Much of the Gestalt, phenomenological and existential influences in Gestalt therapy are through her, although credit and influence were limited by how little she wrote under her name Rosenfeld, Although Perls was a training psychoanalyst, he was among those who chafed under the dogmatism of classical Freudian psychoanalysis. The s, s, and s were periods of great ferment and rebellion against Newtonian positivism. This was true in science for example, Einstein's field theory , theater and dance, philosophy, art, architecture and existentialism.
Both Laura and Fritz lived in a zeitgeist permeated by a phenomenological-existential influence that later become interacted into Gestalt therapy Kogan, Among these were acknowledgment of responsibility and choice in creating one's personal existence, the primacy of existence over essence, and the existential dialogue.
Gestalt psychology provided Perls with the organizing principle for Gestalt therapy as an integrating framework. Gestalt refers to the configuration or pattern of a set of elements. Gestalt psychologists believe that organisms instinctively perceive whole patterns and not bits and pieces. Whole patterns have characteristics that cannot be gleaned by analyzing parts. Perception is an active process and not a result of passively received stimulation of sense organs. All situations are believed to possess inherent organization.
Organisms have the capacity for accurate perception when they use their native ability of immediate experience in the here and now. The task of phenomenological research and therapy is to utilize this capacity to gain insight into the structure of that which is being studied. Because people naturally perceive whole patterns as they occur, actual awareness can be trusted more than interpretation and dogma.
Perls' Ego, Hunger and Aggression was written in The subtitle of the book when it appeared in was changed to The Beginning of Gestalt Therapy. This apartment was used for seminars, workshops and groups. During the s, intensive workshops and study groups were established throughout the country. Before the American Psychological Association Convention held in New York City in , a special intensive workshop limited to 15 qualified psychologists was given over a three-day period.
Similar workshops were held in Cleveland, Miami and Los Angeles. In the Cleveland study group formed the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. Fritz Perls moved to the West Coast in , at which time Simkin arranged a Gestalt therapy workshop for him. Perls, Walter Kempler and James Simkin offered the first Gestalt therapy training workshops at the Esalen Institute during the summer of These training workshops continued under the leadership of Perls and Simkin through Resnick, Robert L. During this beginning period Gestalt therapy pioneered many ideas subsequently accepted into eclectic psychotherapy practice.
The excitement of direct contact between therapist and patient, the emphasis on direct experience, the use of active experimentation, the emphasis on the here and now, the responsibility of the patient for himself or herself, the awareness principle, the trust in organismic self-regulation, the ecological interdependence of person and environment, the principle of assimilation, and other such concepts were new, exciting and shocking to a conservative establishment.
In this period the practice of psychotherapy was dichotomized between the older, traditional approach of psychoanalytic drive theory and the ideas pioneered largely by Gestalt therapy. This was a period of expansion, with integration of the principles with each other and the elucidation and enucleation of the principles left for the future. Thus, for example, Gestalt therapy pioneered the use of the active presence of the therapist in a contactful relationship but did not consider in detail what constituted a healing dialogic presence.
There are at least 62 Gestalt therapy institutes throughout the world, and the list continues to grow. Virtually every major city in the United States has at least one Gestalt institute. No national organization has been established. As a result, there are no established standards for institutes, trainers and trainees.
Each institute has its own criteria for training, membership selection, and so on. Attempts in the recent past to organize a nationwide conference for establishing standards for trainers have not been successful. There are no agreed-upon standards for what constitutes good Gestalt therapy or a good Gestalt therapist.
Therefore, it is incumbent on Gestalt therapy consumers to carefully evaluate the educational, clinical, and training background of people who call themselves Gestalt therapists or give training in Gestalt therapy see Yontef, a, b. The Gestalt Journal is devoted primarily to articles on Gestalt therapy. Gestalt Theory publishes articles on Gestalt psychology, including some on Gestalt therapy. Bibliographic information can be obtained from Kogan , Rosenfeld , and Wysong As experience in doing Gestalt therapy has grown, earlier therapeutic practices have been altered.
