Gestalt therapy is a humanistic and experiential kind of therapy that focuses on experience in the present moment. Therapy sessions are aimed at increasing awareness of thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Relationships are seen as important and attention is given to the relationship between the therapist and the client. The therapy explores how clients’ contact with others gets interrupted and helps clients understand what is getting in the way of having healthy relationships. Gestalt therapy focuses on clients’ strengths instead of their weaknesses. Gestalt therapists often uses creative experiments in therapy sessions to facilitate clients’ growth and healing.
For example, if a client comes in wanting to talk about how to manage anxiety, I would see the anxiety as something that has been protective for the client, not only as a symptom of “mental illness.” I would help the client pay attention to how anxiety comes up in the therapy session. We would work together to understand how the anxiety developed. We would talk about how anxiety is affecting relationships. If a client is anxious about talking to her boss, for instance, we might do a role play to allow the client to experience a little of that anxiety while getting support from me. I would also share with the client techniques for grounding and reducing anxiety when it arises. One goal of the therapy would be for the client to have more flexibility in how to respond to anxiety-provoking situations.
Here is a good description of what Gestalt therapy is like:
Patients and therapists in Gestalt therapy dialogue…. Differences in perspectives become the focus of experimentation and continued dialogue. The goal is for clients to become aware of what they are doing, how they are doing it, and how they can change themselves, and at the same time, to learn to accept and value themselves.
Gestalt therapy focuses more on process (what is happening) than content (what is being discussed). The emphasis is on what is being done, thought and felt at the moment rather than on what was, might be, could be, or should be….
Gestalt therapy is an exploration rather than a direct modification of behavior. The goal is growth and autonomy through an increase in consciousness. Rather than maintaining distance and interpreting, the Gestalt therapist meets patients and guides active awareness work. The therapist’s active presence is alive and excited (hence warm), honest and direct. Patients can see, hear and be told how they are experienced, what is seen, how the therapist feels, what the therapist is like as a person. Growth occurs from real contact between real people. Patients learn how they are seen and how their awareness process is limited, not primarily by talking about their problems, but by how they and the therapist engage each other. (Quote from Awareness, Dialogue, and Process by Gary Yontef, PhD., The Gestalt Journal Press, 1993. Full article: http://www.gestalt.org/yontef.htm)
I find Gestalt therapy to be lively, interesting and moving. My clients have told me that they appreciate the increased awareness they get from therapy with me and enjoy our sessions. Clients also often say they like how open and genuine I am with them. I have been able to witness people make tremendous changes in their lives because of the work they have done with me in Gestalt therapy.