Depression, anxiety, resentment and guilt are just some examples of negative emotions born of past conflicts. Nobody wants to feel any of these emotions because they get in the way of life and happiness. But when your brain suddenly recalls what you wish you have long forgotten, and you feel the surge of strong emotions anchored to that unpleasant memory coming back, you lose connection to your present.
Memories of the past can easily rob you of your present happiness, but not if you could resolve unfinished business from the past right here and now. Impossible, you say? Not with Gestalt therapy.
What is the Theory of Gestalt Therapy?
Developed by German psychologist Frederick “Fritz” Perls, Gestalt therapy is a phenomenological and existential approach to raising awareness of your present environment. From the German word Gestalt, which means whole, this therapy aims to reintegrate you into your whole person.
If you're disintegrated, with some parts of you stuck in the past, there's no way that you can be aware of your present senses, emotions, environment, and the people around you, like your family and friends.
The Principles of Gestalt Therapy
Unlike other therapeutic modalities that dig up issues from the past to arrive at a solution, Gestalt therapy works on the here-and-now principle to increase your awareness and develop your ability to take responsibility for your actions. It consists of five layers of contact:
- Phony - You are inauthentic as you're concealing your true self.
- Phobic - You're scared of experiencing pain.
- Impasse - You're resistant to change.
- Implosive - Your awareness has increased but not enough to make that change.
- Explosive - You have achieved your authentic self and are fully aware of your surroundings, emotions and everything in your present life.
A Gestalt therapist allows you to go through these stages at your own pace by asking you questions that are relevant in the present. Doing so allows you to see, feel and discover the answers by yourself as opposed to waiting for it to come from the therapist.
What are the Benefits of Gestalt Therapy?
It's human nature to veer from pain and avoid confrontations, but in the process, we lose touch with who we truly are. Repressed emotions can lead to a host of mental health issues, according to Perls. Undergoing Gestalt therapy is a holistic way of maintaining your overall health and wellness as it offers the following benefits:
- Helps alleviate depression
- Improves self-esteem
- Increases self-awareness
- Fosters healthy relationships
- Improves interpersonal skills
- Relieves headaches and back pain
Techniques Used in Gestalt Therapy
Because a Gestalt therapist only focuses on the now, no questions about your past shall be raised during the session. However, if you bring up an unresolved issue, the therapist will encourage you to re-enact it instead of talking about it.
The theory behind reliving an unresolved issue is that it becomes an existing problem, hence it can be dealt with. Referring to it as something that happened in the past won't solve anything. Here are common Gestalt techniques used to address unresolved issues:
This technique puts emphasis on the usage of the pronoun "I" when speaking of a problem instead of "it" or "they". In Gestalt therapy, the more you use "I", the more your awareness increases. Aside from awareness, this technique also supports taking personal responsibility for the choices you make. Notice that there's a big difference between the statements "it makes me see things negatively" and "I make myself see things negatively".
In role-playing, the therapist will ask you to act like somebody else, particularly the person you are having issues with. You might also be asked to re-enact a situation which you couldn't move past.
This technique has many variations, but the most popular one is the empty chair technique. In the empty chair technique, you will converse with an empty chair while imagining a person seated on it. It has to be someone in the past who has done you wrong, or whom you've done wrong, and is holding you back from progressing in life.
The therapist may also use two empty chairs to represent separate parts of yourself talking to each other. For instance, your happy version talking to your angry version.
There are several other healing techniques that a therapist may employ, but at the end of your therapy, you should feel a sense of liberty and more attuned with your feelings, senses, environment and the people that matter to you. Check out the Natural Therapy Pages to connect with a certified Gestalt therapist in your local area.