For example, earlier Gestalt therapy practice often stressed the clinical use of frustration, a confusion of self-sufficiency with self-support, and an abrasive attitude if the patient was interpreted by the therapist as manipulative. This approach tended to enhance the shame of shame-oriented patients. There has been a movement toward more softness in Gestalt therapy practice, more direct self-expression by the therapist, more of a dialogic emphasis, decreased use of stereotypic techniques, increased emphasis on description of character structure with utilization of psychoanalytic formulations , and increased use of group process.
Thus a patient is more likely to encounter, among Gestalt therapists who are involved in the newer mode, an emphasis on self-acceptance, a softer demeanor by the therapist, more trust of the patient's phenomenology, and more explicit work with psychodynamic themes. There has also been an increase in emphasis on group process, including relation between group members, and a decrease in formal, one-to-one work in groups. There is also an increased attention to theoretical instruction, theoretical exposition, and work with cognition in general.
A person exists by differentiating self from other and by connecting self and other. These are the two functions of a boundary. To make good contact with one's world, it is necessary to risk reaching out and discovering one's own boundaries. Effective self-regulation includes contact in which one is aware of novelty in the environment that is potentially nourishing or toxic. That which is nourishing is assimilated and all else is rejected. This kind of differentiated contact inevitably leads to growth Polster and Polster, , p.
In Gestalt therapy, metabolism is used as a metaphor for psychological functioning. People grow through biting off an appropriate-sized piece be this food or ideas or relationships , chewing it considering , and discovering whether it is nourishing or toxic. If nourishing, the organism assimilates it and makes it part of itself.
If toxic, the organism spits it out rejects it. This requires people to be willing to trust their taste and judgment. Discrimination requires actively sensing outside stimuli and processing these exteroceptive stimuli along with interoceptive data. The boundary between self and environment must be kept permeable to allow exchanges, yet firm enough for autonomy. The environment includes toxins to be screened out. Even what is nourishing needs to be discriminated according to the dominant needs. Metabolic processes are governed by the laws of homeostasis. Ideally, the most urgent need energizes the organism until it is met or is superseded by a more vital need.
Living is a progression of needs, met and unmet, achieving homeostatic balance and going on to the next moment and new need. When the boundary between self and other becomes unclear, lost or impermeable, this results in a disturbance of the distinction between self and other, a disturbance of both contact and awareness see Perls, ; Polster and Polster, In good boundary functioning, people alternate between connecting and separating, between being in contact with the current environment and withdrawal of attention from the environment.
The contact boundary is lost in polar opposite ways in confluence and isolation. In confluence fusion , the separation and distinction between self and other becomes so unclear that the boundary is lost. In isolation , the boundary becomes so impermeable that connectedness is lost, i.
Retroflection is a split within the self, a resisting of aspects of the self by the self. This substitutes self for environment, as in doing to self what one wants to do to someone else or doing for self what one wants someone else to do for self. This mechanism leads to isolation. The illusion of self-sufficiency is one example of retroflection as it substitutes self for environment.
Although one can do one's own breathing and chewing, the air and food must come from the environment. Introspection is a form of retroflection that can be pathological or healthy. For example, resisting the impulse to express anger may serve to cope with a dangerous environment. In such a situation, biting one's lip may be more functional than saying something biting. Through introjection , foreign material is absorbed without discriminating or assimilating. Swallowing whole creates an "as if" personality and rigid character.
Introjected values and behavior are imposed on self. As in all contact boundary disturbances, swallowing whole can be healthy or pathological, depending on the circumstances and degree of awareness. For example, students taking a lecture course may, with full awareness that they are doing so, copy, memorize and regurgitate material without full "digestion. Projection is a confusion of self and other that results from attributing to the outside something that is truly self.
An example of healthy projection is art. Pathological projection results from not being aware of and accepting responsibility for that which is projected. Deflection is the avoidance of contact or of awareness by turning aside, as when one is polite instead of direct. Deflection can be accomplished by not expressing directly or by not receiving. In the latter case, the person usually feels "untouched"; in the former case, the person is often ineffective and baffled about not getting what is wanted.
