Emphasis is on the "what" and "how" of experiencing in the here and now to help clients accept their polarities. Key concepts include personal responsibility, unfinished business, avoiding, experiencing, and awareness of the now. Gestalt is an experiential therapy that stresses feelings and the influence of unfinished business on personality development.
Addresses a wide range of problems and populations: crisis intervention, treatment of a range of psychosomatic disorders, marital and family therapy, awareness training of mental-health professionals, betwvior problems in children, teaching and learning, and organizational development. It is well suited to both individual and group counseling. The methods are powerful catalysts for opening up feelings and getting clients into contact with their present-centered experience.
A wide range of techniques is designed to intensify experiencing and to integrate conflicting feelings. Techniques include confrontation, dialogue with polarities, role playing, staying with feelings, reaching an impasse, and reliving and reexperiencing unfinished business in the forms of resentment and guilt. Gestalt dream work is very useful. Formal diagnosis and testing are not done. Interpretation is done by the client instead of by the therapist. Confrontation is often used to call attention to discrepancies, "How" and "what" questions are used.
By encouraging direct contact and the expression of feelings, the approach de-emphasizes abstract intellectualization of one's problems. Intense experiencing can occur quickly, so therapy can be relatively brief. The approach recognizes the value of working with the past as it is important to the here and now. Its focus is on the recognition of one's own projections and the refusal to accept helplessness. Gestalt therapy gives attention to nonverbal and body messages. Its emphasis is on doing and experiencing, as opposed to merely talking about problems in a detached way. It provides a perspective on growth and enhancement, not merely a treatment of disorders. The method of working with dreams is a creative pathway to increased awareness of key existential messages in life.
The approach can be anti-intellectual to the point that cognitive factors are discounted. In the hands of an ineffective therapist, Gestalt procedures can become a series of mechanical exercises behind which the therapist as a person can stay hidden. The theoretical grounds of Gestalt therapy leave something to be desired. Moreover, there is a potential for the therapist to manipulate the client with powerful techniques. To offset some basic limitations, training and supervision in Gestalt therapy are essential, as well as introspection on the therapist's part.