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Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt in simple terms means a set of things viewed as whole . For example, in this study with reference to a person it includes a set of his attributes such as thoughts, feelings and experiences viewed as ‘a whole’ rather than ‘component of the whole’(Edward, 1968). Gestalt psychology therefore deals with perception of things. Here, the image’s outline plays a very significant role. A good example is when one easily confuses a lake or sea at the background of a picture with the horizon. Therefore the main objective of Gestalt psychology is to establish what brings about these differences in perception.

Gestalt Therapy Theory and Its Origin Gestalt therapy theory owes its existence to its founders, Paul Goodman, Laura Perls and Fritz. The theory as depicted by its background is a combination of many concepts and various elements all from different disciplines. The early years of 20th century were marked with advancement in technology. It was also the period when the 1st World War had just ended. There were many changes in different disciplines Science, Literature and Art being among them. Science contributed to the mechanization technology at that time while Art was being used as form of expression by Artist.

It is seen that due to the effects of the 1st World Wars, artistic work was greatly used to deliver messages of peace and social wellbeing of mankind. Sculptures, paintings, drawings and other piece of work by artists were used to portray messages from the inside rather than their external look. Gestalt therapy still posses themes which it gained from creative art at that time. The basic themes gained from expressionism were Subjectivity, fantasy, feeling and intuition (Edward, 1968). In the field of philosophy, this period was marked with a change from German idealism to that of materialism.

Marx Wertheimer, a German researcher developed revolutionary ideas which discussed the phenomena of self alienation and self realization. This made man to be more significant in this world, that is, he was no longer viewed as one who is alienated from the environment but one who makes part of the environment and actively involved in it. Other new developments in the field of philosophy and humanities were also realized For instance, in the field of philosophy the new trends were not only as a result of influence from the natural sciences but also arts and literature.

There was also a mutual interaction between different disciplines. For example, we could have a philosopher who was also a writer or interaction between a philosopher and a mathematician (Raymond, 1983). With these interactions, they were able to jointly come up with new ideas or one could possibly use other person’s ideas and formulate his own. This is seen with Freud’s discovery of the unconscious by experimentally proofing the perceptions of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Linguistic turn was the period when philosophy was deeply interested in language.

To some philosophers; reality was seen as becoming and they believed that only becoming, acting and action exists. ((Raymond, 1983). Frantz Brentano is known to be the beginner of existentialist philosophy while his student Edmund Husserl was the founder of phenomenology. His intention was to learn about consciousness which contains and also comprises the world and the meaning of all objects in it. Another part of philosophy known as existential philosophy was also developed. Kirkegaard, Merleau- Ponty and Gabriel Marcel were its founders.

It dealt with issues concerning human existence, destiny, freedom and also the existence of God. However it gave priority to the existence of humans as individuals. The difference that is there between existential philosophy and phenomenology is that the later deals with perception of things (not how they actually are) while existential focuses on what things are(what is). More so, it is centered on human beings; how they have to make choices or decisions. The development of Gestalt therapy

While in Berlin, fritz met Max Reinhardt who strongly influenced him through his nonverbal communication . He also met Moreno, the psychodrama founder in 1947 in USA. From Moreno, fritz learnt a technique known as empty chair which would later be used in therapeutic techniques. These developments in expressions that emerged during this time still prevail in Psychodrama and also in Gestalt therapy (Hefferline et al, 1990). . His encounter with other philosophers such as Salmon Friedlander an expressionist philosopher and Freud a psychoanalyst motivated him.

Their work had the same concept of creative indifference. This concept explains that if you look at issues such as the separation of man from the world in a critical manner you would find that it’s just but an illusion by making a comparison with the way the world was when there was nothing in it. Some thesis in Friedlander’s philosophy such as figure and the ground, contact verses withdrawal, the homoeostasis concept, the under dog and top dog still prevail in Gestalt psychology (Raymond, 1983).

. Fritz Perls had a common interest with Karen Horney thus their relationship led to them studying together and adopting the same approaches of viewing things they both worked on a patient as a whole being. In his experience with Reich, Fritz learns a therapy that includes breathing and body movements. This concentrates in the use of other communication means like the mime, gesture and body language. Otto Rank a student of Freud’s is a renowned psychoanalyst who strongly influenced the gestalt therapy.

With his influence psychoanalysis took anew direction when he came up with his work which named as the trauma of birth. He argued that the birth trauma was good example of psychological changes that one undergoes in his life a process gave the name individuation. His therapy looked at the will and ego of persons as forces that are independent within them. To him, therapy becomes functional through repetitions and experiences rather than trying remembering it. He also emphasized that therapy had to be administered at the exact time that it is needed.

Fritz encounter with Laura who was a student of philosophy and psychology and also familiar with gestalt psychologist yielded fruit for he gained knowledge in the basics that had been discovered in Gestalt psychology. He used these ideas to formulate gestalt therapy. Ehrenfels was the one who first came up with the term Gestalt to him it meant an impression of the mind of seeing things as whole. From the scientists’ point of view they established that one could not easily understand mater by simply analyzing it into smaller elements, in fact this simply brought confusion.

