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Gestalt Therapy


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  • 1. Gestalt therapy
    Katherine Hassett, LeAnne Rozner, & Jamila Voltaire
  • 2. History & Background
    Fritz Perls – founder
    1893 Born to a Jewish family near Berlin
    Began his career as a neuropsychiatrist
    1926 Began studying Gestalt psychology
    1928-1933 Practiced psychoanalysis in Berlin
    1929 Married Laura & had 2 children
    1933 Family fled Berlin when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany
  • 3. History & Background cont.
    Founded South African Institute for Psychoanalysis
    Family moved to New York after WWII
    1940’s Fritz & Laura founded Gestalt Institute of New York
    Wrote “Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in Human Personality.”
    1956 Fritz moved to Florida without Laura
  • 4. History & Background cont.
    Became the lover of his client, Marty Fromm
    In his later years, he worked with the Esalen Institute & a Gestalt community in Vancouver
    1970 Died of a heart attack after surgery
  • 5. Basic Philosophy
    Core Motivation
    Major Constructs
    Psychological Development
    Psychological Health & Dysfunction
    Gestalt Theory
  • 6. Basic Philosophy
    Humans are growth oriented
    Basic value is holism
    Term organism conveys inseparability of psychological and physical
    Humanistic/existential approach
    Emphasizes individual choice &responsibility
    Creativity, spontaneity, & resisting conformity to convention are important
    Emphasize inherent relatedness of human condition & interdependence
  • 7. Core Motivation of Humans
    Motivated by drive to satisfy biological & psychological needs
    Strive to regulate organism so it can grow
    Self-regulation is innate process of rejecting the bad & accepting the good
  • 8. Major Constructs
    Contact with external environment & internal self central feature of life
    Healthy contact leads to assimilation of experience & growth
    Aggression is natural & healthy
    Effective contact necessary for satisfaction of needs
    Contact boundaries connect & separate us from others
    Life process of need satisfaction
    Gestalt- German for “whole” or “pattern”
    A Gestalt consists of a figure & a ground
    Figure draws your attention, everything else is the ground
    A need is an incomplete Gestalt that rises to awareness
    “Cycle of awareness” comprised of sensation, awareness, mobilizing, full contact, withdrawal, & assimilation
  • 9. Major Constructs cont.
    Contact Disturbance
    If something exists then the opposite must also exist
    Light/dark, life/death, top dog/underdog
    Polarities arise when person cannot accept one end of the polarity
    May lead to polarized relationships in which each person accepts opposite extremes
    Result when contact is interrupted at contact boundary
    Introjection: most primitive, taking in experience without digesting it
    Projection: expelling unwanted part of self into environment - essential to empathy
    Confluence: complete loss of self, organism cannot separate itself from environment
    Retroflection: turning an unacceptable impulse toward the self
    Isolation: losing contact with the self & the environment
    Deflection: when an impulse is dampened or minimized
  • 10. Psychological Development
    Version of Freud’s developmental theory with “hunger” replacing “sex” as main drive
    Current GT contains little developmental theory
    Maturation is development from environmental support to self-support
    Children need support from environment, love, & respect to grow healthfully
    Childhood events related to frustration of need satisfaction can create trouble in adulthood
  • 11. Psychological Health
    Living in harmony with the environment
    Creative adjustment requires a balance between taking care of own needs & attending other’s needs
    “A clear bright figure freely energized from an empty background”
    Living an authentic existence
    Spontaneous, emotionally responsive & expressive, relate authentically, & takes responsibility for choices
  • 12. Psychological Dysfunction
    “Dis-ease” occurs when person not in harmony with environment
    Neurosis is “growth disorder” resulting from interruption of “cycle of awareness”
    “Unfinished business” occurs when a Gestalt formation is disrupted & an unmet need hangs around
    Creative adjustment made in past is not functional in present
    Anxiety results from “futurizing” or faulty breathing
  • 13. Assessment
    Gestalt Therapy
  • 14. Assessment
    No formal assessment - considered dehumanizing
    Therapist observes how client functions in life
    Looks for patterns that indicate how client interacts with environment
    Asks, “What are you experiencing right now?”
