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Gestalt therapy: An excellent choice for gay men

Check out this very well-written article on Gestalt therapy on Wikipedia

“Gestalt therapy is an existential/experiential form of psychotherapy that emphasizes personal responsibility, and that focuses upon the individual’s experience in the present moment, the therapist-client relationship, the environmental and social contexts of a person’s life, and the self-regulating adjustments people make as a result of their overall situation.”

In Gestalt therapy, the therapist doesn’t just talk about issues with the client. The therapist guides the client into experiments that cause the client to experience issues with heightened awareness, and this awareness itself leads to positive change.  The therapist doesn’t do the work for the client by providing interpretations. The client comes to cognitive understanding by becoming more aware through taking responsibility for doing the necessary work.

 The empty chair is one of the best known techniques of Gestalt therapy.

The empty chair is one of the best known techniques of Gestalt therapy.

“Gestalt therapy focuses on process over content.  The emphasis is on what is being done, taught, and felt at the present moment, rather than on what might be, could be, or should have been.”

Gestalt therapists were practicing and teaching mindfulness before the term became popular.  Many of my gay clients have read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.  It gave them a good introduction to living in the present moment. The present moment is actually the only place in which one can live. Everything else is a distraction.  hat said, talking about the past or the future is actually living in the present, if one is aware of how one feels in the present moment about the past or the present. 

“The objective of Gestalt therapy is to enable the client to become more fully and creatively alive and to become free of the blocks and unfinished business that may diminish satisfaction, fulfillment, and growth, and to experiment with new ways of being.”

Growing up, gay men were blocked and thwarted at every turn. Gestalt therapy offers the opportunity for gay men to dissolve those blocks, so that they can live a freer, more spontaneous, genuinely fulfilled life.

“Gestalt therapy can be considered a cognitive approach, a relational or interpersonal approach, a multi-systemic approach, and a paradoxical and experiential/experimental approach.”

I believe gay men will appreciate the richness of Gestalt therapy.

“...experiential episodes understood as ‘safe emergencies’ or experiments”

An experiment has to feel both safe enough to engage in and a little bit emotionally risky for there to be any growth. 

“...dialogical relationship between the therapist and client”

It is often said that the relationship between the therapist and client is the most important aspect of therapy, no matter what the approach.  The dialogical relationship in Gestalt therapy is based on the “I-Thou” relationship as described by Buber.  It implies authentic closeness between two human beings with a respect for appropriate boundaries.

“The therapist attends to his or her own presence.” 

The Gestalt therapist is trained to experience his or her own thoughts, feelings, and sensations when working with a client. That is how authentic connection can occur with a client. That is different from being the expert of the client and offering brilliant interpretations from on high.  That is why I consider myself a guide when I am involved in a therapeutic relationship, not superior to the client.  Good Gestalt therapy is truly democratic.

“The Gestalt therapist supports the client’s direct experience of something new.”

Laura Perls’s advice for therapists was to support the client as much as possible and as little as necessary.  By this, she meant to offer support to a client when the client is taking an emotional risk to possibly grow but to allow the client to do their own work.

“The continuity of selfhood (functioning personality is something that is achieved in a relationship, rather than something inherently 'inside' the person.”

Gestalt therapists talk about "selfing," a verb, rather than "the self," a fixed entity. The ability to "self" implies the possibility of changing and growing in dialogue with the therapist.

“Arnold R. Beisser described Gestalt therapy’s paradoxical theory of change.”

Beisser’s famous article says that when one is able to accept oneself as one actually is, instead of trying to be someone else or someone one once was, then positive change can occur.  This is a very exciting process in my experience.

“Empty chair work technique or chairwork is typically used in Gestalt therapy.”

Most people associate empty chair work with Gestalt therapy.  The problem is that it is often used as a gimmick unrelated to a patient’s process or context by therapists who don’t know much about the subtleties of Gestalt therapy as currently practiced. When chairwork emerges organically in a session, the result can be very powerful for a client.

“Confluence, introjection, projection, retroflection, and deflection.”

To read about these defenses in Gestalt therapy and more information about Gestalt therapy,  I recommend that you read the free Wikipedia article in its entirety. I also recommend the wonderful, inexpensive paperback book Gestalt Therapy Integrated by Erving and Miriam Polster.