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GESTALT • "I am not in this world to live up to

other people's expectations, nor do I
THERAPY feel that the world must live up to
--Fritz Perls
Psychology 460
Counseling and
Sheila K. Grant, Ph.D.

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Theory of Personality Gestalt

• A person exists by differentiating self from • A gestalt, or whole, both includes &
other & by connecting self & other transcends the sum of its parts
• These are the two functions of a boundary • It cannot be understood simply as a sum
• The boundary between self & of smaller, independent events
environment must be permeable to allow • It is chiefly that distinctive emphasis on
for exchanges, yet firm enough to enable looking to the whole for the meaning of
autonomous action the parts that unites a group of theorists
• When the boundary becomes unclear, into what is called the Gestalt school of
lost, or impermeable, mental & emotional psychology
disturbance results
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Gestalt Therapy Gestalt Therapy

• Fritz Perls (1893-1970) / wife Laura Perls (1905-1990) • Existential & Phenomenological – it is
– Main originator & developer of Gestalt Therapy grounded in the client’s “here and now”
• Gestalt therapy • Initial goal is for clients to gain awareness
– an existential/phenomenological approach of what they are experiencing & doing
• Therapists try to increase clients’ awareness
– Promotes direct experiencing rather than the
• Clients are expected to do their own seeing, abstractness of talking about situations
feeling, sensing, & interpreting – Rather than talk about a childhood trauma the
client is encouraged to become the hurt child

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Gestalt Therapy - Gestalt Therapy -
An Overview An Overview
• Gestalt Therapy is another type of
counseling that is based upon the – 3. Existential—The person is to take
existential framework. Key elements responsibility for their destiny and identity
include: • The client is also encouraged to work in the
“here and now,” not in the “there and then”
– 1. A Phenomenological Basis—You are
seeking to focus on the client’s perception – 4. Awareness—A key element in this
of reality theory is helping the client come to an
awareness of what he or she is doing and
– 2. Experiential—The client is being asked experiencing
to come to understand about what and how • This involves dropping those behaviors and
they are thinking, feeling, and doing as they barriers that would stop someone from
interact with the therapist and the other experience one’s self
people in the world 7 8

Gestalt Therapy - A Gestalt View of

An Overview Human Nature
• Experiments—The • Gestalt’s basic understanding of the human
therapist designs being is that people can deal with their
experiments to problems, especially if they become fully
increase the client’s aware of what is happening within oneself
and outside of oneself
awareness of what he
or she is doing,
experiencing, and how • Change happens in a person’s life when
he or she is doing it. he or she can reintegrate a disowned part
of the self back into the mix of identity
– A disowned part of the self is something that
may conflict with how one perceives the self 10

A Gestalt View of A Gestalt View of

Human Nature Human Nature
• Problems begin when a person tries to be • Gestalt is a process of “reowning” parts of the self
who or what he or she isn’t that have been disowned
– This unification process leads to the goal of becoming
– Living with “masks” and being inauthentic does strong enough to proceed with one’s own personal
not promote change growth
– In fact it promotes stagnation of the personality • Client needs to be in their current position and be
aware of what they are, as opposed to trying to
• According to Gestalt, the more a person become what they are not
tries to be who they are not, the more • Change takes place when a person is more
they stay the same aware of who and what he or she is
– Once that is accepted, change towards a goal can take
place 12

The Now The Now
• Our “power is in the present” • Therapist will focus on the “what” & “how”
• The only moment that is significant is the of a person without asking the “why”
present questions
– Nothing exists except the “now” – This is to promote an awareness of the
– The past is gone and the future has not yet arrived moment
• To be fully aware is to live in the here & now – Questions such as “What is happening now?” or
– By reliving the past or worrying about the future, a person “What are you feeling in this moment?” are used
cannot be authentic and cannot come to terms with who to intensify the experience of the present &
one is create awareness
• For many people the power of the present is lost • “Why” questions lead only toward
– They may focus on their past mistakes or engage in rationalizations and “self-deceptions” away
endless resolutions and plans for the future 13
from the immediacy of the moment 14

