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The Gestalt Approach to Psychology

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Outline and explain the principles of the Gestalt approach to psychology. How does humanistic psychology differ in essence from other analyses of "mental disorder", and what are its strengths and weaknesses? Psychiatrist Frederick "Fritz" Perls (1893-1970) devised Gestalt therapy. The word "Gestalt" is of German origin, as was Perls, and means "pattern" or "organised whole" (Gross & McIlveen, 1996). In order to make sense of life events, our perceptions are organised into gestalts. Just as we cannot fully understand a family by looking solely at the individuals without regard for its operation as a whole, neither can we understand a gestalt by merely observing its constituent parts. When a gestalt is formed, there is a focus of attention against a background of everything else of potential relevance. This foreground/background (figure/ground) formation is called "field theory". Whatever is of most interest at any moment becomes figure, but if something else becomes more important, figure recedes into ground and is replaced. In field theory all aspects of an individual and their environment are interrelated so that the field forms their context. Unless we understand a person's environment, we can never fully understand them or their behaviour. As Yontef (1973) said "Behaviour is a function of the field of which it is a part. ...read more.


Retroflection comes in two forms. The first is doing to oneself what one wants/wanted to do to others and the second is doing to oneself what one want/wanted others to do to them. It can occur when expression meets opposition, such as in punishment. The need remains within the body but instead of being directed towards the environment, it is redirected towards the self. As quoted in Gestalt Counselling in Action, Clarkson (1989) stated "the impulse to hit out remains locked in the person's body, affecting muscular patterns, abdominal tension and chemical imbalances in the body". One of the ultimate goals of Gestalt therapy is to allow the individual to complete the unfinished business that demands satisfaction and interrupts contact. Self-awareness gives the individual the ability to be in touch with their present field of existence. As present functioning is designed to meet the dominant need of that moment, becoming aware of operations such as breathing patterns, voice qualities, postures and gestures means an individual can realise how they are attempting to meet their requirements at that time. Awareness is gained through phenomenological investigation, describing to an individual their behaviour without attempting to give explanations or interpretations. It is in the "obvious" phase that a person's mode of operation is revealed. ...read more.


Another weakness is that Gestalt therapy may be considered moralistic (see Appendix I). Critics may say that individuals are being told what to think, instead of being given the opportunity of free thought. It may be considered a weakness that humanistic therapy is scientifically dubious. However, it is anecdotally successful. It is of vital importance that the therapist is correctly trained to teach individuals how to be self-supportive; they must learn not to rely on their therapist for emotional support. Although it is true that humanistic therapy has both strengths and weaknesses, there is evidence that some techniques can be particularly effective (Simkin and Yontef, 1984), although undoubtedly humanistic therapies are going to be more successful in some civilisations than in others. Appendix I The Moral Injunctions of Gestalt Therapy 1. Live now. Be concerned with the present rather than the past or future. 2. Live here. Deal with what is present rather than what is absent. 3. Stop imagining. Experience the real. 4. Stop unnecessary thinking. Rather, taste and see. 5. Express rather than manipulate, explain, justify or judge. 6. Give in to unpleasantness and pain just as to pleasure. Do not restrict your awareness. 7. Accept no "should" or "ought" other than your own. Adore no graven image. 8. Take full responsibility for your actions, feelings and thoughts. 9. Surrender to being as you are. ...read more.

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