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Study on gestalt therapy and cognitive psychology

The term Gestalt refers to a German phrase describing concepts which allows for forming unity and variety into a summery design. The term cannot be translated into a single word in English, rather one that encompasses ideas such as wholeness, shapes, and configuration. The Gestaltists believed visual perception arose from global interactions within the visual nervous system and resulted from the overall structure of visual stimulation itself (Levitin, 2002). Our visual world is so complex that the mind’s strategy for coping with confusion attempts to group items with certain common characteristics as simple as possible. Psychologists and scientists firmly hold that if a theory is good, it will manifest itself practically in all examples, including Gestalt psychoanalysis. Gestalt therapy is a holistic, process-oriented emphasis on an organized growth and mature self-expression. Fritz Perls (1994) is the official founder of gestalt therapy and comprised the term from interrelated disciplines from existential philosophy, psychoanalysis, holism, humanism, Gestalt psychology, bio-energetics, and Eastern philosophies. Gestalt therapy’s theory is a leading theory of growth and education that focuses on patient’s optimal health performances.

Perls (1994) define experience as the contact between the interaction of an organism and its environment; the whole is defined by its parts that are themselves dependent wholes. Psychotherapy from a Gestalt point of view, emphasize concentration on the detailed structure of an actual situation of a subject. Character analysis is widely held as a primary procedure in therapy nowadays and consists largely of unblocking by analyzing observed behavior. Therapy that concentrates on the here and now make usual personal preconceptions of reality appear unsatisfactory and unscientific. Consider simply how a physician, aiming at “adjusting the patient to reality” might find, as treatment proceeds, that the reality begins to look very different from his own or accepted preconceptions, and then he must revise his goals and methods (Perls, Hefferline, & Goodman, 1994). Here, consciousness, in its personal meaningful structure and function needs to be studied. In any event, encounters as unitary wholes must be analytically broken down into bits, destroying what was intended to study because of irreducible unities from socioculture, and physical concrete experiences. Many of Perls’ (1976) ideas are closely related to principles of general semantics, particularly dichotomies and the relationship of the Aristotelian two-valued system to both cognition and motivation (p. 242). This twofold view distinguishes thoughts and feelings of patients in relation to the external environment.

The goal of Gestalt therapy aims to restore or discover patient’s ability to regulate self as a successful or healthy organism, and with rejected aspects of oneself. This form of therapy attempts to enhance patients’ lives and choices dealing with themselves and others in life via awareness and experimentation. The focus is targeted more toward “how” a person has created their life rather than “why” they are a certain way. Gestalt therapy is not interested in questions of where development may have been arrested in childhood as in helping the patient identify and work through present blocks and anxiety preventing acts of growth (Perls et al, 1994). Perls (1994) holds that an organisms needs for growth are met from assimilation from the environment and, although known physiologically, the mental stages of assimilation, for the most part have been overlooked. Self-regulation in psychologically healthy humans work well and reveals that one is capable of realistically evaluating situations and initiating responses responsibly in accord with one’s self. Gestalt psychology defines the context in which an element appears (rooted disturbance in neurosis more in psychosis) as either a rigidity disturbance from fixation or a lack of figure from repression; both interfere with the habitual completion of an adequate Gestalt (Perls et al, 1994). An adequate Gestalt is one describing a holistic encompassing of the person’s multifaceted personality, which includes ones’ wider dynamic field of families, groups and or organizations. GT Therapists also operate from a standpoint that client’s are in a constant process of rediscovery and becoming. As this continual process is carried out, the goal of GT therapists is to encourage patients to own up to experiences as they encounter them.

Our English dictionary defines Gestalt as a set of things that are, such as thoughts and experiences, considered a whole, which amounts to more than the sum of its parts. Interestingly enough, Gestalt therapy or GT as it is referred to describe a patient as having a dysfunction and not a mental disorder as other domains of therapy traditionally refer to these types of behavioral issues. In dysfunction there is a loss of a clear internal awareness of needs, wants, and desires, self-responsiveness, experiences and good contact (Perls et al, 1994). Dysfunctions of all types aim to reduce some form of experience the patient has encountered. An adjustment is made on the patient or subjects behalf to manage some problem or feelings stemming from some major concern. The nature of humans who suffer from a psychological dysfunction, display typical defense mechanisms to cope with it. Whatever is uncomfortable in a patient’s life or plaguing him/her becomes the target for adaptation. Some form of creative adaption emerges to compensate for the inefficiency. Patients therefore have a distorted or wrong view of the world and or people. This view subsequently is acted upon by patients. This notion goes a bit further as the patient views himself in this manner as well.

Perls first (1994) outline patients split of body and mind and how a habitual crippling of joylessness and gracelessness remain a threat to a patients normal functioning. This disunion furthers to isolation from the world from a threatening political and perhaps interpersonal nature. Psychotherapy shows patients preoccupation with the distant past while feeling an attempt to adjust to adult standards of reality is not worth adjusting to (Perls et al, 1994). Researchers have revealed the love and aggression split results from instinctual frustration and self-control methods, turning hostility feelings toward self (Perls et al, 1994). Anger, therefore, is an unfinished statement. It is the releasing of such aggression, in the sight of love and the willingness to adjust the dysfunction, that one is capable of restoring contact with others or another. Perls (1994) notes that an unconscious and conscious division taken absolutely would make all psychotherapy impossible in principle, for a patient cannot learn about himself what is unknowable to him. This is not the same as patients’ awareness or ability to become aware of real experiences distortions. This theoretical split applies to an underestimation of the reality of dream, hallucination, art and play, and an overestimation of the reality of deliberate speech, thought, and interruption (Perls et al, 1994). Basically, this also conflicts with Freud’s division of primary thought processes and secondary processes and the inability to distinguish the “id” and “ego” as alternate degrees of self.

