Many times we associate psychotherapy with a form of intervention that can only be useful for people with serious psychological or health problems.

This may be because of the confusion that exists when differentiating concepts such as psychology and psychiatry, or because of the way in which the media and audiovisual fictions portray psychotherapists: people who only enter the scene to help unhappy people, who do not achieve their objectives and who, in many cases, are at risk of social exclusion .

However, this is not the case. Among other things, because there are psychological approaches whose aim is to provide the necessary therapeutic tools so that people can tend towards self-realisation and the creation of meaning for their own acts. This is the case of Humanist Psychology, within which we find a well-known type of therapy: Gestalt Therapy .

How is Gestalt Therapy?

The Gestalt Therapy , or Gestalt Therapy , is a type of psychological therapy that falls within the category of Humanist Psychology in the sense that it assumes the way in which humanist thought conceives the human being, his goals and his range of needs and potentialities. Moreover, as its name indicates, collects the theoretical principles of Gestalt Psychology and uses them to propose a form of psychotherapy .

The main people responsible for the development of this type of psychotherapy are authors such as Paul Goodman , Isadore From and, especially, Fritz Perls and Laura Perls . Since the consolidation of Gestalt Therapy in the middle of the 20th century, a lot of work has been done to extend its applicability beyond clinical psychology as we classically understand it, and therefore it is possible to find forms of this therapy in interventions on communities, organizations or concrete work dynamics.

In short, Gestalt Therapy has flourished, extending to a large number of social and human spheres in order to put into practice the principles of Gestalt in all types of objectives . That is why, although this type of therapy is related to the idea of personal development, it is not limited to the scope of the classic psychological consultation, but can be understood as a tool to redefine lifestyles in their totality.

You can learn more about Fritz Perls and his thinking by entering this article:

  • "Biography of Fritz Perls and his contributions to Psychology"

The principles of Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt Therapy emphasizes the way in which things that are experienced are formulated mentally, rather than worrying about the content of what happens to us . This means that from this type of therapy the importance lies in the form in which something is experienced, and not so much in that "something" itself. We do not intervene from questions like "what happens to us", but from the "how does it happen to us and how do we experience it". It is an approach that highlights the role of subjective sensations, since it starts from the approaches of Humanist Psychology.

This emphasis on processes over content and subjectivity over objective can be deployed in three theoretical principles: the experimentation of the "here and now" , the awareness and the responsibility .

1. Here and Now

From Gestalt Therapy it is assumed that we human beings perceive everything that happens to us as a unified experience . This means, among other things, that our idea of what is in the future and the past are no more than projections of how we live the present. In short, by working on our way of thinking about the present we will be intervening on our ways of considering the future to come and the way in which we look back on the past.

This idea, by the way, is supported by some research that made the psychologist Gordon H. Bower famous.

2. Awareness

Gestalt Therapy is essential to take note of what happens to oneself. Only in this way can we detect new ways of formulating the experience of the here and now in terms that bring us closer to self-realization .

Looking at our own experiences and thoughts allows us, on the one hand, to be better at recognizing our style when it comes to experimenting, and on the other hand, to have more power of decision when it comes to changing our way of seeing things. In other words, it could be said that being honest with our way of experiencing allows us to develop a better EQ.

3. Responsibility

Becoming aware of one’s own acts and styles of experiencing things also implies assuming the consequences of those choices . By accepting mistakes and hypothesizing risks, autonomy is gained. This opens up the range of options and the conception of meanings in which one can act, from an existential perspective.

Irresponsibility is considered to be the result of an illusion, a denial of the present and a refusal to become aware of it. That is why Gestalt Therapy emphasizes the need to take responsibility, not only to improve the coexistence with others, but to be freer and more capable of giving meaning to our lives.

In short, the therapists who adhere to Gestalt Therapy understand that their interventions must focus on the autonomy and potential of the person . A good way of experiencing what happens can serve to know how to guide oneself through this jungle of possible options, of ways of conceiving one’s own existence.

Criticisms of this practice

Gestalt therapy has been severely criticized, among other things, for not having a concrete unit of analysis, with which it is possible to work experimentally without getting lost in words without clear definitions. This fact, which has to do with the attempt to approach the subjectivity of this form of intervention (starting from rigid definitions could leave out part of the reality of the patients, according to this perspective) makes it impossible to guarantee the effectiveness of the therapy either.

On the other hand, the markedly eclectic character of Gestalt Therapy also creates misgivings, since it does not base its proposals on a unified and systematized theoretical system, as the behavioral perspective does, for example. Furthermore, its inspiration in Freudian psychoanalysis, based on the idea that there are parts of the psyche that enter into conflict, is also seen as part of a heritage of thought that is outside of science.

Bibliographic references:

  • (2008) Handbook for Theory, Research, and Practice in Gestalt Therapy, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
  • Castanedo, C. (1993). Six approaches to psychotherapy. Manual Moderno. Mexico.
  • Ginger, S. (2005). Gestalt. The art of contact. Integral – RBA. Barcelona.
  • Martin, A. (2007). Practical Manual of Gestalt Psychotherapy. Desclée de Brouwer. Bilbao.