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What's integrative gestalt psychotherapy? 

Updated: Aug 7, 2020

Since the late 40's and 50's Gestalt psychotherapy became one of the most prominent psychotherapy schools in the world. Gestalt psychotherapy integrates many segments of other psychotherapy schools and philosophies (dynamic psychoanalytic principals, body-oriented therapies, existentialism, phenomenology,  field theory, eastern religious practices and others)  into the unique approach that answers an individual's need to understand and transform uncomfortable internal states, suffering and behaviour into awareness and growth of being. More detailed overview of gestalt theory can be found here.


Good example of therapy process in gestalt therapy can be described with the following representation: Tip of the water can be seen as a figure that comes out of the background, representing one of the fundamental principals in gestalt therapy. Figure and background are forming one gestalt - one whole unit.



Together, figure and background are forming one gestalt, one whole unit. Role of the therapist is not to "know" what has to be done right away, not to offer interpretation and block the process, but to allow it to spontaneously rise up over time. That of course, doesn't exclude using a theoretical models for orientation or few practical advices. ​


Moreover, same interplay between figure and background can be seen as "fights" between different parts of personality. A figure can be demanding "parent" that is angry, expressing resentment towards itself or others and background can be a "child" part of personality that's afraid of angry parent. This scene could be enactment of and old family dynamics that keeps on repeating to the point that it becomes what person would call it's personality. Instead of purely theoretical and intellectual approach of some psychotherapy schools, gestalt aims at raising direct awareness and skills to perceive what is going on inside the client. Over time, change happens by accepting the very same aspects that were previously seen as troublesome. That usually involves a systemic effort to see what previously has been either unseen or seen but not confronted by actively engaging the mature parts of self. One of the gestalt principals, originally attributed to Aristotle says: "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts". The parts in this context mean different structures in personality of an individual that are manifesting in mental/emotional/physical planes. These structures could be seen as sub-personalities and often have a character of known states that can be, for example, described as "angry-impulsive child state", "demanding parent state", "comforting father state", "adult-professional" etc. This different states are changing during the day, they might interact without our awareness or even take full control in some moments. Painful parts are usually split off and kept outside of awareness. Besides mentioned, we also have something that feels -real- and can be placed in the center. One of the common goals of therapy is to explore, validate and strengthen that part.


Gestalt takes part in Taoistic philosophy of eternal interplay between light and dark. If translated in form of our personality, it  would mean that some parts of us are in the dark and some in the light. Just as there's no day without night, there's no person that am aware of, who didn't have to face this archetypal challenge that makes a essential part of our lives.




These are just basics of gestalt psychotherapy. What I love about it is the fact that knowledge, techniques and discoveries of other modalities are easily adopted in the it's frame work.  Flexibility of gestalt makes it is easy to adopt new modalities like Shema-focused therapy or new diagnoses like Complex PTSD .