Perhaps one of the most attractive features of Gestalt theory is its attention to the holistic nature of humankind. As in existentialism and phenomenology, genuine knowledge is the expected outcome of what is apparent and evident in the experience of the perceiver (Resnick, 2004). Whereas the traditional Gestalt psychologists remained focused on cognition, perception, and motivation, Gestalt counselors and therapists engage the whole organism (person) and operate from the perspective that human beings have the capacity and strength to grow, to develop, and to become the persons they are meant to be (Kellogg, 2004). A basic assumption is that individuals can cope with their life problems, especially if fully aware of what is happening in and around them. Centered in the present, the person in Gestalt counseling or psychotherapy is always in the process of being what he or she is, in the here and now (Ginger, 2004).


This section discusses the major constructs associated with Gestalt theory and therapy. These include field theory, differentiation and contact, boundary disturbances, dichotomies and polarities, and foreground and background, to name just a few. There are many constructs associated with Gestalt therapy, and this section provides an overview of the major ones.

Field Theory: Organism and Environment

The scientific paradigm forming the basis of the Gestalt therapy perspective is field theory with a view to the organism-environment as a field of activity (Gaffney, 2009). In contrast to a reductionistic, unilinear, cause-and-effect model, field theory focuses on the whole, in which all the elements found within the field are in relationship to and influence one another (Wagner-Moore, 2004). Field theory is based on the principle of interdependence.

Phenomenological Field

The phenomenological field is the field that is the focus of Gestalt therapy (Reilly & Jacobus, 2009). This field changes according to the individual's focused awareness (Yontef & Fuhr, 2005). At one moment, the focus may be entirely internal, attending to self and its interrelated parts. During the next moment, the phenomenological field may shift to a focus on the person in relationship to his or her external environment, which is made up of its own constituent and interacting parts. When the focus is internal, the field is represented by parts of the self, which may be broadly defined as mind and body.


Gestalt therapy is holistic rather than reductionistic; it is concerned with the differentiation and interrelationship of the parts that make up the whole rather than on parts in isolation from one another (Hurley, Barrett, & Reet, 2006). In therapy, it means attending to the whole person (mind, body, spirit) rather than just one aspect of the client, such as the client's symptoms.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >