Brian Reginald Davis
University of Maryland European Chapter
Abstract The Gestalt form of counseling is the art of using one’s perception of situations and self in order to develop better understanding and closure to issues that may currently trouble them. Dependent mostly on self-actualization or the desire to fulfill basic needs as originally defined by Maslow, an individual is encouraged to embrace situations, good and bad in order to achieve personal, mental, and spiritual satisfaction. Focus is on awareness (Gladding pg. 215) rather than “difficulties to any unconscious forces”. Though Gestalt counseling was introduced to the world just prior to World War 1, it is still popular; highly respected in the professional aspect of psychology and counseling to date. With this document, I intend to describe the key points of Gestalt counseling / therapy and how they are incorporated in the treatment of patients, notable forms of the counseling and various pros and cons in the use of Gestalt counseling. In addition to the latter, I hope to assist future counselors in judging whether Gestalt counseling is a model they would adopt in their practices or cast aside as a faddish extension to a more data or cognitive based therapy.
Appropriately, Gestalt is a German word loosely meaning “form or whole.” The origin of Gestalt Counseling / Therapy is credited to Frederick Perls and his wife Laura. Both were formally trained by psychoanalysts and studied with the likes of Wilhelm Reich, famous for his work in character structure and radical psychology theories and Otto Fenichel, responsible for bridging the gap between the worldwide Marxist psychoanalysts by way of a document called the "Rundbriefe”. The main points of Gestalt Counseling are to recognize how past experiences manifest themselves into the here and now, how specific behaviors reveal larger conflicts, resolving unfinished situations, and developing an awareness of self and one’s needs. These specific points, through a set of individual unique processes, are utilized to help those whom appear broken or incomplete, to again become whole. In human learning, past experiences cause us to act towards specific situations in distinct ways; for example, when we first touched a hot stove, experienced our first kiss, or experienced life or death for the first time. Our senses became attuned to these sensations and we reacted accordingly, thereafter. Gestaltists use this planned action theory to assists their patients in breaking out of this mold when it comes to confronting their uncertainties. Gestalt counseling allows for the individual to “get through this wall of fear” or anxiety and “seeks ways to recognize what we have hidden away”. (Rhyne, 2001, p.2) Overcoming these issues is difficult because we learn these mannerisms as children and they become a part of us. This leads us into the second point of Gestalt Counseling, which looks into how these traits gradually present themselves as a part of larger struggles in life. According to Gladding, a theory of Gestalt Counselors is that individuals tend to place their intellectual experiences over their internal thoughts and emotions (p.214-215). What is needed at this point is for the counselor to listen to the content of what the individual is saying and not try to interpret it. This is attributed to the actions speak louder than words concept. The end state is for the individual to interpret the information for themselves. Their personal thoughts and emotions are revealed and that’s what makes the session therapeutic and enlightening. “Competent and complete therapy cannot be reduced to the therapist’s observation.”(Gary Yontef, PH.D., 2010, p.3) Resolving unfinished issues, in my research, is a task that is the most difficult of all. No one can go back in time, nor recall all the issues that might have led up to