The Feeling Approach
Gestalt therapy emphasises that client awareness, rather than understanding, is the key to change. It is focused on helping people return to the here and now, instead of swinging like a pendulum between the past and the future.
Gestalt therapy enables you to feel more present, more able to look at your habits, more feeling than thinking. You begin to return to the point where you can trust your instincts and decision-making abilities. You learn to take personal responsibility for your actions, instead of being stuck blaming other people or circumstances.
Gestalt therapy takes the perspective that we are always in relation – with others and with the environment. Our existence constitutes a web of relationships, in which change in one part affects the whole. It is a humanistic/existential approach which regards the individual as a totality or whole of mind, body, emotions and spirit (rather than a sum of these separate parts) who experiences reality in a completely unique way. It also views the relationship between the client and therapist as the most important aspect for the success of the therapy.
How does it work?
The word Gestalt means “whole,” and the goal of Gestalt therapy is to mould your full self into an integrated, holistic unit – instead of fragmented polarities that often want one thing but do another.
Gestalt says ‘I am a body,’ rather than ‘I have a body.’ During therapy, unresolved issues and trauma (held in the client’s body as tension and pain), are accessed by the client and therapist through concentrating on what the client is doing with their body – postures, movements, breathing and so forth. This usually happens by describing what is happening at a particular moment without the client or therapist trying to interpret. The client may be asked to focus their awareness on bodily feelings or sensations, or to describe how they are making or avoiding contact with the psychotherapist at that moment. Thus the client learns exactly how they cut off from others and hold in anger, for example.
A common Gestalt intervention involves intensifying aspects of experience. Your therapist, for example, may ask you to intentionally describe everything happening to you during a specific circumstance in your life – to the detail, even the slight changes in your breathing or the situational elements that subtly slip in your awareness. All your responses are interpreted as communication; you become better aware of things you’ve repressed or paid little attention to whether unconsciously or by design.
Another popular Gestalt therapy intervention involves dialogues. The empty chair technique, for example, allows you to converse with different aspects of your personality (e.g. that part of you who wants to go travelling vs. the part of you who wants to stay and progress in your career). In turn, you find the ground in between, helping you to feel peace with one course of action.
Adapting one’s language in order to emphasise personal responsibility is also Gestalt intervention. For instance, changing “my parents disappoint me” to “I allow my parents to disappoint me” can help people make complete turns in their dysfunctional relationships.
What issues does it treat?
Anyone can benefit from Gestalt therapy. After all, most of us have had that feeling where “things simply happen to us” or we feel stuck, a slave to the different voices inside or outside us.
But Gestalt therapy is most helpful for people who need closure from unfinished business: experiences where complete acceptance or meaning seems unattainable. This includes grief work for all kinds of losses, as well as childhood issues and traumas needing to be resolved in adulthood. Children of neglectful or abusive parents can really benefit from Gestalt therapy.
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