Gestalt Therapy Gestalt Therapy I. Summary and Integration of Major Concepts Founded by Frederick (Fritz) and Laura Perls in the 1940’s, Gestalt therapy is a phenomenological – existential methodology which emphasizes experience and experimentation. Gestalt is a German term that means a “complete pattern or configuration” (p. 112). Though there are many modalities and styles in Gestalt therapy, it is holistic in its approach uniting mind, body, and feeling (p. 112).
Some concepts at the core of Gestalt therapy are “the organism as a whole”, emphasis on the “here and now”, and “awareness” (pp. 223-225). Perls believed that “human beings are unified organisms” (p.223) and that mind and body were not separate entities. It was important that to understand the person as a whole, one must consider all dimensions of the person such as physical functioning, thoughts, emotions, culture, etc., in a unified manner. All of these aspects were viable expressions of the individual.
Gestalt therapy also places a great deal of emphasis on the “here and now”, however, it does not imply that the past and the future are not important. Past-unfinished business can interfere with a person’s current and future existence. For this reason, finishing unfinished business is a significant aspect of Gestalt therapy (p. 112). It is thought that these unfinished situations will naturally emerge when the person is focused on what is being done, thought, and felt at the moment (p.224).
Focusing on the “here and now” allows the individual to be in touch with the self and his/her environment which in turn enables the individual to realize his/her needs (p.224). Awareness and acknowledgement of experiences are key elements to the completion of a gestalt. Awareness is grounded in the present needs of the individual. Completion is dependent upon the individual taking responsibility for his/her own feelings and behavior. It is through this increased awareness that the health (or mental health) of the individual is restored.
II. Breakthroughs and Steps in Learning Practicing Client Centered therapy helped me get over most of my fear and apprehension about performing as therapist and client in front of my classmates. So, as we (the class) began our first session in Gestalt I initially felt less nervous about participating, in fact, I volunteered to be the first client in my group during the first demonstration. Just like client centered therapy, I had again been in a group that was assigned to Dr. Fiebert and I felt fortunate to have him demonstrate because I knew that I would learn a great deal given his years of experience.
I had learned through the reading and class lecture that this was a therapy that called for the therapist to be creative in getting the client to express emotions and feelings. I was anxious to see what creative techniques Dr. Fiebert would employ. He began the session by asking me what I was aware of and I told him that I was feeling some tension in my neck and shoulders. He then asked me to describe the tension, rate the level of tension on a scale of 1-10, increase the tension and relate it to and experience or incident in my life. I linked to a recent situation I had experienced with my mother, whom he then brought in to the empty chair to begin the external dialogue.
My immediate reaction was to put up a defense by holding back but I knew if I was going to truly learn anything I had to freely allow myself to experience this process. In the third stage we had identified and labeled my internal polarities – Independent and Neglected. After a couple of minutes in to this stage I was uncomfortable with the depth of emotion that we were exploring and again put up my defenses but trying to keep it at a superficial level. Sensing this, Dr. Fiebert had me stand up and stomp my foot while repeating a line that expressed my anger and frustration, and exercise that was aimed at getting me in touch with my feeling. When my session ended I felt a sense of relief not only because I was no longer on the spot but also because I was able to explore some difficult issued and understand them a little better.
As Dr Fiebert continued working with the other students, I carefully observed the different techniques he used in each of the stages, from fantasy work in stage 1 to the physical expression in stages 2 and 3, and finally the creative ways in which he had the client label his/her internal polarities. He didn’t repeat these techniques as he worked with each one of us so it gave us the opportunity to observe a variety of approaches that we could use later. Overall, the session demonstrated how quickly emotions could be evoked and how powerful a therapy it was. At the next group session it was our turn to act as therapist and since it was the first time I knew I would clumsily muddle through it and I was comfortable with that – it was part of the learning process. I was far more reluctant about being a client because I felt that had no control and was going to have to face my demons whether I liked it or not.