Deflection can be useful where, with awareness, it meets the needs of the situation e. Other examples of deflection include not looking at a person, verbosity, vagueness, understating and talking about rather than to Polster and Polster, , pp. Human regulation is to varying degrees either a organismic, that is, based on a relatively full and accurate acknowledgment of what is , or b "shouldistic," based on the arbitrary imposition of what some controller thinks should or should not be.
This applies to intrapsychic regulation, to the regulation of interpersonal relations and to the regulation of social groups. Perls explicated the above with an example of driving a car. Instead of a preplanned program, "I want to drive 65 miles per hour," a person cognizant of the situation will drive at different speed at night or differently when in traffic, or still differently when tired, and so on.
Here Perls makes it clear that "let the situation control" means regulating through awareness of the contemporary context, including one's wants, rather than through what was thought "should" happen. In organismic self-regulation, choosing and learning happen holistically, with a natural integration of mind and body, thought and feeling, spontaneity and deliberateness. In shouldistic regulation, cognition reigns and there is no felt, holistic sense.
Obviously, everything relevant to boundary regulation cannot be in full awareness. Most transactions are handled by automatic, habitual modes, with minimal awareness. Organismic self-regulation requires that the habitual become fully aware as needed. Awareness and dialogue are the two primary therapeutic tools in Gestalt therapy. Awareness is a form of experience that may be loosely defined as being in touch with one's own existence, with what is.
Insight, a form of awareness, is an immediate grasp of the obvious unity of disparate elements in the field. Aware contact creates new, meaningful wholes and thus is in itself an integration of a problem. Effective awareness is grounded in and energized by the dominant present need of the organism. It involves not only self-knowledge, but a direct knowing of the current situation and how the self is in that situation.
Any denial of the situation and its demands or of one's wants and chosen response is a disturbance of awareness. Meaningful awareness is of a self in the world, in dialogue with the world, and with awareness of Other -- it is not an inwardly focused introspection. Awareness is accompanied by owning , that is, the process of knowing one's control over, choice of, and responsibility for one's own behavior and feelings. Without this, the person may be vigilant to experience and life space, but not to what power he or she has and does not have.
Awareness is cognitive, sensory and affective. The person who verbally acknowledges his situation but does not really see it, know it, react to it and feel in response to it is not fully aware and is not in full contact. The person who is aware knows what he does, how he does it, that he has alternatives and that he chooses to be as he is. The act of awareness is always here and now, although the content of awareness may be distant. The act of remembering is now; what is remembered is not now. When the situation calls for an awareness of the past or anticipation of the future, effective awareness takes this into account.
For example:. P: I am glad to see you, but I'm tense about a meeting tonight with my boss. I have rehearsed and prepared and I've tried to support myself as I wait. P: I thought of putting her in the empty chair and talking to her. But I am so tense I need to do something more physical. I need to move, breathe, make noise. P: It's up to me, huh? Patient gets up, starts stretching, yawning.
The movements and sounds become more vigorous. After a few minutes he sits down, looking more soft and alive. Self-rejection and full awareness are mutually exclusive. Rejection of self is a distortion of awareness because it is a denial of who one is. Self-rejection is simultaneously a confusion of who "I am" and a self-deception, or "bad faith" attitude of being above that which is ostensibly being acknowledged Sartre, Saying "I am" as if it were an observation of another person, or as if the "I" were not chosen, or without knowing how one creates and perpetuates that "I am" is bad faith rather than insightful awareness.
People, according to Gestalt therapy, are responsible response-able ; that is, they are the primary agents in determining their own behavior. When people confuse responsibility with blaming and shoulds, they pressure and manipulate themselves; they "try" and are not integrated and spontaneous. In such instances their true wants, needs and responses to the environment and choices in the situation are ignored and they overcomply or rebel against shoulds.
Gestalt therapists believe in the importance of a clear distinction between what one chooses and what is given. People are responsible for what they choose to do. For example, people are responsible for their actions on behalf of the environment. Blaming outside forces e. Taking responsibility for what one did not choose, a typical shame reaction, is also a deception.
