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Gestalt Therapy Techniques and It’s Therapeutic Effects

August 19,2022

Gestalt Therapy

Introduction to Gestalt Therapy

 Fritz and Laura Perls began Gestalt Therapy in the 1940s, and in the later years, it expanded with the contributions of Kurt Goldstein and Kurt Lewin. Furthermore, Gestalt Therapy focuses on the humanistic and experiential realms instead of analysing the psyche. It revises the therapeutic methods of psychoanalysis. In addition to that, it is unique in its attempt to be a behaviouristic phenomenology. According to Laura Perls, humans are holistic rather than separate components divided into body, mind and soul. So, by rejecting several dualities like mind and body, emotions and reason, infantile and mature, the therapy concentrates on the continuum of awareness in the "here" and "now".

 In German, the etymology of "Gestalt" means "whole, integration, form, configuration or pattern". Thus, the theory of Gestalt defines individuals as whole beings responding to environmental interactions about physical reality. Historically, Gestalt therapy techniques are designed to help the client in improving overall personal development. However, today's practice of Gestalt therapy techniques utilises theories, data, ideas and interventions from many sources, including the traditional therapy techniques.  

Essential Concepts of Gestalt Therapy

The Gestalt outlook is the undistorted, whole, organic approach to life. Gestalt therapy techniques heal the dualism of a person and bring him back to integrity. This is to say, this fundamental idea is roughly similar to the "non-elementalism" of Korzybski, but it gives specific attention to the figure-ground phenomenon. Given below are the important features of Gestalt Therapy:

1. Wholeness and Integration: The average person, raised in an atmosphere of two-valued orientation, loses his wholeness. Wholeness means the individuals constitute elements that function as units rather than separate components. Integration is how these components are united and fit in the right proportion to integrate the individual into his environment. Therefore, Gestalt therapy techniques facilitate the clients to focus on a unitary outlook that can dissolve the dualistic approach with wholesome advantage and restore their equilibrium.

2. Awareness: Restoration of awareness is the immediate aim of Gestalt therapy techniques. As a result, it leads to the ultimate goal of restoring the full functioning of the individual's wholeness. In addition, awareness of one's condition by itself will bring about much development and change. Furthermore, the two main reasons one may lack awareness are (i) Obsession with one's fantasies, ideologies, flaws, strengths and past experiences; (ii) Imposter syndrome or low regard for one's abilities.

Gestalt therapy techniques instil awareness in an individual in three ways:

1. Here and now: The individual lives in the present moment and is fully conscious of being in physical reality rather than anxiously waiting for the future or regretfully looking at the past.

2. Responsibility: Individuals are responsible for their decisions, thoughts and actions. The therapy motivates individuals to take responsibility for themselves instead of blaming others.

3. Contact with the environment: The next important factor is where we exist after the consciousness of bodily existence. Gestalt therapy techniques encourage individuals to explore their senses' immense possibilities and enable them to grow by talking, tasting, moving, listening, smelling, and touching.

How do Gestalt therapy techniques work?

Gestalt therapists study the vital energy of a body, how it flows, how it may cause a blockage and how to rectify it. As a result, when power is blocked, it forms a resistance, for instance, avoiding eye contact or not breathing with ease. 

People who are not well connected to the situations where they live may face emotional problems and find it difficult to interact with the outside world. This lack of awareness about their environment retards holistic personal growth. The therapy connects the inner impulse with the concrete environment of a being.

Due to the lack of concentration and constant distractions, some people leave their tasks behind without completing them. According to Seligman, this inability to finish a particular responsibility is a growth disorder which requires care and cure. Gestalt therapy techniques enable people to focus on the present moment and give proper closure to the things they have undertaken.

Key Features of a Developed Personality

An individual becomes a fully developed entity when the mental, spiritual, emotional, physical, special and moral aspects coordinate and regulate to bring out integrity. Instead of resenting the past and being overly ambitious about the future, a person of great disposition would channel their potential to maximise the present's benefit. A healthy mind is self-motivated, and the sense of self develops an awareness that grows into wholeness.

Gestalt Techniques and Methods

The primary goal of Gestalt is not to alter a client's character but to reform their perspectives. As a result, a certified Gestalt therapist assists the client in identifying their problems and allows them to be at peace with reality. Furthermore, a Gestalt therapist's attitude is non-supportive and aims to enhance individual acceptance and responsibility, which are the antecedents of growth.

A Gestalt therapist initiates an "I-thou" correlation with the client where both are fully aware of the "here and now". Here, future and past have no significance.

To create awareness of oneself, the Gestalt therapist accentuates the client to focus on the present reality and take responsibility for their actions. In addition, this acceptance of the situation and taking responsibility require efficient use of language. Furthermore, the client may justify their words and deeds. So, they will give avoidance and escapist responses like "He is annoying", "It's not my fault", and "They wronged me". Such responses and projection of one's traits into another person are defence mechanisms to run away from responsibilities. Gestalt therapy techniques induce ownership of one's feelings, thoughts and actions.

To wholly understand another person is almost impossible, yet Gestalt therapists work on studying a client's verbal and non-verbal modes of communication. Non-verbal gestures include facial expressions, tone of voice, eye contact, body language, postures, and hesitations, providing reliable information about the client's real person. 

Gestalt Therapy Techniques

Experimental Approach

There are certain experiential experiments designed to assist individuals in regaining self-awareness. For instance, the home works, role play, and several other enactments feed confidence in the clients. For example, let us take a person who has social anxiety and insecurity to facing a crowd. In addition, if he has to address a large audience in three weeks as part of his job, the Gestalt therapist will simulate such a situation beforehand and prepare the person to face the real-life situation. Furthermore, here the client will be encouraged to talk to people they do not usually converse with during the experiment. Investing time to prepare oneself before addressing a crowd promotes confidence and builds self-awareness in the client. Gradually, the client will come out of their awkwardness and insecurities with the help of Gestalt therapy techniques. 

