Gestalt Therapy is a is a phenomenological-existential therapy developed in the 1940’s by Fritz and Laura Perls, and it places key emphasis on the here and now and personal responsibility giving credence to a person’s own experience (as they interpret it) in the present moment. Other important facets of this approach are the therapeutic relationship itself, the social and environmental aspects of a person’s present-day life, and the self-regulating or self-correcting adjustments people tend to make on their own behalf in response to their social environment.
It has been said that Gestalt therapy is founded upon two central themes: 1) the most important and useful focus of therapy are experiences within “NOW” i.e., the present moment; and 2) everyone is embedded in relationship “webs”. Therefore the best and perhaps only possible way to know ourselves and work on our issues is through the experiential background of our relationships.
Gestalt therapists use the phenomenology of awareness, in which perception, emotion, and behavior are distinguished from thought and interpretation. The belief is that rational interpretations and explanations are not as reliable as things which are felt and perceived directly. In this model, and in the therapeutic dialog, clients are encouraged to “be where they are”. Changes and shifts in perspective eventually become the focus of experimentation, leading to continued dialog in therapy. The basic goal is for people to accept and value themselves and also to become keenly aware of what they are doing, how they are doing it, and how they may choose to change or modify things about themselves and their relationships.
Gestalt Therapy is more interested in the greater nature of the whole experience or the process of what is happening in the session than the particular content of what is being talked about. Emphasis is placed much more on what is being thought, done, and felt in the present moment, rather than on past, future, fantasy, morality, or ideals.
Fritz Perls – Founder of Gestalt Therapy
Fritz Perls, considered the founder of Gestalt, studied medicine and then became a psychiatrist and developed an interest in psychoanalysis. He founded the first Gestalt Institute in the early 1950s in his Manhattan apartment in New York, and traveled throughout the United States doing trainings and lectures in the Gestalt Approach. Here are two video transcripts of his own description of Gestalt:
The Gestalt ‘Prayer’
Baton Rouge Counseling