People are responsible for moral choices. Gestalt therapy helps patients discover what is moral according to their own choice and values. Far from advocating "anything goes," Gestalt therapy places a most serious obligation on each person: choosing and valuing. Gestalt therapy personality theory has evolved primarily out of clinical experience.
The focus has been a theory of personality that supports our task as psychotherapists rather than an overall theory of personality. The constructs of Gestalt therapy theory are field theoretical rather than genetic and phenomenological rather than conceptual. Although Gestalt therapy is phenomenological, it also deals with the unconscious, that is, with what does not enter into awareness when needed.
In Gestalt therapy, awareness is conceived of as being in touch and unawareness as being out of touch. Unawareness can be explained by a variety of phenomena, including learning what to attend to, repression, cognitive set, character and style. Simkin compared personality to a floating ball -- at any given moment only a portion is exposed while the rest is submerged. Unawareness is the result of the organism's not being in touch with its external environment due to its being mostly submerged in its own internal environment or fantasies, or not being in touch with its inner life due to fixation on the external.
Children swallow whole introject ideas and behavior. This results in an enforced morality rather than an organismically compatible morality. As a result, people frequently feel guilt when they behave in accordance with their wants as opposed to their shoulds. Some people invest an enormous amount of energy in maintaining the split between shoulds and wants -- the resolution of which requires a recognition of their own morality as opposed to an introjected one.
Shoulds sabotage such people, and the more they push to be what they are not, the more resistance is set up, and no change occurs.
Beisser advanced the theory that change does not happen through a "coercive attempt by the individual or by another person to change him," but does happen if the person puts in the time and effort to be "what he is," "to be fully in his current position" , p. When the therapist rejects the change agent role, change that is orderly and also meaningful is possible.
The Gestalt therapy notion is that awareness including owning, choice, and responsibility and contact bring natural and spontaneous change. Forced change is an attempt to actualize an image rather than to actualize the self.
With awareness self-acceptance, and the right to exist as is , the organism can grow. Forced intervention retards this process. So, too, Gestalt therapists believe that people have an innate drive to health. This propensity is found in nature, and people are part of nature. Awareness of the obvious, the awareness continuum, is a tool that a person can deliberately use to channel this spontaneous drive for health.
Dichotomous thinking interferes with organismic self-regulation. Dichotomous thinking tends to be intolerant of diversity among persons and of paradoxical truths about a single person. Organismic self-regulation leads to integrating parts with each other and into a whole that encompasses the parts.
The field is often differentiated into polarities : parts that are opposites that complement or explicate each other. The positive and negative poles of an electrical field are the prototypical mode for this differentiation in a field theoretical way.
The concept of polarities treats opposites as part of one whole, as yin and yang. With this polar view of the field, differences are accepted and integrated. Lack of genuine integration creates splits, such as body-mind, self-external, infantile-mature, biological-cultural, and unconscious-conscious. Through dialogue there can be an integration of parts, into a new whole in which there is a differentiated unity. Dichotomies such as the self-ideal and the needy self, thought and impulse, and social requirements and personal needs can be healed by integrating into a whole differentiated into natural polarities Perls, The good Gestalt describes a perceptual field organized with clarity and good form.
A well-formed figure clearly stands out against a broader and less distinct background. The relation between that which stands out figure and the context ground is meaning. In the good Gestalt the meaning is clear. The good Gestalt gives a content-free definition of health. In health, the figure changes as needed, that is, it shifts to another focus when the need is met or superseded by a more urgent need. It does not change so rapidly as to prevent satisfaction as in hysteria or so slowly that new figures have no room to assume organismic dominance as in compulsivity.
When figure and ground are dichotomized, one is left with a figure out of context or a context without focus F. Perls et al. In health, awareness accurately represents the dominant need of the whole field. Need is a function of external factors physical structure of the field, political activity, acts of nature, and so on and internal factors hunger, fatigue, interest, past experience, and so forth. The Gestalt therapy concept of healthy functioning includes creative adjustment. A psychotherapy that only helps patients adjust creates conformity and stereotypy.
