theory and practice of counseling  GESTALT THERAPY:

Role of the Counselor

The role of the Gestalt counselor is to create an atmosphere that promotes a client’s exploration of what is needed in order to grow. Polster and Polster (1973) indicate that the gestalt counselors must be exciting, energetic and fully human. Involvement occurs in the now which is a continuing process.

There are several rules that Gestalt counselors follow in helping clients become more aware of the now:

  • The principle of now: always using the present tense
  • I and Thou: always addressing someone directly instead if talking about him or her to the counselor.
  • The use of I: substituting the word I for it, especially when talking about the body.
  • The use of an awareness continuum: Focusing on how and what rather than why
  • The convention of questions: asking clients to convert questions into statements
  • Gestalt counselors do not use standardized assessment instruments, such as psychological tests, nor do they diagnose their clients according DSM-IV classification standard.
  • Therapist examples: counselor sets example for client by being an open and aware person.
  • Role play: counselor and/or client engages in role play to help the client manage feelings.
  • Nonverbal-behavior congruence: counselor encourages client to be in touch with whether verbal behavior matches nonverbal behavior. In order to probe the patient’s defenses and expose the games being displayed, therapist often pays close attention to nonverbal behavior. The counselor also uses posture cues to get to the feelings that exist now.


Perls (1970) developed a formula that expresses the word’s essence: “Now = experience = awareness= realy. “The past is no more and the future not yet. Only the now exists”(p.14).

  • Getting clients to accept responsibility for their own actions and feelings
  • To expose the games clients play and the defenses behind which they hide. To expose the games clients play and the defenses behind which they hide. To experience and become aware of these shams is an important goal pf counseling. The experience of awareness may be threatening for the client.

Perls(1970) identifies five layers of neurosis that potentially interface with being authentically to touch with oneself:

1.  The Cliché layers consists of noncontacts/ pretending to be something that one is not.

2.  The phony layer: Role-playing layer. It refers to an attempt to avoid recognizing aspects of self that the person would prefer to deny.

3.  Below this layer is the impasse layer, where individuals wonder how they are going to make it in the environment.

4.  The fourth and fifth layers, the impulsive and explosive are often grouped together. People at these layers frequently feel vulnerable to feelings. When people peel back the layers of defensiveness (implosion) then they experience explosion of joy, sorrow or pain that leads to being authentic. When persons reach this point, the now can be experienced most fully.


Some of the most innovative counseling techniques ever developed are found in Gestalt therapy. These techniques take two forms: exercise and experiments.

  • Exercises are ready made techniques such as the enactment of fantasies, role playing and psychodrama (Covin, 1977). They are employed to evoke a certain response from the client, such as anger or exploration.
  • Experiments on the other hand, are activities that grow out of the interaction between counselor and client. They are not planned and what is learned is often a surprise to both the client and the counselor. Many of the techniques of Gestalt therapy take the form of unplanned experiments.

Common Exercises employed in Gestalt Therapy:

  • One common exercise is dream work. Perls describes dreams as message that represents a person’s place at a certain time. Dream is a kind of condensed reflection of the individual’s own existence and the ways used to avoid facing oneself. The person with repetitive dreams is encouraged to realize that unfinished business being brought into awareness and that there is a need to take care of the message delivered. Gestaltists believe that:
  1. The dream conveys messages
  2. The dream also epitomizes the contradicting sides of the self
  • Another effective technique is the empty chair, in this procedure clients talk to the various parts of their personality, such as the part that is dominant and the part that is passive.
  • One of the most powerful Gestalt exercises is confrontation. Confrontation involves asking clients what and how questions.
  • Making the rounds: Some powerful Gestalt exercises are individually oriented but used primarily in group. This technique is employed if the counselor thinks that the theme applies to everyone in the group.
  • I take responsibility: in this exercise clients make statements about perceptions and close each statement with the phrases “and I take responsibility for it”. To repeat again & again and louder and louder the important remarks is the technique. Benefits of these games is not demonstrated empirically
  • Exaggeration. Clients accentuate unwitting movement or gestures.
  • May I feed you a sentence: The counselor asks if the client will say a certain sentence (provided by the counselor) that makes the client’s thoughts explicit.
  • Locating feelings

Evaluation: Strengths

  • The approach emphasizes helping people incorporate and accepts all aspects of life.
  • The approach helps a client focus on resolving areas of unfinished business
  • The approach places primary emphasis on doing rather than talking.
  • The approach is flexible and not limited to a few techniques
  • The approach is appropriate for certain affective disorders anxiety states somatoform disorders, adjustment disorders and DSM-IV diagnoses such as occupational problems and interpersonal problem.

Evaluation: Limitations.

  • The approach lacks a strong theoretical base. Some critics view Gestalt counseling as all experience and techniques.
  • The approach deals strictly with the now and how of experience
  • The approach eschews diagnoses and testing

The approach is too concerned with individual development and is criticized for its self-centeredness.

Summary and Conclusion

Gestalt therapy also continues to generate strong interest among practitioners. As a group, effective approaches do not make much use of psychological tests, formal diagnoses, or rigid procedures. A trademark of these approaches is that they tailor what they do to the needs of the client. Counselors assess needs by establishing strong relationship with clients. Existential counseling is the most nondirective of the theories while Gestalt therapy is the most directive.

Farzana: Gestalt Perspective Assessment:

  • Examining the process that occurs as the individual interacts with self and environment
  • The need fulfillment model refers to a “cycle of experience” which begins with physical or emotional sensations and proceeds through awareness, excitement, and toward contact with the environment
  • The panic attack continues because she is unable to move from the sensation level into some type of action


The Gestalt Need-

Interrupted by introjections


(“shoulds” and “oughts”) and





Interrupted by anxiety over her right to think and act selfishly; cannot move toward action.


Interrupted by retro flection, punishing self through guilt and self-recrimination

theory and practice of counseling  GESTALT THERAPY:

Since contact is not Cannot be made, because action can made, there is nothing never be directed purposely toward to withdraw from. the “other”

  • Goals:
    • Providing a context in which Farzana can expand her awareness of what is going on within herself

    Counseling Procedures:

    • Experiential techniques aimed at identifying here-and–now


    • Empty chair: she can indulge in conversation, dialogues with different facets of herself, and also with different characters in her life.
    • Dream analysis
    • Homework to reduce polarities: for example eating slowly so that she gets a sensation of fullness, and also achieve the goal of slimness.
    • Noticing nonverbals: (e.g., Farzana’s fidgeting with clothes). Asking her what else she might like to do with her hands?
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