I always found the academic definition of Gestalt therapy and all its vocabulary to be quite dry. It is meant to be that way since it is supposed to be as objective as possible. However, in doing so it loses the ability to convey the essence of the writer’s understanding of Gestalt therapy. This is not a commentary on anyone’s ability to write, just that English is a very limited language.
If you have ever felt like you need a metaphor to explain something because there just isn’t a word that can capture the essence of what you mean, that is how I feel. In this blog, I will try to give you an introduction to my understanding of Gestalt therapy, and so you can start to form your own definition through this experience.
Having said all that, it would be unfair to not provide my take on an academic definition of Gestalt therapy. So here it is. Gestalt therapy is a type of psychotherapy focused on the present and awareness. The goal of Gestalt therapy is to increase the awareness of how the past and future are affecting the present and to open up choices.
Looking at the Present Through the Lens of Photography (Pun Intended)
The present is very important because this is when we experience our feelings, bodily sensations, and fundamentally our aliveness. I sometimes consider my experience of the present as taking a photo of scenery through a lens of what I learned from the past plus a filter of what I expect from the future. So the result sometimes may be exactly how you like it, and other times you may not like the photo at all. Gestalt therapy can help with recognizing the effect of the lens and filter, so you can decide if you like the scenery and which way you want to keep walking forward.
What are you aware of right now?
This question sits at the core of Gestalt therapy. There is a subtle difference compared to “How do you feel about this?” in the sense that I am not as interested in how you feel about what is being talked about. Instead, I am more interested in what you are aware of as you talk about this subject. This can include how you feel in your body, what you are focusing on in the environment around you, a memory that spontaneously crossed your mind, and more. Combined with the use of “I” language, this question also allows the client to differentiate between what they want to do and what they feel they must do.
Do you know how people drink coffee when they are thirsty? Depending on your own lifestyle you may or may not agree with this statement. There is nothing wrong with drinking coffee for hydration, and nothing wrong with believing others do it too. However, I phrased it as absolute truth, instead of what it really is, which is the truth based on my lived experience. In Gestalt therapy, “I” language has the magic of transforming the statement into what it really is simply by restating everything that is said using “I”. How would you transform this statement using “I” language? My take is “I drink coffee when I am thirsty. I think it is normal because I have seen other people do it too”.
Make It Your Own!
After reading this, you have probably formed your own understanding of what Gestalt therapy is. If you are interested you can try to verbalize your own definition of it, either in a sentence, or a paragraph, using plain language, or metaphors. You can also ask your friend to do the same. You can compare and see how the lens and filter they are using affected their experience of the blog compared to yours. My experience with Gestalt therapy is fun and filled with creativity. I hope that is yours too.
Perls, F. (1969). Gestalt therapy verbatim. Moab, UT: Real People Press.
Perls, L. (1992). Concepts and misconceptions of Gestalt therapy. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 32(3), 50-56.
Wagner-Moore, L. E. (2004). Gestalt Therapy: Past, Present, Theory, and Research. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 41(2), 180–189. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-3184.108.40.206
Written by David Qi for Crossroad Collective