A psychotherapy that only led people to impose themselves on the world without considering others would engender pathological narcissism and a world-denying realization of self isolated from the world. A person who shows creative interaction takes responsibility for the ecological balance between self and surroundings.
This is the theoretical context F. The individual and environment form a polarity. The choice is not between the individual and society, but between organismic and arbitrary regulation. Resistance is a part of a polarity consisting of an impulse and resistance to that impulse. Seen as a dichotomy, resistance is often treated as "bad" and, in such a context, often turns out to be nothing more than the patient's following personal dictates rather than the therapist's. Seen as a polarity, resistance is as integral to health as the trait's being resisted.
Gestalt therapists attend to both the working process of consciousness and the resistance process of consciousness. Many Gestalt therapists avoid the word resistance because of its pejorative dichotomized connotation, which frames the process as a power battle between therapist and patient rather than as the self-conflict of the patient that needs to be integrated into a harmoniously differentiated self.
An impasse is a situation in which external support is not forthcoming and the person believes he cannot support himself. The latter is due in large part to the person's strength being divided between impulse and resistance. The most frequent method of coping with this is to manipulate others. An organismically self-regulating person takes responsibility for what is done for self, what is done by others for self, and what is done for others by self. The person exchanges with the environment, but the basic support for regulation of one's existence is by self. When the individual does not know this, external support becomes a replacement for self-support rather than a source of nourishment for the self.
In most psychotherapy the impasse is circumvented by external support by the therapist, and the patient does not find that self-support is sufficient. In Gestalt therapy, patients can get through the impasse because of the emphasis on loving contact without doing the patient's work, that is, without rescuing or infantilizing.
In Gestalt, the only goal is awareness. This includes greater awareness in a particular area and also greater ability for the patient to bring automatic habits into awareness as needed. In the former sense awareness is a content, in the latter sense it is a process. Both awareness as content and awareness as process progress to deeper levels as the therapy proceeds. Awareness includes knowing the environment, responsibility for choices, self-knowledge, and self-acceptance, and the ability to contact. Beginning patients are chiefly concerned with the solution of problems.
The issue for the Gestalt therapist is how patients support themselves in solving problems. Gestalt therapy facilitates problem solving through increased self-regulation and self-support by the patient. As therapy goes on, the patient and the therapist turn more attention to general personality issues. By the end of successful therapy the patient directs much of the work and is able to integrate problem solving, characterological themes, relationship issues with the therapist, and means of regulating his or her own awareness.
Gestalt therapy is most useful for patients open to working on self-awareness and for those who want natural mastery of their awareness process. Although some people claim they are interested in changing their behavior, most people seeking psychotherapy mainly want relief from discomfort.
Their complaint may be generalized malaise, specific discomforts, or dissatisfaction in relationships. Patients often expect that relief will result from their therapist's doing the work rather than from their own efforts. Psychotherapy is most appropriate for persons who create anxiety, depression, and so forth by rejecting themselves, alienating aspects of themselves, and deceiving themselves. In short, people who do not know how they further their own unhappiness are prime candidates, providing they are open to awareness work, especially awareness of self-regulation.
Gestalt therapy is especially appropriate for those who know intellectually about themselves and yet don't grow. Those who want symptom relief without doing awareness work may be better candidates for behavior modification, medication, biofeedback, and so on. The direct methods of Gestalt therapy facilitate patients' making this choice early in the therapy.
However, patients' difficulty in doing the contact or awareness work should not automatically be interpreted as meaning that they do not want to work. Respect for the total person enables a Gestalt therapist to help the patients become clear about the differences between "can't" and "won't" and to know how internal barriers or resistance, such as prior learning, anxiety, shame and sensitivity to narcissistic injury, inhibit awareness work.
There are no "shoulds" in Gestalt therapy. In Gestalt therapy a higher value is placed on the autonomy and the self-determination for the patient than on other values. This is not a should, but a preference. The no-should ethic takes precedence over the therapist's goals for the patient and leaves the responsibility and sanctioning of the patient's behavior to the patient of course, the injunctions and requirements of society are not suspended just because the patient is in Gestalt therapy.
