When people find out I’m a counsellor, they often ask what kind of counselling. I then explain that I’m primarily trained in Gestalt therapy and then I wait; in a moment of mild fear. Very occasionally, someone will say, “Oh, yes! I’ve heard of Gestalt!”, and then I breathe a sigh of relief and talk about how awesome it is. But most often people say, “What? What’s that?” That’s when I start to mumble and give a pretty pitiful description of Gestalt therapy. This usually leaves the other person looking like they wish they never asked, and me feeling a bit deflated.
I feel deflated because although it is annoyingly hard to explain in an elevator pitch style way, the experience of being a client, trainee and therapist in Gestalt therapy has had such a huge impact on me and my life. I’d love to have some kind of “wow!”, blow-their-socks-off type of response. Anyway, until I have that, here are some of the main features of Gestalt therapy. I hope you find them interesting.
What is Gestalt Therapy?
Gestalt therapy is a branch of psychology that encourages self-awareness and acceptance. Gestalt is a German word that loosely translated means, to become whole. By gaining greater awareness of the different parts of themselves and further, for clients to accept these parts rather than trying to make them wrong or banish them in some way, the Gestalt approach results in a feeling of being more fully yourself.
Gestalt used to be known especially for the chair work that its founder Fritz Perls was famous for. Chair work (where a client will imagine a part of themselves, or a family member and imagine them being in a chair facing them and engage in a dialogue) is used sometimes by some practitioners. But the essence of this approach can, and is, used more subtly by many more.
There is an emphasis on self-responsibility that I am really drawn to in Gestalt. The Gestalt prayer outlines this nicely:
I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.
If not, it can’t be helped.
(Fritz Perls, “Gestalt Therapy Verbatim”, 1969)
Fritz’s wife Laura, who was also a Gestalt therapist, once said ‘there are as many Gestalt therapies as there are Gestalt therapists’. Whilst this maybe a little vague for people, it also explains how Gestalt is an approach rather that a technique, or treatment. The therapy will look and feel differently for all as we are all different.
The Therapeutic Relationship
Gestalt is client-centred and the relationship between client and therapist is central to the whole process. The approach explores not only the client’s inner world but also what happens in the relationship between the client and the therapist. This is often incredibly helpful information about what happens in other relationships that the client has elsewhere.
Gestalt Therapy is based in the here and now
Whilst a bit of attention initially will be spent on understanding what has led you up to now, Gestalt therapy isn’t about going over and over things that happened in the past. More so, it is about understanding how the experiences of the past impact you in the here and now.
After acknowledging how the past in impacting them today, clients then have more choice around how to respond, become more present, and less defined by their past. Attending to our experiences in this way, allows us to complete our unfinished business, by choosing our responses and actions based on what is real for us now.
So there you have it. I’ve actually surprised myself with how easily I could explain all that! But it’s not exactly an elevator pitch is it? I hope it was helpful in any case. And believe me, it really is great. If you’d like to book in for a Gestalt therapy session, contact us.