeutic session through the use of experiments. Experiments are designed to explore responses and free blocks to new behavior.
What I love about working this way is that my clients and I are free to use and strengthen our whole selves in the treatment process– thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, spiritual awareness– all of these components of the self are explored, transformed and healed. The work that brings clients to me is honored in all its dimensions and we both take it seriously and play with it. Gestalt work is rarely dull; for me it is invigorating and life-affirming.