Unit 10: Gestalt Therapy Flashcards Preview

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What is gestalt therapy?

And existential-phenomenological approach based on the premise that individuals must be understood in the context of their ongoing relationship with the environment. The initial goal is for clients to gain awareness of what they are experiencing and how they are doing it. Through this awareness, change automatically occurs. The approaches phenomenological because it focusses on the clients perceptions of reality and existential because it is grounded in the notion that people are always in the process of becoming, remaking, and rediscovering themselves. Give special attention to existence as individuals experience it and affirms that he would capacity for growth and healing through interpersonal contact and insight.

Lively and promotes direct experiencing rather than the abstractness of talking about situations – the approach is experiential in that clients come to grips with what and how they are thinking, feeling, and doing as they interact with the therapist. Counsellors value being fully present and growth occurs out of genuine contact between client and therapist.

One of the therapists main role is to guide the phenomenological focus, or to assist clients in clarifying their awareness. Therapists devise experiments designed to increase clients self awareness of what they are doing and how they are doing it. Awareness includes inside, self-acceptance, knowledge of the environment, responsibility for choices, and the ability to make contact with others. Based on a here-and-now experiencing that is always changing


Describe the view of human nature in gestalt therapy

For Fritz pearls, clients have to grow up and stand on their own 2 feet and deal with life‘s problems themselves – his therapy involved two personal agendas: moving the client from environmental support to self-support and re-integrating the disowned parts of personality. Confrontational style of conducting therapy.

Contemporary gestalt therapy stresses dialogue between client and therapist. Therapist has no agenda and understands that the essential nature of the individuals relationship with the environment is interdependence, not independence. Approach creates the ground for contact and experiments that are spontaneous and organic to the moment-to-moment experience of the therapeutic engagement.

View of human nature is rooted in existential philosophy, phenomenology, and field theory. Genuine knowledge is the product of what is immediately evident in the experience of the perceiver. Therapy aims at awareness and contact with the environment rather than analysis. The environment, or “field“ consists of both external and internal world. The Quality of contact with aspects of the external world and the internal world is monitored. The process of re-owning parts of oneself and I’ve been disowned and unification process proceed step-by-step until clients become strong enough to carry on with their own personal growth. By becoming aware, clients become able to make informed choices and thus to live a meaningful existence.

Basic assumption is that individuals have the capacity to “self-regulate“ in their environment if they are fully aware of what is happening in and around them. Therapy provides the setting and opportunity for that awareness and contacting process to be supported and restored. We change when we become aware of what we are as opposed to trying to become what we are not, to be rather then should be


One of the foundational principles of gestalt therapy. All of nature is seen as a unified and coherent whole, and the whole is different from the sum of its parts. We can only be understood to the extent that we take into consideration all dimensions of human functioning. The emphasis is on integration, how the parts fit together, and how the individual makes contact with the environment



Gestalt therapy is based on this, which is grounded on the principle that the organism must be seen in its environment, or in its context, as part of the constantly changing environment. Everything is relational, in flux, interrelated, and in process.

Field theory


In gestalt therapy, derived from the field of visual perception, this process describes how the individual organizes the environment from moment to moment. Undifferentiated field is called the background, or ground, and the emerging focus of attention is called the figure. This process tracks how some aspect of the environmental field emerges from the background and becomes the focal point of the individuals attention and interest. The dominant needs of an individual at a given moment influence this process

The figure-formation process

Gestalt therapists direct the clients awareness to the figures that emerge from the background during a therapy session and use the figure-formation process as a guide for the focus of therapeutic work


In gestalt therapy, a process by which equilibrium is “disturbed” by the emergence of a need, a sensation, or an interest. Organisms will do their best to regulate themselves, given their own capabilities and the resources of their environment. Individuals can take actions and make contacts that will restore equilibrium or contribute to growth and change.

Organismic self-regulation


Describe the importance of “the now“ in gestalt therapy

The present is the most significant tense. Emphasis is on learning to appreciate and fully experience the present moment. Focussing on the past can be a way to avoid coming to terms with the present.