Gestalt therapy is an exploration rather than a direct modification of behavior. The goal is growth and autonomy through an increase in consciousness. Rather than maintaining distance and interpreting, the Gestalt therapist meets patients and guides active awareness work. The therapist's active presence is alive and excited hence warm , honest and direct. Patients can see, hear and be told how they are experienced, what is seen, how the therapist feels, what the therapist is like as a person. Growth occurs from real contact between real people.
Patients learn how they are seen and how their awareness process is limited, not primarily by talking about their problems, but by how they and the therapist engage each other. Focusing runs the range from simple inclusions or empathy to exercises arising mostly from the therapist's phenomenology while with the patient. Everything is secondary to the direct experience of both participants. The general approach of Gestalt therapy is to facilitate exploring in ways that maximize what continues to develop after the session and without the therapist. The patient is often left unfinished but thoughtful or "opened up," or with an assignment.
This is like a roast that continues to cook after being removed from the oven. This is in part how Gestalt therapy can be so intensive on fewer sessions per week. We cooperate with growth occurring without us; we initiate where needed. We give the degree of facilitation necessary to foster patient self-improvement. We facilitate growth rather than complete a cure process.
Perls believed that the ultimate goal of psychotherapy was the achievement of "that amount of integration which facilitates its own development" An example of this kind of facilitation is the analogy of a small hole cut into an accumulation of snow. Once the draining process begins, the base that began as a small hole enlarges by itself. Successful psychotherapy achieves integration. Integration requires identification with all vital functions -- not with only some of the patient's ideas, emotions and actions.
Any rejection of one's own ideas, emotions or actions results in alienation. Reowning allows the person to be whole. The task, then, in therapy is to have the person become aware of previously alienated parts and taste them, consider them and assimilate them if they are ego-syntonic or reject them if they prove to be ego-alien. Simkin has used the simile of a cake in encouraging patients to reown the parts of themselves that they have considered noxious or otherwise unacceptable: although the oil, or flour, or baking powder by themselves can be distasteful, they are indispensable to the success of the whole cake.
Gestalt therapy focuses on the patient, as any therapy does. However, the relationship is horizontal, thus differing from the traditional therapy relationship. In Gestalt therapy the therapist and patient speak the same language, the language of present centeredness, emphasizing direct experience of both participants. Therapists as well as patients in Gestalt therapy show their full presence. Since its beginning, Gestalt therapy has emphasized the patient's experience as well as the therapist's observation of what is not in the patient's awareness.
This allows the patient to act as an equal who has full access to the data of his own experience so he can directly experience from inside what is observed by the therapist from outside.
In an interpretive system the patient is an amateur and does not have the theoretical foundation for the interpretation. It is assumed that the important internal data are unconscious and not experienced. An important aspect of the Gestalt therapy relationship is the question of responsibility. Gestalt therapy emphasizes that both the therapist and the patient are self-responsible. When therapists regard themselves as responsible for patients, they collude with patients' not feeling self-responsible and thereby reinforce the necessity for manipulation due to the belief that patients are unable to support and regulate themselves.
However, it is not enough for the therapist to be responsible for self and for the patient to be responsible for self -- there is also an alliance of patient and therapist that must be carefully constantly, and competently attended to. Therapists are responsible for the quality and quantity of their presence, for knowledge about themselves and the patient, for maintaining a nondefensive posture, and for keeping their awareness and contact processes clear and matched to the patient.
They are responsible for the consequences of their own behavior and for establishing and maintaining the therapeutic atmosphere. In Gestalt therapy there is a constant and careful emphasis on what the patient does and how it is done. What does the patient face? How does the patient make choices? Does the patient self-support or resist? Direct experience is the tool, and it is expanded beyond what is at first experienced by continuing to focus deeper and broader.
The techniques of Gestalt therapy are experimental tasks. They are the means of expanding direct experience. These are not designed to get the patient somewhere, to change the patient's feelings, to recondition, or to foster catharsis. In a phenomenological therapy "now" starts with the present awareness of the patient. What happens first is not childhood, but what is experienced now.
