Founded in the 1940s by Fritz and Laura Perls and Paul Goodman, Gestalt therapy emerged from the theory and practice of early psychoanalysis. It soon parted ways with psychoanalysis to form a radical new approach to therapy which drew from a range of philosophical and theoretical foundations including phenomenology, existentialism and field theory.
Gestalt practitioners work with individuals, couples, families, groups, systems, communities and organisations. The aim is the expansion and deepening of awareness by: paying attention to present experience; forming an appreciation of the context within which it emerges; and developing the relationship between practitioner and client. As clients develop awareness they become more able to accept responsibility for their lives and the choices they make. Increased awareness supports the movement towards growth and wellbeing.
The Gestalt approach helps people to understand themselves within the broader context of their lives and emphasises the way in which they are shaping, and being shaped, by their environment. It invites clients to experience their interdependence, not only socially, but also within the wider context of their lives. In this way they come to understand that they hold responsibility not only for themselves, but also for the wider environment within which they live. Gestalt reflects a relational perspective in understanding the human condition, particularly how we develop, grow and change.
Many of the assumptions that have been held by Gestalt therapists and practitioners over the years are emerging in the wider field of psychotherapy and organisational consulting. These include:
- the importance of the intersubjective, co-created nature of the therapeutic relationship,
- an acknowledgement of the value of awareness as seen in the growth of mindfulness techniques,
- a growth in the acceptance of the interconnectedness of the environment in which we live,
- a willingness to accept the uniqueness of the perceptions and experience of each individual,
- a belief in the capacity for people to grow and to change.