To help the client make contact with the present moment, the therapist asked “what“ and “how“ questions but rarely asks “why“ questions

Instead of experiencing feelings in the present, clients often talk about their feelings – more detached – therapists attempt to have the client experience their feelings in the now. As the client attends to the present experience, the therapist gauges how much anxiety or discomfort is present and chooses further interventions accordingly. If the past seems to have a significant bearing on the clients present attitude or behavior, it is dealt with by bringing it into the present as much as possible – for example, the reenacting it as though they were living it now.

The immediacy and quality of the relationship between client and therapist is a way to bring vitality to therapy sessions


Describe the gestalt therapy concept of unfinished business

When figures emerge from the background but are not completed and resolved, individuals are left with unfinished business, which can manifest in and expressed feelings such as resentment, rage, hatred, pain, anxiety, grief, guilt, and abandonment. Because the feelings are not fully experienced in awareness, they linger in the background and are carried into present life in ways that interfere with effective contact with oneself and others. Persist until the individual faces and deals with the unexpressed feelings


Describe the Gestalt therapy concept of contact

Contact is necessary if change and growth are to occur. Made by seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and moving – means interacting with nature and with other people without losing one’s sense of individuality. The continually renewed creative adjustment of individuals to their environment

After a contact experience there’s typically a withdrawal to integrate what has been learned – boundary connects and separates, both contact and withdrawal are necessary and important to healthy functioning

Therapists also focus on resistances to contact, which are defences we develop to prevent us from experiencing the present in a full and real way. These include introjection, projection, retroflexion, deflection, and confluence


Describe the five major channels of resistance to contact that are challenged in gestalt therapy

Introjection – the tendency to uncritically accept others beliefs and standards without assimilating them to make them congruent with who we are.

Projection – we disown certain aspects of ourselves by assigning them to the environment. Those attributes of our personality that are inconsistent with our self image are disowned and put on to other people. Avoids taking responsibility for own feelings

Retroflection – consists of turning back to ourselves what we would like to do to someone else or doing to ourselves what we would like someone else to do to us. For example, lashing out and enjoying ourselves. Restricts engagement between person and environment

Deflection – the process of distraction so that it is difficult to maintain a sustained sense of contact. Overuse of humor, abstract generalizations, and questions rather than statements

Confluence – a blurring of the differentiation between the self and the environment. No clear demarcation between internal experience and outer reality. In relationships involves an absence of conflicts or believe that all parties experience the same feelings and thoughts


Describe the concept energy and blocks to energy in gestalt therapy

Special attention is given to where energy is located, how it is used, and how it can be blocked. Blocked energy is another form of resistance. Can be manifested by tension in some part of the body, by posture, by keeping one’s body tight and closed, by not breathing deeply, by looking away from people when speaking as a way to avoid contact, by choking off sensations, by numbing feelings, and by speaking with a restricted voice, to mention only a few.

Therapist is interested in interruptions between sensation and awareness, interruptions between awareness and mobilization of energy, and interruptions between mobilization of energy and action. Therapy process involves finding the focus of interrupted energy and bringing the sensations to the clients awareness. Then transforming this blocked energy into more adaptive behaviours


Explain the importance of the “now ethos“ to gestalt therapy. How does the gestalt approach deal with the past?

Therapist believe that the power is in the present. Focussing on the past can be a way to avoid coming to terms with the present. Many people invest their energies in bemoaning their past mistakes and ruminating about how life could and should have been different, or the engage in endless resolutions and plans for the future. As they direct their energy toward what was or might have been, the power of the present diminishes.

Therapist recognize that the past will make regular appearances in the present moment, usually because of some lack of completion of that past experience. When the past seems to have a significant bearing on clients present attitude or behavior, it is dealt with by bringing it into the present as much as possible. A therapist may ask them to reenact it as though they were living at now, to bring the fantasy here and strive to relive the feelings experienced earlier.


What are the therapeutic goals in Gestalt therapy?

Attaining awareness and, with that, greater choice. Awareness includes knowing the environment, knowing oneself, accepting oneself, and being able to make contact. Increased and enriched awareness, by itself, is seen as curative. With awareness they have a capacity to face and accept denied parts as well as to fully experience their subjectivity. They can become unified and whole. Can deal with unfinished business.


Describe the role of the therapist in gestalt therapy. How have the therapist role, the client-therapist relationship, and the emphasis on techniques evolved since the early days of fritz pearls?

