Psychology 334R

Gestalt Therapy & Reality Therapy

Gestalt Therapy ( and

These approaches to group counselling are insight-oriented, but they place a lot of emphasis on free-will, and on making responsible, informed choices.


 Like Rogers, Fritz Perls held that people's innate goodness should be allowed to express itself.  Gestalt therapists focus on the here and now and on the individual as an actor responsible for his or her role.  Gestalt therapy is noted for its emphasis on techniques, including using "I" language instead of "it" language, the empty-chair technique, projection of feelings, reversal (behaving the opposite of what one feels), attending to nonverbal cues, the use of metaphor, and dream work.

 There has not been a lot of empirical research on Gestalt therapy, but in the few studies published, some positive effects have been demonstrated.  However, questions have been raised about the problem of discouraging responsibility for others, and the consequences of relatively new, inexperienced therapists arousing strong emotions in their clients.

Links to Gestalt Therapy Associations & Institutes around the World

Gestalt Therapy
Read about Fritz Perls' Life and Work, including several pictures of him

Here are the main points of discussion in your text.  They are important toward helping you understand Gestalt Therapy concepts and techniques.

n      Founder:  Fritz Perls.  An experiential therapy that stresses here-and-now awareness and integration of the fragmented parts of the personality.

n      It focuses on the “what” and “how” of behavior, and on the role of unfinished business from the past in preventing effective functioning in the present.

n      Existential & Phenomenological – it is grounded in he client’s “here & now.”

n      Clients must be understood in the context of their ongoing relationship with the environment. 

n      Initial goal is for clients to gain awareness of what they are experiencing and doing NOW.

n      Promotes direct experiencing rather than the abstactness of talking about situations

n      Rather than talk about a childhood trauma, the client is encouraged to become the hurt child.


n      Hence, the approach is experiential in that clients come to griops with what they are thinking, feelling, and doing as they interact with the therapist.

n      Growth occurs through the I/Thou relationship rather than through the therapist’s techniques or interpretations.



n      Clients are assumed to have the capacity to do their own seeing, feeling, sensing, and interpreting.

n      Client autonomy is fostered

n      Clients expected to be active in therapy

Gestalt Therapy:  The Now

Our power is in the present.

n      Nothing exists except the “now”.

n      The past is gone and the future has not yet arrived.

For many people, the power of the present is lost.

n      They may focus on their past mistakes, or engage in endless resolutions and plans for the future.


Gestalt Therapy:  Unfinished Business

Feelings about the past are unexpressed

n      These feelings are associated with distinct memories and fantasies

n      Feelings not fully experienced linger in the background and interfere with effective contact


n      Preoccupation, compulsive behavior, wariness, oppressive energy, and self-defeating behavior.


Gestalt Therapy:  Layers of Neurosis

Perls likens the unfolding of adult personality to the peeling of an onion.

n      Phony layer – stereotypical and inauthentic

n      Phobic layer – fears keep us from seeing ourselves.

n      Impasse layer – we give up our power.

n      Implosive layer – we fully experience our deadness.

n      Explosive layer – we let go of phony roles.


Gestalt Therapy:  Contact and Resistances to Contact

CONTACT – interacting with nature and with other people without losing one’s individuality

n      RESISTANCE TO CONTACT – the defenses we develop to prevent us from experiencing the present fully.

5 major channels of resistance:

Introjection, Projection, Retroflection, Deflection, Confluence.


n      Holism

n      Field theory

n      Figure-formation process

n      Organismic self-regulation.



GOALS of Therapy:

n      Goal is to attain awareness and greater choice.

n      Awareness includes knowing the environment and knowing oneself, accepting oneself, and being able to make contact

n      Clients helped to note their own awareness process so that they can be responsible and can selectively and discriminatingly make choices.

n      Awareness emerges in the context of the I/Thou relationship

n      With awareness, client can recognize denied aspects of the self, and proceed to reintegration of all its parts



n      The focus is not on techniques, but on who the therapist is as a person, and what the therapist is doing.

n      Stresses factors such as presence, authentic dialogue, gentleness, more direct self-expression by the therapist, decreased use of stereotypic exercises, and greater trust in the client’s experiencing.

n      Counselor assists clients in experiencing all feelings more fully, and lets them make THEIR OWN interpretations.

n      Therapist does not interpret, but instead focuses on the “what” and “how” of behavior.

