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Gestalt therapy was founded in the socio-cultural context of humanistic psychotherapies. It was Friedrich (Fritz) Perls (1893-1970), whose intuition gave rise to this form of therapy together with his wife, Laura (Lore) Perls (1905-1990), née Posner. They were both German Jews, trained in psychoanalysis and Gestalt psychology. Together they fled from National Socialism in 1933, first to Amsterdam, then to South Africa and subsequently to the United States, where their theoretical and practical insights were further developed by a group of American intellectuals with a deep knowledge of psychoanalysis. Of these the most outstanding were Paul Goodman, Isadore From, Paul Weisz, Lotte Weisz, Elliot Shapiro, Alison Montague and Sylvester Eastman. The theoretical foundation of this new school of psychotherapy, which originally was named „concentration therapy“, had emerged originally as a revision of drive theory. Fritz and Laura Perls‘ new approach, stimulated by Paul Goodman’s (1911-1972) social philosophy in New York, developed further as Gestalt Therapy.

The birth of Gestalt therapy dates back to the publication of the book “Gestalt Therapy. Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality” by F. Perls, R. Hefferline and P. Goodman, in 1951. Gestalt Therapy is based on the holistic assumption that a human being reflects the inseparable unity of his or her bodily, mental, psychological and social aspects and, necessarily, that every individual is inextricably interwoven with his or her interpersonal and ecological environment. Gestalt Therapy has integrated psychoanalytic (Freud, Reich, Rank), gestalt theoretical and field theoretical (Wertheimer, von Ehrenfels, Koffka, Lewin, Zeigarnik, Goldstein and Gelb), holistic (Smuts), philosophical (Tillich, Friedlaender, Buber), phenomenological, zen buddhistic as well as psychodramatic (Moreno) influences into its theory.

In Gestalt Therapy the focus lies on the process of a person’s contacting and withdrawing from contact with his or her human and ecological environment as well as on the awareness of this process. Gestalt Therapy assumes that psychological disorders stem from needs, wishes, emotions and mental fixations of which they are not aware and which haven‘t been brought forth as a contact target. In the psychotherapist-patient relationship, disturbances in a person’s awareness and perception, in contact abilities, modes of action and integration of experiences in the here-and-now are discovered and worked through. The therapeutic relationship is a dialogic process. The patient’s own disturbing experiences (e.g. blocks, fixations, blind spots and split-off aspects of the personality) are brought to awareness with the help of the therapist’s immediate reactions. This is a mutual effort and both therapist and patient are involved in the emotional resonance, reflection and working through processes. This encounter is present-centered. The here-and now principle of Gestalt Therapy emphasizes the phenomenological orientation of our psychotherapeutic interventions. Relational blocks of the past will be re-enacted in the present, in the here-and-now therapeutic relationship with the aim of re-owning a previously unsuccessful intentionality of contact. Therefore the here-and-now principle is in effect focused on the transition between now and next, on the deliberateness which is implied in the present.

Gestalt Therapy is experiential, experimental and existential and any number of interventions drawing from these three principles conform with our theory. Awareness, i.e. consciousness with appropriate emotions, as well as the aware enactment of actions which were formerly unthinkable provide the kind of healing power which surpasses mere cognitive comprehension. The therapeutic experiment plays a significant role, because the unique way in which someone creates his or her own experiment within the therapeutic context allows conclusions regarding the disturbances in his or her contact and perceptive functions. The intervention style is focused on improving the abilities of the patient to make and withdraw from contact. The techniques used by the therapist vary according to his or her personality as well as that of the patient and his or her preferred mode of experience. We work with a rich palette of interventions, including „acting in“, role-playing, experiments with body language and pantomime, experiments with language and voice, and the application of various artistic methods such as painting, drawing, creative writing or sculpting.

Generally speaking, Gestalt Therapy developed in the United States to a West Coast style (strongly oriented towards Humanistic Psychology) and an East Coast style (with a strong clinical orientation). The influence of the group dynamic movement changed the early forms of Gestalt Therapy as an individual therapy method or individual therapy in the group. Gestalt Therapy returned to Europe in the 1960‘s, brought over by „pioneers“ from the States and students of the early Gestalt therapists. As a psychotherapeutic method it is applicable to individuals, couples, families, groups and organizations. It is also used effectively in supervision and organizational development as well as in education.

Gestalt Therapy literature includes now thousands of books and articles. The most important journals include: in English language, the “Gestalt Review” (since, 1997); “The Gestalt Journal” (since 1978), the “British Gestalt Journal” (since 1991), the “Australian Gestalt Journal” (since 1997), “Studies in Gestalt Therapy” (since 1992). In Italian, “Quaderni di Gestalt” (since 1985). In German, “Gestalttherapie“ (since 1987). In French, „Le Cahiers de Gestalt Therapie“ (since 1996), and „Gestalt“ (since 1990). In Spanish, „Figura/Fondo“ (since 1997). In Europe, Gestalt Therapy has been represented by the European Association of Gestalt Therapy since 1985.

by Nancy Amendt-Lyon and Margherita Spagnuolo Lobb

Designed by Jaroslav Jira