So we understand that contact in Gestalt therapy (GT) is highly regarded as the crucial factor of change and is the characteristic of all methods Gestalt therapists use to obtain such goals. This encompasses complex internal responses or reactions as well as reflecting external patterns of behavior. Contact formulates and can be defined out of any method used by GT therapists in their efforts to reverse dysfunctional behavior and prepare for re-entering social settings. Hatcher (1976) maintains that the Gestalt framework of polarities is very important with expressive movement; working with living energy or bioenergetics focuses on abusiveness to figures of control, however, emphasis on the other polarity that deals with ones’ willingness to be controlled is equally important. Researchers of GT have shown an inability to focus and treat aspects of a dichotomized dysfunction only perpetuate the arrested development (Hatcher & Himelstein, 1976). Gestalt therapists’ methods involve degrees and extensions of Rolfing that alleviate pain and stress in patients.

In all therapy, the actual surface behavior takes precedence. Patients’ actions reveal an arrested functioning that must be addressed through carefully tailored experiments. GT therapists must be capable and willing to harness their own experiences to describe that of the client’s behavior. Adopting this type of attitude gives the therapist an encouraging relationship toward the client, allowing subjects to open up and display real world functioning. Experiments circle around client’s channels of resistance from retroflection, introjections, and projections of inner and external contacts.

Retroflection is a block defined as a sharp turn back against a person or object. Perls (1994) defines this as a person not persistent as he once started because the environment or persons proved hostile toward his efforts to satisfy his needs. Perls (1994) treatment suggest reversing the direction of the retroflecting act from inward to outward, rejoining force energies and discharging them toward the environment. Theoretically simple, however, the client with aiding expertise overcomes embarrassment, fear, and resentment. Other important retroflection are self-contempt, inferiority feelings, and anything considered as contributing to a weak self-system (Perls et al, 1994). In reversal, the body is finally experiencing relief from muscle and mental tension from habitual bad judgment of self-appraisals, self-evaluations, and performances.

Perls (1994) use the same concentration and development techniques in this approach of unblocking interjection with only difference in procedure. New behavior techniques must be incorporated by the client with the prerequisites of retroflection. Both the organism and the personality grow by assimilating new substance. Comparing the acquisition of habits, attitudes, beliefs, or ideas to the same process of taking physical food into the organism appears as a crude analogy, but examining the more detail sequences of each, one realizes more their functional purpose (Perls et al, 1994). Perls (1994) therapy implies in this same analogy, if food is bad for you or poisoned then the body would respond in a rejecting response, same as behavioral facts, one would not incorporate behavioral actions unfit for standard procedures. When it is not physical food but concepts, “facts,” or standards of behavior, the situation is the same (Perls et al, 1994). Physical growth occurs from young to mature stages and if no interruptions or distortions occur, new developments and acquisitions are acquired without deficiencies, leaving behind ineffective adoptions from prior influential unions.

A projection is a trait, attitude, feeling, or bit of behavior which actually belongs to your own personality but is not experienced as such; instead, it is attributed to objects or persons in the environment (Perls et al, 1994). Perls (1994) describe this as one who rejects others but believe they are rejecting him. To interpret this is to understand that the psychological block of normal processing excludes the problem as internal and inadequately determines the source to be external. Projection can only occur if retroflection, introjections and confluences exist; the neurotic mechanisms are functionally related and meshed, determining and predicting clients’ personality’s behavioral patterns. This is why the GT therapists must be aware of clients needs and alert to erroneous contradictions of bodily functioning and movements.

In concluding, one of Gestalt therapist key ingredients to success involves using themselves as their own tool or empathy. One must be trained in awareness, personal responsibility, complexity, and actuality among interpretation of body language. Clients must feel safe to explore new things in a warm therapy setting with a one on one dialogue. One ultimate goal of therapy is to have patients know limitations and expectations of society while simultaneously being integrated and self sufficient. For some therapists this task may appear too great.

It is possible researches could become discouraged in an attempt to grasp such a holistic approach to therapy but in such regard for the well being of a safe society, such endeavors remain inevitable. Within psychoanalysis the dialectic pendulum always makes it back toward a more balanced view as analysts become more active, taking multidetermination more seriously, including the power of consciousness (Hatcher & Himelstein, 1976). We figure that such a field is not highly competitive then, although this is not to say the same of the future. It is safe to say that GT therapists will become the referential framework for contemporary researcher’s groundbreaking discoveries. In summarizing, we note that Gestalt principles of grouping applied to patients with dysfunctions need normal functioning qualities and abilities extracted and unblocked from within. This remains a highly intricate process involving highly trained individuals who grasp awareness from dysfunctions of cognitive external behavior. Therefore, in every effort and angle of Gestalt therapy, the requirements of some form of discovery, accommodating homework and adaptation is needed for client’s to improve their dysfunctional performance.

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