Awareness takes place now. Prior events may be the object of present awareness, but the awareness process e. Now I can contact the world around me, or now I can contact memories or expectations. Not knowing the present, not remembering, or not anticipating are all disturbances.
The present is an ever-moving transition between the past and future. Frequently patients do not know their current behavior In some cases patients live in the present as if they had no past. In reaction to this omission emerged a more interactive approach in which Gestalt-therapy principles were blended with group dynamics; in , the book Beyond the Hot Seat , edited by Feder and Ronall, was published, with contributions from members of both the New York and Cleveland Institutes, as well as others.
Simkin was responsible for Perls's going to California, where Perls began a psychotherapy practice. Ultimately, the life of a peripatetic trainer and workshop leader was better suited to Fritz's personality—starting in , Simkin and Perls co-led some of the early Gestalt workshops and training groups at Esalen Institute in Big Sur , California, where Perls eventually settled and built a home. Jim Simkin then purchased property next to Esalen and started his own training center, which he ran until his death in Simkin refined his precise version of Gestalt therapy, training psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors and social workers within a very rigorous, residential training model.
In the s, Perls became infamous among the professional elite for his public workshops at Esalen Institute. Isadore From referred to some of Fritz's brief workshops as "hit-and-run" therapy, because of Perls's alleged emphasis on showmanship with little or no follow-through—but Perls never considered these workshops to be complete therapy; rather, he felt he was giving demonstrations of key points for a largely professional audience. Unfortunately, some films and tapes of his work were all that most graduate students were exposed to, along with the misperception that these represented the entirety of Perls's work.
When Fritz Perls left New York for California, there began to be a split with those who saw Gestalt therapy as a therapeutic approach similar to psychoanalysis. This view was represented by Isadore From, who practiced and taught mainly in New York, as well as by the members of the Cleveland Institute, which was co-founded by From.
An entirely different approach was taken, primarily in California, by those who saw Gestalt therapy not just as a therapeutic modality, but as a way of life. The East Coast, New York—Cleveland axis was often appalled by the notion of Gestalt therapy leaving the consulting room and becoming a way of life on the West Coast in the s see the " Gestalt prayer ". An alternative view of this split saw Perls in his last years continuing to develop his a-theoretical and phenomenological methodology, while others, inspired by From, were inclined to theoretical rigor which verged on replacing experience with ideas.
The split continues between what has been called "East Coast Gestalt" and "West Coast Gestalt," at least from an Amerocentric point of view. While the communitarian form of Gestalt continues to flourish, Gestalt therapy was largely replaced in the United States by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy , and many Gestalt therapists in the U.
At the same time, contemporary Gestalt Practice to a large extent based upon Gestalt therapy theory and practice was developed by Dick Price , the co-founder of Esalen Institute. He died almost one year later, on 14 March , in Chicago. One member of the Gestalt community was Barry Stevens. Her book about that phase of her life, Don't Push the River , became very popular. She developed her own form of Gestalt therapy body work, which is essentially a concentration on the awareness of body processes.
Erving and Miriam Polster started a training center in La Jolla , California, which also became very well known, as did their book, Gestalt Therapy Integrated , in the s. The Polsters played an influential role in advancing the concept of contact-boundary phenomena. The standard contact-boundary resistances in Gestalt theory were confluence , introjection , projection and retroflection.
A disturbance described by Miriam and Erving Polster was deflection , which referred to a means of avoiding contact. Instances of boundary phenomena can have pathological or non-pathological aspects; for example, it is appropriate for an infant and mother to merge, or become "confluent," but inappropriate for a client and therapist to do so. If the latter do become confluent, there can be no growth, because there is no boundary at which one can contact the other: the client will not be able to learn anything new, because the therapist essentially becomes an extension of the client.
There were a variety of psychological and philosophical influences upon the development of Gestalt therapy, not the least of which were the social forces at the time and place of its inception. Gestalt therapy is an approach that is holistic including mind, body, and culture. It is present-centered and related to existential therapy in its emphasis on personal responsibility for action, and on the value of "I—thou" relationship in therapy. In fact, Perls considered calling Gestalt therapy existential-phenomenological therapy.
