Awareness and cognitive insight alone are necessary, but not sufficient. It is believed that it is necessary for the client to feel what he is aware of – to relive, express or do something that will help him “finish” the unfinished business from the past. Gestalt therapy uses a variety of therapeutic “experiments” and techniques aimed at exploring and enhancing awareness. These experiments are usually created spontaneously. The therapist relies on his knowledge and intuition, while also taking into account the present moment and the topic that the client presents. Some of the techniques used are: confrontation, keeping attention on the present and current contact, raising awareness (turning one’s attention to nonverbal signs, using “I” statements, etc.), role playing (famous empty chair technique or two chair technique…).
Attention is paid not only to the content that the client brings, but also to the way the client talks about the contents, the way they run away from the topic or insist on it, the way they hold themselves, how they sit, how much they move, how they breathe. All these additional aspects are recognized at the present moment and are presented to the client himself. This is the reason Gestalt therapy is also known as “therapy of the obvious” (eg. the therapist can tell the client “I notice you are not breathing”). The therapist strives to keep all his knowledge and experience in the background, while taking an attitude of openness to what the client himself brings. In this way, we manage to find out what the direct experience of the person we have in front of us is, and find out what that experience means to him.
The individual is seen as a functional whole that has the capacity for growth and development. The individual is capable of efficient and satisfying existence and contacting themselves and the world around them in a satisfactory way. Thus, the main goal of gestalt therapy is not necessarily to change the individual, but to provide support to that individual in becoming who they are. This is not a directive therapeutic orientation, the therapist does not have all the answers nor do they pretend to have them, there are no judgements of client’s behavior. The therapist is there to help the clients increase their own awareness and come up with answers that work for themselves. This helps them become more authentic and “complete” people, especially after working on the parts of themselves that they rejected or were unconscious of. Awareness here implies the process of learning and recognizing one’s own control and responsibility for one’s own behavior. We look at the past and the circumstances that the client could not influence, but the emphasis is on the personal responsibility of the individual, and the focus is on their experience in the present moment.
Who could benefit from it?
It is used when working with individuals, couples and families, as well as with professional organizations. Successful treatment leads to the release or mitigation of inadequate types of reactions and behaviors (inadequate being something that doesn’t serve us), by establishing new types of behaviors that are more in line with the nature of the individual.
Primary candidates are those who are unaware of the ways in which they support their dissatisfaction, provided they are willing to work on awareness. It is also suitable for those who are aware of everything they do, but who just can’t seem to act on what they already know – with them, we work through experiential techniques aimed at emotional insight.
Gestalt therapy is creative and different, it supports spontaneity and fun in therapy. It is inclusive, experiential and active, pushing people out of their comfort zones. The client is an active participant in everything that happens. The spontaneity of the theoretical setting itself, as well as the therapist and the process itself, should, ideally, inspire the client to bring that same spontaneity to life outside of the therapeutic setting.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Branka Mlinar is a psychologist and Gestalt therapist offering psychotherapy and counselling to adolescent and adult individuals. She’s mostly worked with problems of anxiety, interpersonal and relationship issues, procrastination, work-related stress, trauma, and grief.
Kostić, M. (1983). Odnos terapeuta i klijenta u geštalt terapiji. Psihijatrija Danas.
Perls, F., Hefferline, R.F., & Goodman, P. (1951). Gestalt therapy: Excitement and growth in the human personality, New York: Julian
Yontef, G. M. (1993). Awareness, dialogue and process: Essays on Gestalt therapy. Gouldsboro, ME: Gestalt Journal Press.
Zinker, J. (1977). Creative process in Gestalt therapy. New York: Random House.