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Gestalt Therapy

In laymen's terms, it is a holistic approach which asserts that everyone has the capacity to control their own emotions, and therapists practicing Gestalt therapy are simply there to listen and assist a person to become aware of his or her own experiences.

Focusing on the here and now, Gestalt therapists facilitate a person's awareness of their feelings, emotions, and sensations while helping them to understand what it is that is contradicting those feelings and emotions.

Traditional psychiatrists may spend more time questioning one's childhood and any significant event that may have triggered the onset of depression or anxiety. However, the Gestalt therapist is more proactive in assessing why the person is feeling a certain way by asking the person to become aware of how they are feeling physically and emotionally when discussing a particular problem.

Gestalt therapists seem to be more empathic than the more conventional community of psychiatrists. Gestalt therapy allows the patient to feel more at ease in discussing the underlying problems without feeling embarrassed or judged.

One of the techniques used by Gestalt therapists is allowing a patient to conduct a dialogue that allows two distinct feelings to be aired so that the patient can give a voice to the conflict within.

While traditional psychotherapists try to control a person by telling them they are acting this way because of something that is inherent in them, the Gestalt therapist will give control to the patient. What this means is that by not trying to control the patient's behavior through advice that may or may not be appropriate to the underlying cause, the relationship between the Gestalt therapist and the patient is an open and honest discourse.

Let's face it; psychiatrists often tend to be rather distant. They may end a session just at the point where the patient is revealing something profound or needs to continue discussing the point they were trying to make. Gestalt therapy is just the opposite. This is the humanistic approach, as mentioned, and is one that can be more therapeutic and effective for the patient.

After a patient discloses his or her innermost thoughts to the Gestalt therapist, he or she is then able to receive feedback from the therapist. This includes how they can, together, resolve any given situation with care, kindness, and attention. The dialogue between the two is ongoing.

Gestalt therapy allows both therapist and patient to freely explore feelings and emotions in ways no other psychotherapists can. It is this freedom of expression that has allowed patients to become more aware and grow as individuals in a healthy and open environment.

Gestalt therapy can help shed light on unfinished business by helping us to focus our awareness on our feelings (or lack of feelings) moment to moment.  Once we recognize our unfinished business,( i.e. uncomfortable feelings, stuck patterns of behavior, or ways in which we perceive ourselves and others that  are based on our experiences as opposed to reality), we are better equipped to understand ourselves and to choose whether we want to make changes or not. 

One method utilized in Gestalt therapy is the empty-chair technique. When you go see a Gestalt therapist, the office will usually have an extra chair--an empty chair.  This chair serves an important function. The therapist may ask you to imagine holding a conversation with someone or something imagined to be in the empty chair.  Thus, the "empty chair technique" stimulates your thinking, highlighting your emotions and attitudes.  For example, the therapist may say, "Imagine your father in this chair (about 3 feet away), see him vividly, and, now, talk to him about how you felt when he was unfaithful to your mother".

There are innumerable other people, objects (your car or wedding ring), parts of your personality (critical parent, natural child, introversion, obsession with work), any or your emotions, symptoms, (headaches, fatigue),  any aspect of a dream, a stereotype (macho males, independent women) and so on that you can imagine in an empty chair.  The key is a long, detailed, emotional interaction--a conversation.  You should shift back and forth between chairs as you also speak for the person-trait-object in the other  chair.  This "conversation" clarifies your feelings and reactions to the other person and may increase  your understanding of the other person.

If you imagine any thing in the other chair that gives you difficulty, e.g. a person upsetting you, a hated assignment, a goal that is hard to reach, a disliked boss or authority, a temptation to do something wrong, keep in mind that this person or desire is really a part of you right now--it is your fantasy, your thoughts.  You may disown it, even dislike it, and think of it as foreign to you, like a "mean old man", "the messed up system", "Bill, the self-centered jerk", " a desire to run away", "the boring stupid book I have to read", etc., but obviously the things said and felt by you in both chairs are parts of you here and now.  Your images, memories, emotions, judgments, expectations about the other person or thing are yours!  You have created this image that upsets you (although it is probably based on some external reality).  And this conflict exists inside you; it's of your own making; it's yours to deal with.

As long as you believe, however, that the trouble lies with someone or something else--your family, the stupid school, society, "men"/"women", not having enough money, your awful job--you will do very little to change.

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