n      Clients identify their own unfinished business from the past that is interfering with their present functioning by RE-EXERIENCING past situations as though they were happening at the present moment.




n      Therapist functions as a guide and catalyst, presents experiments, and shares observations

n      Basic therapy work is done by the client

n      Therapists create experiments within the context of the I/Thou dialogue, in the here-and-now.

n      The experiment in Gestalt therapy

n      Preparing clients for experiments

n      Internal dialogue exercise (between client and a significant person)

n      Role Playing (e.g., assuming the identity of a key figure;  to gain awareness of conflicts within oneself).

n      Rehearsal exercise (carrying on a dialogue between 2 conflicting aspects within the client).

n      Reversal technique

n      Exaggeration exercise.


Gestalt Therapy:  Therapeutic Techniques


optional:  feel free to read . . .
by Martin S. Fiebert, California State University, Long Beach




          Choice Theory

(Read "What is Choice Theory?"  at

Glasser's concept called "Choice Theory"  states that all we do is behave, that almost all behavior is chosen, and that we are driven by our genes to satisfy five basic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom and fun. In practice, the most important need is love and belonging, as closeness and connectedness with the people we care about is a requisite for satisfying all of the needs. CHOICE THEORY is offered to replace external control psychology, the present psychology of almost all the people in the world. Unfortunately, this forcing, punishing psychology is destructive to relationships. When used in a relationship it will always destroy the ability of one or both to find satisfaction in that relationship, and will result in people becoming disconnected from those with whom they want to be connected.  Disconnectedness is the source of almost all human problems, such as what is called mental illness, drug addiction, violence, crime, school failure, spousal and child abuse, to mention a few. The 1998 book, Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom, is the primary text for this approach.

n      Glasser

n      Developed in 1950s and 60s. 

n      Originally emphasized people responsible for what they do.

n      In 1970s, Glasser began teaching control theory


n      People have choices about what they are doing.


n      It is framework of why and how people behave

n      We  choose our Total Behavior.  Hence, we are responsible for how we act, feel, think, and for our physiological states.

n      All behavior is aimed at satisfying needs for survival, love, belonging, power, freedom and fun.

n      It is concerned with the phenomenological world of the client

n      Stresses the subjective way in which clients perceive and react to their world from an internal locus of evaluation

n      Behavior is our best attempt to get what we want.

n      Behavior is purposeful

n      Behavior is designed to close the gap between what we want and what we perceive we are getting.

n      Specific behaviors are always generated from this discrepancy.

n      Our behaviors come from the inside; hence, we choose our own destiny.



n      Emphasis on responsibility

n      Therapist’s function is to keep therapy focused on the present

n      We often mistakenly choose misery in our best attempt to meet our needs.

n      Total behavior includes 4 inseparable but distinct components of acting, thinking, feeling, and the physiology that accompanies all our actions.

n      We act responsibly when we meet our needs without keeping others from meeting their needs.



n      Overall goal of therapy is to help people find better ways to meet their needs for survival, love, belonging, power, freedom, and fun.

n      Changes in behavior should result in the satisfaction of basic needs.

n      Other goals include personal growth, improvement, enhanced lifestyle, better decision-making. 

n      Therapists help clients gain the psychological strength to accept personal responsibility for their lives and assist them in learning ways to regain control of their lives, and to live more effectively.



All internally motivated behavior is geared toward meeting one of more of our basic human needs:

n      Belonging

n      Power

n      Freedom

n      Fun

n      Survival (physiological needs)

Our brain functions as a control system to get us what we want.


n      W  -  WANTS:  What do you want to be and do?  Your “Picture Album”

n      D  -  Doing and Direction:  What are you doing?  Where do you want to go?

n      E  -  Evaluation:  does your present behavior have a reasonable chance of getting you what you want?

n      P  -  Planning:  “SAMIC”



n      S  -  Simple:  Easy to understand; specific and concrete.

n      A  -  Attainable:  within the capacities and motivation of the client.

n      M  -  Measurable:  Are the changes observable and helpful?

n      I  -  Immediate and involved:  What can be done today?  What can you do?

n      C  -  Controlled:  can you do this by yourself, or will you be dependent on others?


n      Total behavior: Out best attempt to satisfy our needs.

n      DOING:  active behaviors.

n      THINKING:  thoughts, self-statements.

n      FEELINGS:  anger, joy, pain, anxiety.

n      PHSIOLOGY:  bodily reactions.