Language as the Key

 The use of diction reveals the blockages of the mind. Therefore, the therapists encourage the efficient use of language to create conditions that motivate engagement with reality. Here they replace the interrogatives with statements that give a solution for their predicament. "How" and "What" questions by the Gestalt therapist keep the individual present and aware of themselves. Here, the emphasis is given to statements that begin with "I" so that the client would take responsibility for their thoughts and feelings. The use of present tense and orientation to get hold of the right words to describe what is in their mind relieves the clients from stress, anxiety and worries about the past.  

The Technique of Empty Chair

 This is a method of role-taking facilitated by a dialectical approach. And it is generally used in a group; the Gestalt therapist invigorates an individual client or parts of that client's personality. In addition, the client imagines someone or themself in an empty chair facing them and communicates to that imagined person to integrate and resolve different aspects of interpersonal or internal conflicts. The client can alternate the role by shifting seats with the imaginary person sitting on the opposite chair. Therefore the Gestalt therapist's job is to observe, analyse, suggest topics and make meaningful interventions to develop the dialogue.

 Adequate guidance and engaging instructions like "Please repeat what you just said", "Can you elaborate on that point a little more?", "Do you see an alternative angle to your point of view?" will make the client retrospectively and introspect. In addition, once they have said all they wanted, the client will feel a sense of solace and completion. Furthermore, C H Patterson, in his Theories of Counselling and Psychotherapy, says that this Empty Chair Method results in an integration of polarities and splits between persons or between the client's wants and the public's value system.

Topdog vs Underdog

 Perls labelled the self-torture game that manipulates the self as Topdog vs Underdog. As a result, these two aspects of an individual's personality block healthy interaction with the environment. The top-dog aspect is a perfection-seeking set of "shoulds" and "shouldn't". For example, a top dog will constantly use phrases like "I should be punctual, I should finish my work, I shouldn't waste my time", etc. 

The top-dog aspect is an introjection of familial, societal, or authoritarian beliefs and demands.

On the other hand, an underdog manifests resistance to external demands. Though the underdog agrees that the top dog's approach to life is appropriate, the internal conflict does not allow an underdog to believe that those demands of "shoulds" and "shouldn't" be ever met. An underdog would rather say, "I am not sure if I should do this; I don't think I can finish the work on time". Every day we fight to be an underdog and a top dog; we are always in this trauma. However, Gestalt therapy techniques regulate the struggle and lead the individual to a median path.

Dreams and Fantasy

 According to L. Seligman, an awareness of the client's dreams, fantasies, fears, and aspirations help to bring closure to unstable psychic experiences. Therefore, therapists employ image techniques to encourage patients to imagine what they would do in a particular situation. So, the projection of personality through the unconscious reality of dreams is important to evaluate the client's problems and guide them to take responsibility for their own emotions and thoughts.

Focus on Physical Sensations

 Gestalt therapy techniques navigate through the interior psychological experiences and external bodily sensations. L. Seligman has developed three strategies to assemble the mind and body to produce an organic whole. They are 1. identification, 2. location of emotions inside the body, and 3. repeating to exaggerate the perception:

  1. Physical indications of the clients are identified and used to create self-awareness. In addition, if the client is tapping fingers on the table, the Gestalt therapist can advise them to give a voice to their fingers and imagine what the fingers might be saying.
  2. The Gestalt therapist may make the client talk about how he feels his emotions inside. If it is stress-related, the client may say they have a headache; anxiety, butterflies in the stomach and nausea. How the body responds to trauma-related repercussions undoubtedly induces happy hormones like serotonin and dopamine.
  3. Suppose the therapist observes frequent repetition of any physical responses, like shaking legs or wiping hands. In that case, the client can be motivated to exaggerate what they are doing and talk about their emotions to lift awareness of blockages.

Confusion and Confrontation

 The confusion and hesitation of the client to talk about their experiences can be a result of unpleasant memories. For example, verbalism, fantasy, avoidance and blanking out are a few of the defence strategies the client may attempt. As a result, in Gestalt therapy techniques, the therapist will challenge the client to confront the discomforting realities. Therefore, the Gestalt therapist should be empathetic while listening to the client's wholeness issues. 

Application of Gestalt Therapy

The phenomenological-existential exploration of Gestalt therapy techniques focuses on the people's existence and relations with each other and initiates a dialogue that embodies responsibility and authenticity. Therefore, it is an effective psychotherapy for counselling groups and families.

Strengths:

  •   Empirical evidence is available to support the techniques used in the therapy.
  •   Gestalt therapy techniques can cure personality disorders, promoting personality development.
  •   Makes the best out of past experiences for a meaningful present.
  •   A flexible and versatile approach that can contribute to multiple therapeutic needs.

Weaknesses:

  •   For productive sessions, the Gestalt therapist needs to have a high-level matured personality and self-motivation.
  • Critics call it a self-centred approach as it focuses on overall individual growth.
  • "Here" and "Now" without considering other temporal dimensions.
  •   Absence of diagnosing and clinical testing.

Conclusion

An individual's holistic social and personal evolution nurtures relationships, and Gestalt therapy techniques employ it efficiently. In addition, therapists with credentials and experience use innovative techniques to alleviate unresolved issues of individual cases. Furthermore, the guided experiments heal the client through emotional and cognitive self-understanding. Therefore, the organismic self-regulation and affective awareness of oneself that Gestalt therapy techniques focus on is indispensable for a responsible and healthy life. 

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