Gestalt therapy was originally developed in the 1950s by a married couple, Doctors Frederick and Laura Perls, both of whom were psychoanalysts, and their colleagues. It has grown and developed extensively since then.
Gestalt is a humanistic therapy, which means that it assumes human beings are essentially healthy and naturally tend to fulfil their needs and grow physically and psychologically. However people can go through experiences, often in early life, which interfere with this process. These experiences create difficulties which can block or distort a person’s growth and development. Gestalt therapy aims to help people become aware of and understand these blocks, giving them the opportunity to resume the process of healthy development. Gestalt theory understands that no two people are alike, and that we all have areas where we feel vulnerable or reactive, and that looking at these areas requires gentleness, compassion and a lack of judgement on the part of the therapist.
Gestalt is a very practical approach to therapy. It directly addresses the personal concerns of the client. It very often takes the form of a simple respectful dialogue between therapist and client (I and Thou, here and now), focussing on exploring and understanding the thoughts, sensations, emotions, and physical responses a person has in relation to their dealings with the world. In Gestalt-speak, this is called ‘attending to process’. It also attends to a person’s internal process: how we treat ourselves; how we talk to ourselves. Are we too hard on ourselves? Are we kind? How do we support ourselves to face difficult situations?
As well as dialogue, Gestalt therapy can include ‘experiments’, which might include the use of objects or drawings to represent aspects of an issue, or the use of role play. For example a therapy session may include role play designed to explore a particular interpersonal situation in depth, with a view to providing an enhanced understanding of why we react the way we do, and how we might react more effectively should a similar situation arise again.