Gestalt is a German word for form or shape. It is used in English to refer to a concept of wholeness. It proposes that the operational principle of the brain is holistic with self-organizing tendencies, or that the whole is different than the sum of its parts. The classic Gestalt example is a soap bubble, whose spherical shape is not defined by a rigid template or a mathematical formula, but rather it emerges spontaneously by the parallel action of surface tension acting at all points in the surface simultaneously. The Gestalt effect refers to the form forming capability of our senses, particularly with respect to the visual recognition of figures and whole forms instead of just a collection of simple lines and curves.
Early 20th century theorists saw objects as perceived within an environment according to all of their elements taken together as a global construct. This whole form approach sought to define principles of perception, seemingly innate mental laws which determined the way in which objects were perceived. These laws took several forms, such as the grouping of similar objects together. Although Gestalt has been criticized for being merely descriptive, it has formed the basis of much further research into the perception of patterns and objects, and of research into behavior, thinking, problem solving and psychopathology.
Gestalt psychology is a theory of mind and brain that proposes that the operational principle of the brain is holistic, parallel, and analog, with self-organizing tendencies, or that the whole is different than the sum of its parts. Gestalt therapy focuses more on process (what is happening) than content (what is being discussed). The emphasis is on what is being done, thought and felt at the moment rather than on what was, might be, could be, or should be.
Gestalt therapy is a method of awareness, by which perceiving, feeling, and acting are understood to be separate from interpreting, explaining and judging using old attitudes. This distinction between direct experience and indirect or secondary interpretation is developed in the process of therapy. The client learns to become aware of what they are doing psychologically and how they can change it. By becoming aware of and transforming their process they develop self acceptance and the ability to experience more in the now without so much interference from baggage of the past.
The objective of Gestalt therapy, in addition to helping the client overcome symptoms, is to enable him or her to become more fully and creatively alive and to be free from the blocks and unfinished issues that may diminish optimum satisfaction, fulfillment, and growth.
The approach is not the self of the client being helped or healed by the fixed self of the therapist, but the exploration of the co-creation of self and other in the here and now. There is not the assumption that the client will act in all other circumstances as he or she does in the therapy situation. However, the areas that cause problems will be either the lack of self definition leading to chaotic or psychotic behaviour, or the rigid self definition in some area of functioning that denies spontaneity and makes dealing with particular situations impossible.
Some have described Gestalt’s paradoxical theory of change. The paradox is that the more one attempts to be who one is not, the more one remains the same. Conversely, when people identify with their current experience, the conditions of wholeness and growth support change. Put another way, change comes about as a result of full acceptance of what is, rather than a striving to be different.