    Assesses client’s state of awareness
  • 15. Atmosphere
    “Here and now” focus on what client experiencing in the present
    Emphasizes actions rather than trying to answer “Why?”
    Experiments in awareness allow client to experience unfinished business in safe environment
    More focus on therapist/client relationship now than in Perls’ day
    Therapist actively directs client in exploring parts of their experience & helps heighten their awareness
  • 16. Therapist/Client Roles
    Perls’ believed therapist should be a confrontational “agitator “
    Modern therapists are more tender toward clients
    Therapist authentic & transparent
    Therapist should have own therapist
    Client is interested & active in self-discovery
    Therapist respects client’s opinions
  • 17. Goals of Therapy
    Awareness of a particular area & awareness of process leading to awareness of content
    Client must understand how they came into awareness, so they can apply the process to other situations
  • 18. Process of Therapy
    3 elements: relationship, awareness, & experiment
    Therapist must create authentic relationship client
    Awareness important because a disruption in the process brought the client to therapy
    Experiments allow clients to experience a situation or try something different in a safe place with the goal to create awareness
    Rules for experiments:
    Stay in the present
    Aware & authentic communication
    Use “I” not “it” statements
    No asking questions - turn them into statements
  • 19. Therapeutic Techniques
    Aimed at awareness & unfinished business
    Client creates dialogue among parts of the self, with therapist, or with another person in an empty chair
    Client will physically move from their chair to empty chair during dialogue
    Therapist discloses their awareness to client
    Client & therapist discuss it in the present
  • 20. Therapeutic Techniques cont.
    Playing the Projection
    Client exaggerates a movement they may not have noticed as part of their experience
    Therapist may also do this with a statement the client deflected
    Client acts out the role of a projection
    Therapist asks client if they see these qualities in themselves
  • 21. Therapeutic Techniques cont.
    Dream Work
    Client acts out components of the dream
    Each component has its own speech & experiences
    Client plays all parts because they are symbolic of parts of client’s self
    Client’s behavior may oppose their underlying impulses
    Client is directed to act out the opposite behavior
  • 22. Therapeutic Techniques cont.
    Working with Polarities
    Body Work
    Therapist brings polarities to client’s attention
    Clients act out each end of polarity (strong/weak, dependant/responsible, love/hate, cruel/kind)
    Clients become more aware of physical sensations
    Helps bring awareness to experiences that may have been blocked out
    Client focuses on a body sensation (i.e. breathing, voice, gesture, etc.)
  • 23. Therapeutic Techniques cont.
    Making the Rounds
    Taking Responsibility
    Client is asked to follow a statement with the phrase “I take responsibility for it”
    Used in group therapy
    Client says something specific to each member that expresses a theme the client is experiencing
  • 24. Critique & Support
    Individual, Cultural & Diversity Concerns
    Evaluation of Gestalt Therapy
  • 25. Critique & Support
    Opinions are mixed
    Reactions usually extreme because of reputation for being undisciplined, disrespectful, confrontational, & dangerous to clients
    “Perlism” & untrained therapists are partially responsible for the controversial reputation
    Lack of supporting theory is roadblock to evaluation
    Many view GT as gimmicky techniques without any support
    Modern GT emphasizes support along with challenges
  • 26. Research Results
    Precision and testability: difficult to operationalize because definitions are broad
    Empirical Validity: difficult to operationalize because definitions are broad
    Outcome Research: generally supports GT as viable approach to psychotherapy
    Theory Testing Research: Empty Chair Dialogue (ECD) studied with mixed results. Some studies found ECD helped clients whereas others found ECD caused more depression
  • 27. Cultural & Diversity Concerns
    Mixed opinions for diverse groups
    Some think theoretical & methodological revisions are needed before GT truly acknowledges diversity
    Others think cultural awareness is present because the individual is understood within their historical context
    Others think culture should only be discussed if it progresses the process of therapy
    Emphasis on verbal, emotional, & behavioral expressiveness opposes values of many cultures.
    Traditional Hispanic/Latino & Asian persons may view control of emotions & behavior as signs of wisdom
    Emphasis on self-disclosure may oppose these groups’ values
    Counseling homosexual couples viewed as similar to counseling heterosexual couples
    Works well within a feminist perspective because of focus on empowerment & awareness
  • 28. Thank you!