Therapist is engaged with client to assist them in developing their own awareness and experiencing how they are in the present moment. Therapist job is to invite clients into an active partnership where they can learn about themselves by adopting an experimental attitude toward life in which they try out new behaviours and notice what happens.
Therapists notice what is in the foreground and the background and encourages clients to attend to their sensory awareness in the present moment. Therapist functions as a guide and the catalyst, presents experiments, and shares observations, but the basic work of therapy is done by the client.
Therapist create a climate in which clients are likely to try out new ways of behaving and being – do not force change through confrontation and instead work within a context of I/thou dialogue in a here-and-now framework
Pay attention to clients body language– nonverbal cues provide information about feelings of which the client is unaware
Counsellor places emphasis on the relationship between language patterns and personality – speech patterns are often an expression of feelings, thoughts, and attitudes. Approach focusses on overt speaking habits as a way to increase clients awareness of themselves, especially by asking them to notice whether their words are congruent with what they are experiencing or instead are distancing them from their emotions. Language can both describe and conceal

Fritz was more confrontational about how clients avoid accepting responsibility. Practice has softened and shifted its emphases toward the quality of the therapist-client relationship, dialogue, empathic attunement, tapping the clients wisdom and resources, and expansion of therapeutic styles, and development of theory, especially field theory and phenomenology. Many contemporary therapists place increasing emphasis on factors such as presence, authentic dialogue, gentleness, more direct self-expression by therapist, decreased use of stereotypic exercises, and greater trust in the clients experiencing. The person of the therapist and client-therapist relationship is more important than the techniques they use.


What are some examples of the aspects of language that gestalt therapists might focus on?

“It“ talk- saying it instead of I is depersonalizing. Substituting personal pronouns for impersonal ones helps to assume responsibility

“You“ talk- Global and impersonal language tends to keep the person hidden. Substitute I

Question – have a tendency to keep questioner hidden, safe, and unknown. Change questions into statements helps assume responsibility

Language that denies power – by adding qualifiers or disclaimers to their statements such as perhaps, sort of, maybe. Subtracts from effectiveness. Substituting won’t or can’t assist in ownership and acceptance and responsibility

Listening to clients metaphors – Rich clues to clients internal struggles. Beneath metaphor may lie a suppressed internal dialogue that represents critical unfinished business or reactions to a present interaction. Example been put through a meatgrinder. Therapy consists of translating the meaning of these metaphors into manifest content so that they can be dealt with

Listening for language that uncovers a story – clients often use language that is elusive yet gives significant clues to a story that illustrates their life struggles


Describe clients experience in therapy in Gestalt therapy

Orientation in therapy is towards dialogue. Therapist do not make interpretations- truth is the result of the shared and phenomenologically refined experience of the therapist and the client. Clients are active participants who make their own interpretations and meanings. It is they who increase awareness and decide what they will or will not do with their personal meaning.

Three stage integration sequences that characterizes client growth:
Discovery – clients are likely to reach a new realization about themselves or to acquire a novel view of an old situation or new look at a significant person in their lives.
Accommodation – involves clients recognizing that they have a choice. Trying out new behaviours in a supportive environment of the therapy office helps to expand their awareness of the world
Assimilation – clients learning how to influence their environment instead of passively excepting it. Improve improvisation , making choices resulting in getting what they want


Describe the relationship between therapist and client in Gestalt therapy

Therapy involves a person-to-person relationship between therapist and client. Therapist are responsible for the quality of their presence, for knowing themselves and the client, and for remaining open to the client. Also responsible for establishing and maintaining a therapeutic atmosphere that will foster a spirit of work on the clients part.

Therapists actively share their own present perceptions and experiences as they encounter clients in the here and now. The therapist must encounter clients with honest and immediate reactions and explore with them their fears, catastrophic expectations, blockages, and resistances.


Differentiate between exercises/techniques and experiments

Exercises are ready-made techniques that are sometimes used to make something happen in a therapy session or to achieve a goal. They can be catalysts for individual work or for promoting interaction among members of a therapy group

Experiments, in contrast, grow out of the interaction between client and therapist. They can be considered the very cornerstone of experiential learning

Experiments encourage spontaneity and inventiveness by bringing the possibilities for action directly into the therapy session. Clients increase their range of flexibility of behavior.