This is so because our consciousness will still perceive such elements as whole (Raymond, 1983). A school of gestalt psychology known as Berlin modified Ehrenfels’ declaration that people perceive wholes but the whole cannot be likened the sum of its units. The new versions translated into a gestalt dictum: the whole is greater than the parts. those involved were Wertheimer, Kohler and Koffka (Hefferline et al, 1990). It was lewin who put the Gestalt model into practical use in the field. He developed a thesis claiming that people’s reaction and perceptions are determined by need within.

He found that the activities of human were partly caused by their interactive nature and also as result the situation present in the field. Lewin and his assistant Bluma contributed in the Gestalt therapy especially in the theory dealing with unfinished business. Bluma argued that the mind has a tendency to remember most things which are unfinished than those that are finished. In Frankfurt, Fritz Perls got to work with Goldstein a medical doctor. Goldstein was doing a research on the soldiers who had their brains damaged. He was also a lecturer of philosophy and one of his students happened to be Laura.

While his applying his knowledge of Gestalt psychology to his patients Goldstein looked at the humans as whole being. In this he was able to differentiate Gestalt psychology as a field dealing with a whole being from the older understanding of Gestalt psychology dealing with perception. He also used the phenomenological and the holistic perspective while working with his patients. Fritz was greatly influenced by the work of Goldstein more so the organismic theory that was mainly adopted from his assumptions. From Goldstein Fritz got to understand anxiety was a fact exhibited in the existential philosophy.

Jan Smuts’s book titled Evolution and Holism has the theory of the whole. This book was liked by Goldstein’s assistant who read it continuously. Smuts in his views sees an organism as an independent entity: A holistic organism in his views is one which has both its past and future in the present (Hefferline et al, 1990). He also adds that this is just like the way metabolism and assimilation play a crucial role in an organism . From here we can tracer the foundation from which gestalt Therapy is built: holism. This is seen in the books of Fritz Perl like the ego.

While Laura Perls was still in Frankfurt she became deeply interested in philosophers of existential. She got known by her lecturers among them was Martin Buber. Gestalt therapy owes its foundation to the basics and concepts derived from existential philosophy Edmund Husserl in his phenomenological method observes that the purpose of philosophy is to study human beings, consciousness and its structures and the way objects are portrayed to consciousness instead of concentrating on studying it scientifically He emphasizes that consciousness addresses reality directly linking to the real world therefore interpreting things as they are seen.

In his thesis that consciousness is intentional Husserl seeks to explain that we all feel things in one way or another. Martin Heidegger another existential philosopher came up with the idea that someone is just a possibility. He finds himself in the world and he is free to make choices from a range of options. By the choices one makes he is able to build himself. Kierkegaard makes an assumption that man becomes anxious when faced with freedom. This he describes as the biggest challenge in the existential and is seen as ambivalent anxiety.

According to Gabriel Marcel theory, the self does not realize what it is unless it forms contact with others Analysis of this concept brings it close with the understanding of the relationship between I- Though that Martin Buber has. In this Burbers explains that to understand self (I) you must come into contact with others (thou or it) (Raymond, 1983). This means that for one to exist he must develop links with the others. According to Buber the key thing to survival is communication. The key concept in gestalt therapy is about the self where by it is seen as point of contact.

It was later shown by Buber and Perls that self-rule, independence, address and reply make part of a real dialogue. Buber saw the theory of I and though as depicting an end while Perls saw it as a means to achieve an end. The relationship between a patient and a therapist as it is in Gestalt therapy comes from Buber’s idea. Paul Goodman had a strong influence on the gestalt therapy too. He was an educated man with experience from various fields. He played a significant role in his society especially in social and political issues. Known to Fritz and Laura, he was hired as a coauthor mainly dealing with the basics of gestalt therapy.

Goodman had ideas that were similar to those of Ehrenfels a friend to Buber. Like Goodman, Ehrenfel was also actively involved in politics and had the same view of anarchy as being without rule. Fritz Perls developed the Kibbutz idea which had some elements of power sharing in a communal or self-organized way. He mostly addressed man in his work elaborating on his peculiarity, disobedience, responsibility, and mutual support. He too admired the psychoanalysis of Freud. The gestalt therapy’s awareness concept has much its details depicting the eastern way of thinking.

This is so because most of its originators had studied Eastern philosophy that dealt with religious issues mostly Taoism (Raymond, 1983). . References Edward, S. (1968). The Roots of Gestalt Therapy in: The Growing Edge of Gestalt Therapy. New Jersey, USA. The Citadel Press. Hefferline, R. , Perls F. & Goodman, P. (1990) Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality. London: Souvenir Press Ltd. Judith B. (1999). Buber & Gestalt. The Gestalt Journal, Vol III, No. 2, p. 47. Raymond M. (1983). Phenomenological Psychology. Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press. .

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