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Gestalt Therapy - What is it? Some explanations from a professional

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Naoum Liotas

Gestalt Therapy - What is it? Some explanations from a professional

Posted by Naoum Liotas 348 Days Ago


When looking for psychotherapy, one cannot really know what each modality of psychotherapy really is and how one might benefit from them or not. So it is not a very informed choice... And even as experts, we sometimes struggle keeping up with all new modalities and models that pop up every now and then. This is why I thought of writing an original article explaining some of the main pillars of Gestalt Therapy and how these might be different.

The most important concepts of Gestalt therapy (and I am aware that I am making a choice here) are the following:

1. The paradox of change

One important issue that Gestalt therapy takes quite seriously is its philosophy of change. How does change happen? Have you noticed what helps you actually make a change and what is the best way of sticking with a new habit / new behaviour for a longer period of time and not relapsing to an old behaviour? What Gestalt says, is that you change by standing still. This means that in some way, I need to pay attention and raise my awareness on what I am currently doing and how I am making a conscious choice when I continue to have the same behaviour day in day out. This will ultimately create new awareness and I will be able to make a new choice based on my new understanding.

Example: I eat too much and want to lose weight. Instead of planning your next lunch and dinner or what you need to change in the future, we will focus attention on how you currently benefit and what you currently lose from having these eating habits in your life. And we will look that in a holistic way, so we will explore what emotions you are currently experiencing, what you sense in your body, what thoughts you have about this. And this brings us to the next concept which is...

2. Holistic

Holistic means that we need to see the whole of our being if we want to change. We cannot isolate the mind and think that all emanates from there. Emotions, senses, fantasies, dreams, experience, background, goals, expectations and plans are all equally important. So we need to explore all facets of our life to make a new whole by doing the adaptations we want and are able to do.

3. Existential

Closely related to its holistic understanding of the human being, Gestalt deems that we are meaning-making beings. This means that we need to construe or give our own meaning or find our own answers to life's bigger questions. And also related to that is that we are human beings (and not human doings). This means that we need to pay attention to how we are in this world (perhaps to a greater degree than what we do or how we behave although these two are connected).

4. Unfinished business

When we keep something in our hearts and minds unresolved, we tend to revisit it because we want to complete it. However, we might get trapped in vicious cycles when we don't have some kind of intervention there.

Example: I had an important loss in my life of a significant other that I never understood or processed. Now every time somebody even looks away, I get panicky and I don't really know why.

Here, healing needs to take place by allowing the person to understand how she construes her own reality and how emotions and imagination come into play. By enhancing awareness on our own process, we become more flexible and we can make the changes we want. By doing this we will become more fluid in our life (and not so fearful of losing someone in this example).

5. Awareness and responsibility

I will end the article with these two which are included in the previous concepts in a way. Awareness is about bringing certain issues and certain choices we make to our attention when such clarity is lacking. Our feelings, thoughts and patterns are usually there to protect us. By realising their use, we can use them instead of allowing them to use us. This is also related to our responsibility for our own self and behaviours. Our behaviours speak about us and we need to consciously do something when these do not align with who we are as persons.

Example: Keith feels awful each time his wife looks at another man. He is taking this as a rejection. What he does not see is that he is making a choice to feel that way in order to protect himself from a potential threat. By realising the choice he is making and taking responsibility for his own reaction, he can make a different choice in the future.

I hope this article gives an idea of what Gestalt therapy is and what to expect when working with a Gestalt psychotherapist. You can contact me if you want to ask me something or book a session.