Describe the internal dialogue exercise/empty chair technique in gestalt therapy

Goal is to bring about integrated functioning and acceptance of aspects of one’s personality that have been disowned and denied. Therapists pays close attention to splits in personality function, divisions between the top dog and the underdog and the war between the two.

Top dog is righteous, authoritarian, moralistic, demanding, bossy, and manipulative – the critical parent that badgers with shoulds ought and manipulates with threats of catastrophe. The underdog manipulates by playing the role of the victim, by being defensive, apologetic, helpless, and weak by feeding powerlessness. This is the passive side without responsibility, and one that finds excuses. The top dog and underdog are engaged in a constant struggle for control. As a result of the struggle for control, the individual becomes fragmented into controller and controlled.

Conflict of these opposing poles is rooted in the mechanism of introjection, which involves incorporating aspects of others, usually parents, into one’s ego system. It is essential that clients become aware of their introjects, especially toxic ones.

Empty-chair technique – one way of getting the client to externalize the introject. Using two chairs, the therapist asks the client to sit in one chair and be fully the top dog and then shift to the other chair and become underdog. A role playing technique in which all the parts are played by the client. In this way the introjects can surface, and the client can experience the conflict more fully. Conflict can be resolved by the clients acceptance and integration of both sides. Helps clients get in touch with the feeling or a side of themselves that they may be denying.

Goal is to promote a higher level of integration between the polarities and conflicts that exist in everyone – aim is not to rid person of certain traits but to learn to accept and live with the polarities


Describe the Gestalt therapy technique making the rounds

Involves asking a person in a group to go up to others in the group and either speak to or do something with each person. The purpose is to confront, to risk, to disclose the self, to experiment with new behavior, and to grow and change.


Describe the gestalt therapy technique the reversal exercise

Certain symptoms and behaviours often represent reversals of underlying or latent impulses – therapist could ask a person who claims to suffer from severe inhibitions and excessive timidity to play the role of an exhibitionist

Helps to recognize the opposite side. The theory is that clients take the plunge into the very thing that is fraught with anxiety and make contact with those parts of themselves that have been submerged and denied


Describe the Gestalt therapy technique the rehearsal exercise

When we get stuck rehearsing silently to ourselves so that we will gain acceptance, but when it comes to the performance, we experience stage fright, or anxiety, because we fear that we will not play our role well. Internal rehearsal consume as much energy and frequently inhibits our spontaneity and willingness to experiment with new behavior.

When clients share their rehearsals out loud with a therapist, they become more aware of the many preparatory means they use in bolstering their social roles. Also become increasingly aware of how they try to meet the expectations of others, of The degree to which they want to be approved, accepted, and liked, and of the extent to which they go to attain acceptance


Describe the Gestalt therapy technique the exaggeration exercise

Aim is for clients to become more aware of the subtle signals and cues they are sending through body language. Movements, postures, and gestures may communicate significant meanings, yet the cues maybe incomplete. In this exercise the person is asked to exaggerate the movement or gesture repeatedly, which usually intensifies the feeling attached to the behaviour and makes the intervening clearer. Examples are trembling, slouched posture and then shoulders, clenched fists, type frowning, facial grimacing, crossed arms, and so forth


Describe the Gestalt therapy technique staying with the feeling

Therapist encourages clients to go deeper into the feeling or behaviour they wish to avoid. Facing, confronting, and experiencing feelings not only takes courage but also is a mark of a willingness to endure the pain necessary for unblocking and making way for newer levels of growth

Most clients desire to escape from fearful stimuli and to avoid unpleasant feelings. At key moments when clients refer to a feeling or a mood that is unpleasant and from which they have a great urge to flee, the therapist encourages the clients to stay with their feelings


Describe the gestalt approach to dream work

The approach does not interpret and analyze dreams, instead the intent is to bring dreams back to life and relive them as though they were happening now. The dreamers act it out in the present, and the dreamer becomes a part of his or her dream. The suggested format includes making a list of all the details of the dream, remembering each person, event, and mood in it, and then becoming each of these parts by transforming oneself, acting as fully as possible and inventing dialogue. Each part of dream is assumed to be a projection of the self, and the client creates scripts for encounters between various characters or parts. All of the different parts of a dream are expressions of the clients own contradictory and inconsistent sides, and, by engaging in a dialogue between these opposing sides, the client gradually becomes more aware of the range of his or her own feelings.

Includes projections and unfinished situation.