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Theory of the Week: Gestalt Theory, Principles, and Therapy in Practice

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Sometimes, the secret to happiness can involve focusing on the here and now. Gestalt therapy is a psychological approach that can help clients better focus on, and understand, their lives as they are in the present moment as opposed to past experience (“Gestalt Therapy | Psychology Today Canada”). This eventually helps them recognize how negative behaviours and thought patterns are stifling their overall happiness and self-awareness (“Gestalt Therapy | Psychology Today Canada”).

Through this type of therapy, a counsellor can help clients find a new sense of self, as well as help them focus on the present rather than obsessing over the past or future (“Gestalt Therapy”, 2018). Continue reading to learn more about Gestalt theory, how it works, and how it’s used.

A Rundown of Gestalt Principles in Therapy, and Who They Can Help

“Gestalt” is the German word for “whole”, and was coined by Fritz Perls, a psychotherapist who developed the concept through a belief that humans are a whole entity via the combination of their mind, body, and soul (“Gestalt Therapy | Psychology Today Canada”). He also believed that humans could be best understood by bringing memories of the past into the present as opposed to looking back on them (“Gestalt Therapy | Psychology Today Canada”).

People are best understood by bringing old memories into the present rather than looking back
People are best understood by bringing old memories into the present rather than looking back

Essentially, the main principle behind Gestalt therapy is the idea that people are influenced by, and connected to, their environments, and that the context of their lives has an effect on their experience (“Gestalt Therapy”, 2018). Anyone wanting to become a counsellor and better understand this type of therapy should also understand that Gestalt therapy is humanistic and experiential in nature (Yontef & Jacobs, 2008). Personal growth and wholeness is cultivated partly by acknowledging what’s happening presently in one’s life, and owning one’s beliefs, emotions, senses, and needs—a concept also known as “organismic self-regulation” (Yontef & Jacobs, 2008).

In terms of the kinds of clients Gestalt therapy can benefit, these can include those with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, as well as those experiencing problems with their relationships or self-esteem (“Gestalt Therapy | Psychology Today Canada”).

Gestalt therapy helps clients focus on the present rather than on past events or future hypothetical outcomes
Gestalt therapy helps clients focus on the present rather than on past events or future hypothetical outcomes

What Those in Professional Counsellor Training Should Know About Its Use

Initially meant as an alternative to traditional psychoanalysis, Gestalt therapy involves techniques that improve the client’s sense of self-direction and awareness (“Gestalt Therapy”, 2018). More specifically, therapy sessions involve teaching clients how to accept what is. Sessions can also help clients be accepting and trusting of their personal experiences and emotions (“Gestalt Therapy”, 2018). They are encouraged to do so by becoming more aware of the present and by exploring certain feelings and needs they may have otherwise suppressed (“Gestalt Therapy”, 2018).

Those in professional counsellor training can learn how to assess and identify any obstacles or self-destructive behaviours a client may have (“Rhodes Wellness College: Professional Counsellor Diploma”). With Gestalt therapy, counselling therapists work with clients collaboratively and help develop their sense of awareness while also understanding their sense of reality, as opposed to being someone who claims to view reality more objectively than the client would (Yontef & Jacobs, 2008). They can do this through several techniques and exercises, such as the empty chair exercise, locating emotions in their body, exaggeration, and role playing (Clarke, 2019).

Part of the goal is to help clients avoid ruminating on events from the past or possible outcomes of the future (“Gestalt Therapy”, 2018). Instead, counselling therapists help clients evaluate where they are in the present; understanding their emotions, behaviours, and internal selves; and what needs to be done as a result (“Gestalt Therapy”, 2018).

Would you like to learn more about this type of therapy and others that can help you become a professional counsellor?

Rhodes Wellness College has launched a New Decade, New You! scholarship for new students starting in January 2020 that wish to embark on a counselling career. Contact Rhodes Wellness College for more information about the scholarship and the therapist college programs available.

Works Cited

Clarke, J. (2019, March 25). What Is Gestalt Therapy? Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-gestalt-therapy-4584583.

Gestalt Therapy. (2018, March 16). Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/gestalt-therapy.

Gestalt Therapy | Psychology Today Canada. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/therapy-types/gestalt-therapy.

Rhodes Wellness College: Professional Counsellor Diploma. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2019, from https://www.rhodescollege.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Professional-Counsellor-Diploma-Program-Outline-April-2019.pdf

Yontef, G., & Jacobs, L. (2008). Gestalt therapy. Current Psychotherapies, 342–382.