Buber's work emphasized immediacy, and required that any method or theory answer to the therapeutic situation, seen as a meeting between two people. This concept became important in much of Gestalt theory and practice. Gestalt therapy was based in part on Goldstein's concept called Organismic theory. Goldstein viewed a person in terms of a holistic and unified experience; he encouraged a "big picture" perspective, taking into account the whole context of a person's experience.
The word Gestalt means whole, or configuration. Laura Perls, in an interview, denotes the Organismic theory as the base of Gestalt therapy. There were additional influences on Gestalt therapy from existentialism , particularly the emphasis upon personal choice and responsibility. The late s—s movement toward personal growth and the human potential movement in California fed into, and was itself influenced by, Gestalt therapy. In this process Gestalt therapy somehow became a coherent Gestalt , which is the Gestalt psychology term for a perceptual unit that holds together and forms a unified whole.
Fritz Perls trained as a neurologist at major medical institutions and as a Freudian psychoanalyst in Berlin and Vienna, the most important international centers of the discipline in his day. He worked as a training analyst for several years with the official recognition of the International Psychoanalytic Association IPA , and must be considered an experienced clinician. To this was added the insights of academic Gestalt psychology , including perception , Gestalt formation , and the tendency of organisms to complete an incomplete Gestalt and to form "wholes" in experience.
Central to Fritz and Laura Perls's modifications of psychoanalysis was the concept of dental or oral aggression. In Ego, Hunger and Aggression , Fritz Perls's first book, to which Laura Perls contributed  ultimately without recognition , Perls suggested that when the infant develops teeth, he or she has the capacity to chew, to break food apart, and, by analogy, to experience , taste , accept , reject , or assimilate. This was opposed to Freud 's notion that only introjection takes place in early experience. Thus Perls made assimilation, as opposed to introjection, a focal theme in his work, and the prime means by which growth occurs in therapy.
In contrast to the psychoanalytic stance, in which the "patient" introjects the presumably more healthy interpretations of the analyst, in Gestalt therapy the client must "taste" his or her own experience and either accept or reject it—but not introject or "swallow whole. This is the key point in the divergence of Gestalt therapy from traditional psychoanalysis: growth occurs through gradual assimilation of experience in a natural way, rather than by accepting the interpretations of the analyst; thus, the therapist should not interpret , but lead the client to discover for him- or herself.
The Gestalt therapist contrives experiments that lead the client to greater awareness and fuller experience of his or her possibilities. Experiments can be focused on undoing projections or retroflections. The therapist can work to help the client with closure of unfinished Gestalts "unfinished business" such as unexpressed emotions towards somebody in the client's life.
There are many kinds of experiments that might be therapeutic, but the essence of the work is that it is experiential rather than interpretive, and in this way, Gestalt therapy distinguishes itself from psychoanalysis. Gestalt therapy reached a zenith in the United States in the late s and early s. Since then, it has influenced other fields like organizational development, coaching, and teaching. Many of its contributions have become assimilated into other current schools of therapy. In recent years, it has seen a resurgence in popularity as an active, psychodynamic form of therapy which has also incorporated some elements of recent developments in attachment theory.
There are, for example, four Gestalt training institutes in the New York City metropolitan area alone, not to mention dozens of others worldwide. Gestalt therapy continues to thrive as a widespread form of psychotherapy, especially throughout Europe, where there are many practitioners and training institutions.
Dan Rosenblatt led Gestalt therapy training groups and public workshops at the Tokyo Psychotherapy Academy for seven years. Stewart Kiritz continued in this role from to Many Gestalt therapy training organizations exist worldwide. Ansel Woldt asserted that Gestalt teaching and training are built upon the belief that people are, by nature, health-seeking. Thus, such commitments as authenticity, optimism, holism, health, and trust become important principles to consider when engaged in the activity of teaching and learning—especially Gestalt therapy theory and practice.
Its Research Task Force generates and nurtures active research projects and an international conference on research. The European Association for Gestalt Therapy EAGT , founded in to gather European individual Gestalt therapists, training institutes, and national associations from more than twenty European nations. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
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