The Now The Now

• Therapist encourages the present time by • Therapist is

asking the client to: seeking to help a
– Bring the past into the present by re-
person live their
enacting it in the present feelings rather
than talk about
– e.g., imagine your father across from you in
chair and tell him how you feel when he
ignores you?
• To live the
moment rather
than describe it in
a detached way
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The Now Unfinished Business

• The past is recognized as having an • Feelings about the past are unexpressed
important influence on a person’s present – e.g., resentment, rage, hatred, pain, anxiety, grief,
guilt, abandonment
attitudes and behavior
– These feelings are associated with distinct memories &
– But what is in the past is either brought fantasies
into the here and now (“As you talk about – Feelings not fully experienced linger in the
this issue, what are your feeling now?”) so background & interfere with effective contact
that a client can experience the feelings….. • Result:
– OR – Preoccupation, compulsive behavior, wariness
oppressive energy & self-defeating behavior
– Unexpressed feelings can result in physical symptoms
17 – So Gestalt therapists emphasize paying attention to 18
the bodily experience

Process of Contact and
Psychotherapy Resistances to Contact
• CONTACT – interacting with nature and with other people
• Goal of Gestalt psychotherapy is awareness without losing one’s individuality
• RESISTANCE TO CONTACT – the defenses we develop to
• Gestalt therapists do whatever is prevent us from experiencing the present fully
necessary to jolt the person into a higher • Five major channels of resistance (i.e., styles of resisting
level of awareness of self, environment, & – Introjection (we passively incorporate what the environment provides
relationship with others & do not know what we want or need)
– Projection (we disown certain aspects of ourselves by assigning them
• Contact Cycle involves increasing awareness to the environment; so we put them on others; e.g., see quality in
others, we avoid responsibility for who we are)
which leads to excitement which leads to – Confluence (a blurring of the differentiation between the self and the
contact & action environment; e.g., high need to be accepted & liked)
– Retroflection (is turning back to ourselves what we would like
– Increase awareness-->excitement-->contact-->action someone else do to us; e.g., lash out & injure self because fearful of
directing toward others)
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– Deflection (distracting so that it is difficult to maintain a sustained
sense of contact

Energy &
Layers of Neurosis Blocks to Energy
• The phony: • Special attention is given to
– reacting to others in stereotypical and inauthentic ways
– where energy is located,
• Phobic layer:
– avoid the emotional pain that we would prefer to deny
– how it is used,
• The impasse: – how it can be blocked
– the point where we are stuck in our own maturation; w • Clients & therapist want to be aware of
– we think we will not be able to survive the resistance which is being expressed in
• The implosive level: their body
– fully experience our deadness instead of denying it.
• The explosive layer:
– letting go of our phony roles & pretenses which release
much energy that we have been holding in 21 22

Therapeutic Process Therapeutic Process

• Therapeutic Goals • Therapist's Function and Role
– Move towards increased awareness of themselves – Therapists notice what is in the foreground and the
– Gradually assume ownership of their experience
– Pay attention to the client's body language.
– Develop skills and acquire values that will allow them
to satisfy their needs without violating the rights of – Focus on the language
others • "it" talk - client says it instead of I
• "you" talk - client is asked to use I to make it more specific
– Become more aware of all of their senses
to the client
– Learn to accept responsibility for what they do, • questions - this can hide the client
including accepting the consequences of their actions
• language that denies power - by adding qualifiers or
– Move from outside support toward increasing internal disclaimers (i.e. "but", "I guess")
support • listening to a client's metaphors - can clue into the client's
– Be able to ask for and get help from others and to internal struggle
give to others • listening for language that uncovers a story - because you
can get an idea of their struggles 24

Therapeutic Process Therapeutic Process
• Client's Experience in Therapy • Relationship Between Therapist and
– They are active participants who make their Client
own interpretations & meaning – Therapists need to allow themselves to be
– Discovery: new view of old situation affected by their clients
– Accommodation: clients recognizing that – Therapists share experiences in the here and
they have a choice now
– Assimilation: clients learning how to – Therapists do not manipulate clients
influence their environment – Therapists give feedback
– The I/thou relationship, a dialog relationship