Again I volunteered to be the first client, mainly to conquer my fear but also to view someone else’s technique before attempting it myself. Although we only focused on stages 1 and 2, most of us in the group had difficulty as therapist’s and relied heavily on the facilitator. At the end of our session we discussed what we thought our individual difficulties were and the on we all had in common was the fear of making our client break down. We had all witnessed on or more of our classmates cry in the previous session and none of us wanted to be the cause of such a breakdown. While we all realized that we could not be the “true” cause of such a reaction, we still found the possibility unsettling and felt a sense of responsibility for our clients.
The facilitator assured us that as we proceeded we would be able to handle such a situation. Initially I thought I would have difficulty remembering the structure and rules of Gestalt therapy, but it was utilizing the various techniques to elicit the clients feelings that I had trouble with. I found it particularly difficult to determine which technique was appropriate to use in each stage, especially in stage 1. As the therapist in the third class session, I was tempted to use fantasy work very early on, but the facilitator reminded me that it should be used as a last resort. Instead she instructed me to explore the clients physical and emotional awareness and link it to a situation and person that is significant to the client.
I also found it difficult to transition from state to stage, particularly from stage 2 to 3. I explained the transition from external to internal polarities in textbook terms rather than in plain English. With a little coaching I was able to guide my client through the three stages pretty well. By this time I had proven to be skillful at moving the client between chairs and picking up on verbal and non-verbal expressions. After this session I decided to view the tapes at the library again so I could observe how to properly transition between stages.
I also had a practice session with a classmate where we coached each other through the three stages. This practice session was a great learning experience because our strengths were in different areas. She was better at transitioning between stages and I was better at guiding the client when in the stages. However, we both struggled with the first stage and focused a lot of our attention there until we felt fairly comfortable with our technique. Here I learned not to take the easy out and rush into fantasy work but to take my time with the client’s physical state, emotions, thoughts and feelings. In the fourth session we ran out of time and I didn’t get a turn as therapist. But, I was able to watch and learn from my classmates as they were introduced and guided through stage 4 (the integration stage).
While I had always been aware of the changes that took place in the client as he/she progressed through the stages, I was so enthralled in learning the technique of the therapy tat I had focused most of my attention on the therapist’s chair. I found myself concentrating mostly on the clients during this session. I clearly saw how each client responded in the various stages of Gestalt and how the whole process unfolded. Those students who were not afraid to be open and expressive specifically moved me. I was also intrigued at how effortless it seemed to employ the two chairs with these clients and how they automatically took on the appropriate posture and behavior of each chair. The fifth session was where I was able to implement all four stages in Gestalt therapy for the first time.
I tended to rely a little to heavily on the facilitator to help me through the stages partly because I didn’t yet trust my ability and also I hadn’t been able to rid myself of the nervousness I experienced when being observed. At the end of the session the facilitator assured me that I was doing fine and would probably only need one more practice session to hone my skills. The next class meeting was devoted to a Gestalt workshop for those of us who had not worked with a guest yet. The workshop was designed to explore probable scenarios and to supply us with general guidelines for working with a guest. One of the more important things I got from the workshop was how to work with a resistant client, or a client who feels silly doing some of the experiments.
This information would prove useful when I did work with a guest. After the workshop I had one more practice session with a classmate and it went fairly well. I was relaxed and comfortable in the role of therapist, which in turn made the client, feel more at ease. I transitioned through to stage 3 smoothly but discovered that I still had some trouble transitioning to stage 4. Luckily I was scheduled to meet with some classmates to videotape a therapy session prior to working with a guest. Things went a little smoother during this session and after viewing the videotape I felt fairly confident that I would be able to do a good job with the guest.
Finally the day to work with a guest came and again I felt nervous about being observed and evaluated. As I sate in the observation room waiting for my client I went over the technique in my head and tried to forget about the facilitators. As I began working with my guest I quickly forgot about the fact that I was being observed and focused all my attention on the client. We spent quite a bit of time in state 1 and after exhausting all possible alternatives I had to use fantasy as away to bring an issue or feeling into awareness. I guided him through the comp …