Frequently Asked Questions
I have seen film footage of Fritz Perls doing therapy and this has always seemed rather brusque.   In what ways has Gestalt therapy changed since Perls' day? 
      The basic premises of Gestalt therapy have not changed over the years.   Some theoretical and practical concepts are being expanded and deepened in ways that befit what is being learned about "the self," about what is therapeutically viable.   Perls' style might have appeared brusque, in keeping with the time in which he lived and worked; as well as the fact that these were demonstrational films, rather than actually doing therapy as a continuous process.   Today there are as many styles as there are therapists, just as there were when Perls was alive. 
How does Gestalt differ from other approaches? 
      Because Gestalt therapy is process-oriented, therapy deals with core issues in each uniquely whole person.   Any aspect of the person may be appropriate in working through material that emerges in therapy:   behavior, cognitions, beliefs, body sensations, imagining, dreams.   The creative processes and style of the therapist are the only limiting factors in suggesting experiments that may be helpful toward clarity. 
      This is radically different from forensic forms of "doctor/patient" therapy where one might expect to be prescribed-for according to a categorical template of "symptoms".   Functioning from a position of "radical respect," the Gestalt therapist believes that persons already possess an innate inclination and predisposition to health and wholeness.   Therefore, while there are viable interventional and facilitative tools at the therapist's disposal, he or she does not presume to "fix" or "cure" anyone else. The client is the "expert". 
What is meant by "growth"? 
      In keeping with the phenomenological base and the focus on "radical respect," growth is self-determined and self-motivated, arising from the uniquely experienced needs and curiosities of each person.   Generally the target is labeled as "self support" rather than the kind of environmental dependency that neurotic mechanisms focus upon.   Therapists have ideas as to growthful directions;   however, the clients themselves determine the processes that work and the structures that are felt to be growthful.
What is "work"? 
      "Work" is the exploration of one's personal process or "unfinished business" as it is relevant to the present. 
How does Gestalt relate to my everyday life?   (I am not a therapist, or a client.)
      The Gestalt Approach is about that which is therapeutic, and this is obviously not limited to "therapy" per se.   Gestalt's foundations in phenomenology, present-centered awareness, and "radical respect" translate into communication processes with one's self and with one's real-life environment that are lastingly transformational, therapeutic and satisfying. 
What is meant by "aggression" in Gestalt therapy? 
      In Gestalt therapy, the term "aggression" does not refer to violent behavior, but rather to what one might also call "self-assertion" or "pro-activity."   As the human organism responds to its own needs, and regulates its responses in order to meet or satisfy them, it initiates contact with the environment;   Perls calls this "aggression."   It is simply that creative energy necessary for getting from the environment the physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and social nourishment required for healthy living. 
What is the primary stance of the Gestalt therapist? 
      According to Gertrude Krause, "Awareness is the primary consideration in Gestalt therapy since it seems apparent that genuine change is difficult to achieve without awareness."   And, "I am content to limit the degree of change I effect in a client to the change in his level or levels of awareness.   Any further change is his choice and responsibility.   If I assume the responsibility or the right to change anything else about his person, I run the risk of making him more dependent than when I met him, instead of helping him become more independent of outside support.   Therefore, I consider myself primarily a clarifying agent, rather than a change agent.   My primary tools are to give attention and respect." (p. 1
How does "radical respect" relate to therapy? 
      The term "radical respect" is used to connote the attitude that the Gestalt therapist holds toward the client.   The therapist's basic assumption is that the client has within her/himself everything s/he needs for health and wholeness.   To further that goal, awareness is the primary consideration.   This quality of respect is shown during therapy in the following ways: 
  • Therapists are encouraged to clear up their own "unfinished business" so that they can clearly observe the client. 
  • Pay attention to the client's process as it occurs in the present, through such physical signs as "breathing, posture, voice, manner of speech, clarity or vagueness of expression, apparel, color or lack of it." (p. 1
  • Assist the client in experiencing their process in the present by experimenting with words or gestures which might be congruent with their core experience, enabling the client to experience directly how a true statement fits. 
  • Suggestions are made so that the client has a choice to follow them or not. 
  • Resistance is respected as a valuable area to explore.   By noticing the current validity of each fear, the client can enter new territory at their own pace. 
  • The therapist is not attached to the client responding in a particular way;   there is no right answer to any question asked. 
  • There is no set interpretation of dream symbols or any set of techniques that are always used. 
(More Notes on Gestalt Therapy Training, by Gertrude Krause, 1980;   used by permission.) 

Gestalt methods seem pretty "schizy" to me.   For example, the "Empty Chair" exercise looks like someone with multiple personalities.   How can it be helpful?
      In the experience of an exercise like the "Empty Chair," the aspects of self which emerge and are "given a voice" are in no way indicative of some personality disorder or disintegration.   To the contrary, in the course of this sort of first-person dialogue or interaction, such potentially fragmented facets of an individual's unique ground and wholeness are made experientially present and aware, and thereby re-integrated. 
What is the meaning of the statement, "Gestalt therapy is body-oriented"? 
      Gestalt therapy is not so much body-oriented as it is whole-person oriented.   There are two primary reasons, however, why Gestalt therapists may choose to draw awareness to the relationship between the client's stated problem and the ways that this problem resonate in their physical body. 
(1)   Through clinical experience we know that talk alone is often not effective or that when the client only talks about the problem, awareness and change are normally very slow.
(2)   The body's physical response, when it occurs as a result of discussing the problem, is a response that can be observed in the present moment, and which can change as the client gains insight.   This physical component can become a tool for the client to use as a way of knowing: 
  • What's true for them
  • When they are in direct contact with their own process 
  • How changes occur as they apply their attention to the process in the present. 


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