Gestalt Psychology provides the framework for my approach to counseling. Most of my preferred techniques and philosophies lend themselves very well to Gestalt. In fact, many of the counseling techniques I use have their roots in Gestalt Therapy. I like Gestalt most of all because it is an ideal way to focus on the location of change - neural networks.
What's the difference between Gestalt Psychology and Gestalt Therapy? Gestalt Psychology suggests a person gets stuck in fixed patterns and beliefs about themselves that get in the way. Gestalt Therapy aims to uncover these patterns... or neural networks... and how they are holding the person back.
While I frequently do Gestalt "Therapy", I do not claim to be a Gestalt Therapist because I choose not to limit myself to that one approach. Gestalt Therapy is a way-of-life to the true Gestalt Therapist. I've learned that everyone who comes into counseling of their own accord has basically the same problem -- they are in PAIN. Most of them want the same thing...comfort and RELIEF. But they don't always want to know what's bothering them.
If awareness is the goal...then a Gestalt Psychology approach is the best choice. I find the principles and practice of Gestalt Psychology to be very congruent to my map of the world. Here are some of the basic principles of Gestalt Psychology that I find attractive:
There are three Zones of Awareness according to Gestalt Psychology...the Outer Zone, Middle Zone, and Inner Zone. We can get stuck in any one of these zones. It's best to be able to move choicefully from one zone to another in order to develop self-awareness. Click on the link below to view and save a copy of the Awareness Zones Diagram.
The Awareness Continuum, moving from one zone to another noticing what's in your awareness at any moment, is used in Gestalt Psychology as a way that makes subconscious material available to the conscious mind so that adjustments may be considered and/or choicefully made.
"What am I experiencing now...what am I thinking about and how does it make me feel...what do I want right now and what is stopping me from getting that... how does this relate to the context I'm in... and what is it doing for me?"
Perhaps "right now" I am thinking of something or someone in my past or a future event over which I am worried. If so, that would be the topic of conversation between the therapist and the client but only in an effort to become aware of how that past or future event is affecting the "Now" of experience.
There are two frequent sayings in Gestalt Psychology, "What is, is." and "One thing leads to another".
One of the central tenets of Gestalt Psychology is that healthy functioning involves good contact with self and others. Good contact needs to be appropriate to the situation and relational. We modify contact all the time.
The important issue is to be able to modify contact fluidly and "choicefully" so that we can employ the full range of contact options along a continuum, continually updating our contact styles for each new situation.
The problems arise when we get stuck at one end of a polarity continuum or the other. This is usually because of a "should, must, or ought" rule picked up somewhere in life. According to Fritz Perls, the Father of Gestalt Therapy, there is only one "should" that matters - context. He writes...
Below are a few of the polarity continuum's we use to modify contact.
Characterized in Gestalt Psychology either by blocking the trigger itself or by turning oneself away and going off on a tangent.
Persons often deflect from their feelings and impulses by endless talking...by laughing instead of taking themselves seriously...or by always focusing on the needs of the other.
Other examples of deflection include:
He or she finds it difficult to ignore them or to selectively choose what is relevant that any one time leaving them "flooded" with thoughts and feelings. Emotional regulation problems are often a result.
Clues to the differences between deflection and desensitization:
In addition to an overload of sensory data, over-sensitivity can show up in a thinking or emotional sense as well. For example, hypersensitivity to real or perceived criticism, or a belief that one must be perfect or is nothing at all.
A person who fears that closeness to another person will involve some threat of loss, rejection, hurt, or abandonment, may solve the problem by either enmeshing with the other (clinging/pursuing) or disengaging (withdrawing/distancing).
Enmeshment occurs when a person can't tell "...where I end and you begin" due to an inability to distinguish the interpersonal boundary.
It's as if this person gets trapped in their own thoughts. The task here is to encourage the person to move away from their self-monitoring and self-reflection into a more immediate contact with others and their environment.
Also in direct contrast to egotism, it's as if this person is unable to even access their thinking and gets trapped in their feelings and impulses. Persons with ADHD are said to be "addicted to the moment" for this very reason.
When a person struggles with accepting a quality or aspect of his personality that is incompatible with his or her self-concept, he or she may effectively project it out of their awareness on to another person as in the following example:
"A hard-working person told of a time when he returned home after a particularly taxing day. He met his wife at the door and said to her, "you look really tired", to which his wife perceptively replied "you should lie down for a couple of hours". When he woke up, his wife said to him "do I look more rested now?"
However, taken too far, it involves the person accepting or owning everything including what is not his/her responsibility or taking on what is not his/hers. At the extreme, it manifests itself as self-blame or excessive guilt. This is common in cases of sexual abuse or sudden bereavement.
Introjection is something kids under seven years old do automatically with everything their parents tell them or demonstrate for them.
The person who is under the influence of an introject feels a strong pressure to conform and feels uncomfortable if s/he tries to go against it. Sometimes, if s/he pays attention to her/his thoughts, the person can actually hear the instruction and, if asked, can actually say who "gave" it to him.
In the struggle to identify what is "me" and what is "not me", a person may find it easier to define what is "not me" in terms of what he dislikes or disagrees with... rather than identify what is "me" especially if they are not in contact with their own wants and needs.
Other times, a rejecting attitude stems from a profound fear of being controlled or criticized. In this case you'll notice the person's tendency to avoid answering questions or following suggestions.