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Techniques Therapeutic Techniques
• The Experiment in Gestalt Therapy
• Preparing Clients for Experiments
• The experiment in Gestalt Therapy
– Contact with an authentic therapist is needed
• Role of Confrontation
– Experiments grow out of the interaction between
• Specific Techniques: client & therapist
– Internal dialogue exercise
– Experiments can take many forms, i.e.,
– Making the rounds
• Dramatizing the memory of a painful event
– “I take responsibility for” • Setting up a dialogue between client & some significant
– Playing the projection person in their life
– Rehearsal exercise – Can be considered the cornerstone of experiential
– Reversal technique learning
– Exaggeration exercise – Therapy sessions = a series of experiments which
– Staying with feeling are avenues for clients to learn experientially
– Guided fantasy – Experiments are spontaneous one of a kind &
– Empty Chair 27 relevant to a particular moment 28

– Gestalt Approach to Dream Work

Therapeutic Techniques Therapeutic Techniques

• The experiment in Gestalt Therapy • Preparing clients for experiments
– Is fundamental to contemporary Gestalt therapy – Counselors need to know when to leave client alone
– Gestalt therapists invite clients to engage in – Counselor needs to know when to introduce
experiments that lead to fresh emotional experiments
experiencing and new insights – Experiments depend on persons problems, what the
– Bring struggles to life by inviting clients to enact them person is experiencing
in the present – Clients active role in self-exploration
– Crucial that experiments be tailored to each – Respectful of the client's cultural background
individual & used in timely manner – Counselor needs to be flexible
– Also must be carried out in a context that offers a
balance between support and risk • Role of Confrontation
– It is important to be direct and confrontational
– It can be done in an inviting manner and not harshly
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Specific Techniques Specific Techniques
• Empty-Chair Technique:
• Internal dialogue exercise
– When client speaks to an empty chair as if it were another
– the "top dog" and the "under dog" person or another part of the client
• Making the rounds – Used to help the client get in touch with other views or other
– go to each person in the group and talk to them aspects of self
• Exaggeration Exercise:
• “I take responsibility for” – Counselor exaggerates mannerism of client or asks client to
– can be added to one of the client's statements exaggerate mannerism in order to make client aware of true
• Rehearsal exercise feelings
– to rehearse with the therapist out loud. • Guided Fantasy:
– Client is encouraged to visualize here & now experiences
• Reversal technique
• Playing the Projection:
– asking the client to do the opposite of their behaviors
– Client is asked to play the role of the person who they are not
• Staying with feeling connecting with
– so that you can work through the fears 31 32

Specific Techniques Specific Techniques

• Gestalt Approach to Dream Work • Gestalt Approach to Dream Work
• Does not interpret & analyze dreams • Each part of dream assumed to be a projection of the
• Instead intent is to bring back to life & relive them as self & the client creates scripts for encounters between
though they were happening now the various characters or parts
• Dream is acted out in the present & dreamer becomes a • All of the different parts of a dream are expressions of
part of his or her dream client’s own contradictory & inconsistent sides
• Suggested format: • By engaging in a dialogue between these opposing
– Making a list of all the details of dream sides, the client gradually becomes more aware of the
range of his or her own feelings
– Remembering each person, event, & mood in it
– Then becoming each of these parts by transforming • According to Perls, the dream is the most spontaneous
oneself, acting as fully as possible & inventing dialogue expression of the existence of the human being
– Dream represents an unfinished situation
– Also contains an existential message regarding oneself &
one’s current struggle
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Current Status Gestalt Prescription

• Perls still has his followers & there are • The Gestalt prescription, according to
numerous Gestalt training institutes & societies Naranjo, include the following:
(e.g., Dr. David Gorton’s Gestalt Therapy &
– Live now. Live here.
Training Center who visit’s our class)
– Stop imaging and needless thinking.
• Interestingly, some of Perls techniques have
Express, rather than manipulate, justify, and
gained favor among brief therapist & family
therapists because they are
– designed for quick results & – Do not restrict awareness.
– focus on the here and now – Accept only your own “shoulds.”
• In turn, other therapies (e.g., dance, body work, – Take responsibility for your own feelings,
& Reichian techniques) have been combined thoughts, and actions and, finally, surrender
with Gestalt techniques to being what you are.
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