Gestalt psychology is a theory that proposes that the brain works in a way that is parallel, holistic, and analog, and with self-organising qualities. What this means is that the whole is different to the sum of its details. The theory is also known as Gestalt of the Berlin School.
The therapist practising Gestalt will address a person’s organismic, functional whole that works toward higher realms of actualisation, potentiality, and integration as a part of its environment. In the end, the result is change and maturation, and greater self-expression.
The theory has a non-materialistic and antic-reductionist view, and it disavows linear and dualistic thinking. The therapy is a means in which to achieve change, and growth, but it is not the direct aim of the therapy, only a byproduct.
Origins of Gestalt Therapy
There were three founders of Gestalt Theory. Max Wetheimer, (1880-1943) was a teacher, and is credited as the official founder. Max Wertheimer (April 15, 1880 – October 12, 1943) was a Czech-born Jewish teacher who was one of the three founders of Gestalt psychology, along with Kurt Koffka and Wolfgang Köhler. The theory originally had its roots in theories developed by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Immanuel Kant, and Ernst Mach. Wertheimer’s major contribution was his insistence that the therapy is perceptually primary, defining the parts of which it was composed, rather than its being an additional element. This was different from the ideas of the original practitioners of the therapy.
The other founders besides Wertheimer were Kurt Koffka and Wolfgang Kohler. Each saw objects as things within an environment, and took into account all of the elements of the whole. This “gestalt” approach was intended to define principles of perception.
These laws enabled the grouping of like objects together. Gestalt is occasionally criticised for being just a descriptive theory, it is the jumping off point for further research into patterns of thinking, and problem solving.
Gestalt Therapy View on Illness
In Gestalt Therapy, dysfunction is not viewed a mental disorder, but as an issue with growth. When things are dysfunctional, there is a loss of awareness of needs, desires, and wants. Because of this, wrong conclusions are drawn by the patient about the world around them. The patient must make difficult adjustments in order to adapt to an inhospitable environment. This means that they grow further and further away from their true self and they are not capable of self-supporting, and they seek outside support through manipulation.
The main focus in the practice of the therapy is contact. The method combines five methods that include phenomenological method, therapeutic relationship, work with cognition, experiment, and work with the wider field.
The therapist must remain nonjudgmental, and open a dialogue with the client to enable change. The therapist must be completely present, and have a willingness to accept the client’s inner world, and try to understand their points of view. Both verbal and non-verbal communication is considered during the therapy sessions, and used to determine patterns of thought and behaviour.
The patient may view their life in a way that is erroneous, and have a distorted or contradictory self view. These views have a bearing on their experiences and actions. Since the words of the client will reveal these views, the therapist will focus on the patient’s language.
Gestalt Theory Deficiencies
There are negative aspects of Gestalt Theory, including its lack of a clearly defined theory of human development. The awareness of conditions that are necessary for human development could be expanded to include the entire life of the patient. Without the acceptance of this awareness, the Gestalt practitioner is not working with some of the most effective material in the therapeutic process of working with those that have developmental damage. Some Gestalt practitioners have attempted to modify this, and there is promise for the therapy to expand in the future. There have been instances of Gestalt therapists reaching patients with psychosis that others have not had the fortune of reaching.