Gestalt Theory: Basic Concepts
The Phenomenological Perspective
Phenomenology is a subject which assists people to keep away from the ordinary way thinking, therefore it is possible to distinguish between the actual perception, feelings and the previous experience residue (Idhe, 1977). A Gestalt examination values, employs and makes clear instant and "naive" perception and this perception is "undebauched by learning". (Wertheimer, 1945, p.331.) Gestalt therapy regards what is felt "subjectively" at the moment and objective observation too as actual and essential data. This is different from the approaches considering what the person experiences as "mere appearances" and interpretation is used by them to discover "real meaning."
Gestalt phenomenological exploration is aimed at awareness, or insight. Insight is a creation of patterns of perceptual field in this way that the important realities are apparent; it is a creation of a gestalt when the essential factors begin to make sense with reference to the whole" (Heidbreder, 1933, p. 355). As for the Gestalt therapy, insight here is complete understanding of the structure of the situation under observation, not merely one constructed or drawn from memory.
Awareness should go with systematic exploration otherwise it is not usually sufficient to reach insight. This is the reason why Gestalt therapy makes use of focused awareness in addition to experimentation to reach the goal and develop insight. The way the patient becomes aware is decisive to every phenomenological investigation. It is not just personal awareness the phenomenologist studies but the process of awareness itself as well. The patient should understand how to be aware of awareness. The way the therapist and the client experience their relationship is of particular importance (Yontef, 1976, 1982, 1983).
The Field Theory Perspective
The scientists think that Gestalt phenomenological perspective is based on field theory. Field theory is an exploration method describing the entire field and the event being its piece rather than evaluating the event expressing the concept of a class, one belongs to by nature (Aristotelian classification can be an example of it) or a historical and cause-effect sequence (for instance, Newtonian mechanics).
Being a whole, the field consists of such parts as immediate relationship and they influence each other with all parts involved. The field becomes a substitute for separate constituent's notions. The person in somebody's life space is a part of a field.
There is no act in field theory, which is at a distance; this means that everything having effect must involve things affected in space and time. Gestalt therapists make effort in the here and now and are perceptive to the way the here and now comprise things left from the past, like behavior, principles, lifestyle and body posture.
The phenomenological field is characterized by the one observing it and it is significant just when the person is aware of the observer's frame of reference. The observer is needed since what is seen by him is a function to some extent of how and when the person looks.
Field approaches more describe than speculate, interpret, or classify. The stress is on looking, describing, and clarifying the accurate structure of the thing being studied. If there is no access to facts by means of therapist's direct observation in Gestalt therapy, then they are studied by means of phenomenological focusing, experiments, participants' reporting and dialogue (Yontef, 1982, 1983).
The Existential Perspective
Existentialism has the phenomenological method in its basis. Existential phenomenologists bring into focus existence of people, their relations with other people, happiness and pain, and so on, as experienced directly.
The majority operates in the context of conventional thought which distorts or keeps away from acknowledging how the world is. This is particularly true of person's relations in the world and choices made. Self-delusion is the reason for inauthenticity: living not based on the real facts about oneself in the world brings to feelings of fear, guilt and concern. Gestalt therapy gives the patient authenticity and meaningful responsibility. Becoming aware, the person can choose and arrange his existence with a meaningful approach (Jacobs, 1978; Yontef, 1982, 1983).
The existential view is that every person continually discovering and remaking themselves. Human nature is not discovered once and forever. All the time new horizons, new challenges and new possibilities appear.
The relationship of the therapist and the patient is one of the most significant matters of psychotherapy. Existential dialogue is an important part of methodology in Gestalt therapy. It demonstrates the existential perspective on relationship.
Relationship develops out of contact. Every person grows and forms identity through contact. During contact the boundary is defined between "me" and "not-me." Contact appears when one deals with the not-me (in this case the other person) while keeping a self-identity apart from the not-me. Martin Buber affirms that one ("I") has meaning barely with regard to others, in the dialogue I-Thou or in contact of manipulative kind I-It. Gestalt therapists like the dialogue scheme better experiencing the client than I-It scheme - therapeutic manipulation.
Gestalt therapy assists patients to build up their support for preferred contact or withdrawal (L. Perls, 1976, 1978). Support means anything making contact or withdrawal achievable, such as energy, support of body, breathing, data, interest in others, language, and et cetera. Support activates means for either contact or withdrawal. For instance, to support the enthusiasm coming with contact, one should have sufficient oxygen.
The Gestalt therapist is occupied with involving the client into dialogue rather than by means of manipulation aimed to reach certain therapeutic goal. The signs of this contact are simple caring, warm attitude, approval and self-responsibility. As therapists lead patients to certain aim, the clients cannot be responsible for their development and self-support. Dialogue is founded on experiencing the individual to make him reveal the real self and share this way phenomenological awareness. The Gestalt therapist explains what the person means and persuades the client to act the same way. Gestalt dialogue is based on genuineness and responsibility.
In Gestalt therapy the therapeutic relationship accentuates 4 attributes of dialogue:
- Inclusion. This is immersion into the experience of the person without judgment, analysis or interpretation while maintaining a sense of one's detached, independent presence at the same time. The phenomenological trust in direct experience is revealed here through interpersonal and existential application. Inclusion grants an environment of protection for the client's phenomenological work and, in the course of communication the understanding of the client's experience, contributes to sharpening of the client's self-awareness.
- Presence. The Gestalt therapist opens herself to the patient. Remarks, fondness, feelings, private experience and opinions are expressed on a regular basis, sensibly, and with discrimination. The therapist shares with the client her perspective. This way the therapist forms phenomenological reporting, which contributes to client's learning of trust and application of immediate experience to increase awareness. If the therapist counts on interpretation which is derived from theory more than relying on personal presence, she makes the patient trust the phenomena not thanks to his own direct experience as the instrument for increasing awareness. The therapist does not utilize presence in Gestalt therapy to influence the patient by means of manipulation to comply with the goals set before, but rather induces clients to control themselves on their own.
- Commitment to dialogue. Contact means something deeper than just something two persons do to each other. Contact is a process, which takes place between people. Contact arises from the communication between them. The Gestalt therapist is involved in this interpersonal procedure. This is closer to letting contact occur than making contact, manipulating, and calculating the effect.
- Dialogue is lived. Dialogue is closer to action rather than words. "Lived" stresses the enthusiasm and closeness of doing. The dialogue can have various modes, such as dancing, words, songs, or any method expressing and moving the energy between the parties. A significant input of Gestalt theory to phenomenological experimentation is expanding the parameters in order to embrace explanation of experience in nonverbal way. On the other hand, the interaction is restricted by such aspects as ethics, correctness, therapeutic assignment, and et cetera.