What Is Gestalt Therapy?
Gestalt therapy is a type of of humanist therapy, with influences from psychoanalysis and oriental philosophy. Just like the rest of humanist therapy, this psychotherapy is not centered around illness, but rather around generating health from the potential that each individual possesses.
“Gestalt therapy is not a set of techniques, but rather the transmission of an attitude, a way of being in life.”
Authors like psychiatrist Fritz Perls, psychologist Laura Perls, and sociologist Paul Goodman were the initial founders of this type of humanist psychotherapy. With time, Gestalt therapy divided into two branches: one centered in more theoretic processes, created by Laura Perls, and the other based on a more existential process of personal development of the individual, created by Fritz Perls.
“Therapy is much too beneficial to limit it to just those who are sick.”
-Erving and Miriam Polster-
In the latter method, the figure of psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo has emerged as the current and clear successor of Fritz Perls. Dedicated to the broader development of Gestalt therapy, he has become a global mentor in the field. Furthermore, he is a pioneer of trans-personal psychology and is known for integrating psychotherapy and spirituality.
Foundations of Gestalt Therapy
Here and Now
Gestalt therapy places great emphasis on the present moment, on the “Here and Now.” This means understanding that everything that happens is happening in the Now, since the past no longer exists and the future still is yet to come.
The Here (spacial) and the Now (temporal) are basic concepts originating from Eastern philosophies. For Gestalt therapy, this has important implications for maturation and growth so that the individual can take charge of him or her self through self-support.
Attention to and acceptance of our experience
Dealing with life experiences requires a connection to the present moment. Acceptance of these experiences can only take place by becoming conscious of what we are actually living.
Attention, in Gestalt therapy, means looking after oneself and identifying the feelings and emotions that are produced by certain situations, in a way that does not let one run away from what one is experiencing.
If fear, rage, happiness, or rejection occur, the most important thing to do is realize it (another key concept in Gestalt therapy), so that one can accept the experience of living with that emotion.
When this doesn’t happen, emotions and feelings are repressed can can become blocked, producing great unease and growing to manifest itself in a psychosomatic form (when a physical affectation originates through a psychological process).
The concept of responsibility in Gestalt therapy is fundamental, and it is something constantly aimed for by the person who is in the process of personal development. The first step is for that person to take responsibility for what they do, what they feel, and what they live, through their personal experiences. In this way, they do not blame others or their environment for what happens in each moment.
Once the individual is capable of taking responsibility for themselves and becoming aware of themselves, they are, in turn, capable of change and of spontaneously taking control of their lives. It is a process of strengthening themselves to be able to confront their circumstances.
“Being responsible involves being present, being here. And being truly present is to be conscious. In turn, this consciousness is an incompatible condition to the illusion of irresponsibility through which we avoid living our lives.”
Essential principles of Gestalt psychotherapy
The following is a list of the foundational principles of Gestalt therapy, as proposed by Claudio Naranjo:
1 – Live now, which is to say, concern yourself with the present rather than the past of the future.
2 – Live here, which is to say, connect yourself with what is present instead of what is absent.
3 – Stop imagining: experience what is real.
4 – Abandon unnecessary thoughts; instead, feel and observe.
5 – Choose to express before manipulating, explaining, justifying, or judging.
6 – Give in to pain and unpleasantness just as much as pleasure; don’t limit your ability to be aware.
7 – Do not accept any other “should” or “have to” than your own.
8 – Take complete responsibility for your actions, feelings, and thoughts.
9 – Accept who you are, as you are.
The essence of Gestalt therapy can be found in these principles, which generate a broad and profound process leading towards personal development.
Gestalt therapists view patients as full of potential, enough to be able to overcome any adversity, and to explore his or her own happiness.
“Consider that your patient is a capable and complete individual who can do difficult things without you doing them for him, who can confront pain and will always be able to, and who can take the wrong path and learn from his mistakes. Respect his capacity of resilience, respect his ability to independently manage his distress and anxiety, respect the part of him that is healthy and adaptive, their methods; assume his ability to support himself, and his human potential.”
-Fritz Perls, 1974-
Peñarrubia, F. (1998). Terapia Gestalt: La vía del vacío fértil/Gestalt Therapy: The Way of the Empty Fertile. Alianza Editorial.