The German word "Gestalt" generally translates to the way parts can form together as a whole. In psychology, Gestalt involves a quest to understand how the brain perceives different experiences.
The Gestalt approach has played a role in several areas that seek to better understand the brain and social behavior, including human sensation, making it a valuable contribution to the theoretical perspectives in psychology. Among other uses, counselors can employ Gestalt techniques to help people focus on the present instead of feeling consumed by the past.
What Is The Definition Of Gestalt Psychology?
Gestalt psychology suggests a school of thought that perceives a whole psychological system as more significant than its single parts and that you cannot simply focus on a part in its simplest form. Providing a framework for the study of perception, Gestalt theory posits that the attributes of the whole can't be deduced by analyzing any of the parts on their own.
Gestalt researchers proposed the laws of perceptual organization to better illustrate how human perception works and how humans tend to perceive objects, including the laws of similarity, proximity, continuity, inclusiveness, closure, and connectedness. These laws are the principles of Gestalt psychology and may explain how our brains group things to help us interpret the world
- The law of similarity refers to grouping similar parts together to make a pattern of parts that belong together.
- Proximity means grouping parts together according to how close they are in space.
- Continuity means grouping parts together based on patterns to create a whole figure.
- Inclusiveness suggests that we see all elements of an image before seeing various parts.
- Closure refers to seeing part of an image and being able to mentally fill in the gaps of what we assume should be there.
- Connectedness means that when we see objects moving in the same direction and at the same rate, and that we tend to perceive them as a single object.
Each Gestalt psychology principle can be used to learn more about how the human mind may perceive things, such as events or experiences in our lives. The Gestalt school of thought involves looking at experiences or feelings as part of a whole, rather than individually.
How Did Gestalt Psychology Develop?
Gestalt theory originated in Austria and Germany as a reaction to associationism and structuralist schools of thought.
Associationism theory suggests that pairs of thoughts may connect based on experience. Structuralism, one of psychology's first schools of thought, is founded upon breaking down mental processes into basic components.
Gestalt psychology principle states experiences and thoughts are connected, and we need to look at the big picture. Gestalt concepts focus on the opposite of structuralism. It may involve looking at wholes as transcending their parts. The "wholes" in Gestalt psychology included the study of consciousness, the objects of direct experience, and the science of phenomena.
Early researchers were unsettled by what seemed to be a sterile approach to the scientific study of mental health processes. Gestalt psychology was developed partly to add a humanistic element to the study of perception. Researchers in Gestalt psychology brought the qualities of form, meaning, and value into their work, whereas previous researchers had ignored them.
Who Is The Founder Of Gestalt Psychology?
Max Wertheimer founded the Gestalt psychology movement and became the first Gestalt psychologist. Additional credit may go to psychologists like Wolfgang Köhler, Kurt Koffka, Kurt Goldstein, and Fritz Perls, all of whom founded Gestalt psychology in practice. Later researchers in Gestalt psychology were Kurt Lewin, Rudolf Arnheim, and Hans Wallach.
Max Wertheimer wrote "Experimentelle Studien über das Sehen von Bewegung" (Experimental Studies of the Perception of Movement) in 1912, which became an eminent "textbook" of Gestalt psychology. Wertheimer worked in conjunction with psychologists Köhler and Koffka to develop the theory. Wertheimer also proved how Gestalt principles could be used to explain problems in ethics, the nature of truth, and political behavior.
The trio then applied Gestalt psychology theory to issues of perception, including problem-solving, learning, and thinking. Wertheimer, Köhler, and Koffka had all relocated to the United States by the mid-1930s and became professors.
Later, and primarily by Kurt Lewin, Gestalt principles were also applied to motivation, social psychology, personality, aesthetics, and economic behavior.
Who Is The Founder Of Gestalt Therapy?
In 1926, Fritz Perls, a German psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, went to Frankfurt to become the assistant to Kurt Goldstein at the Institute for Brain-Damaged Soldiers. Goldstein was also a researcher in Gestalt theory. Perls had become disenchanted with specific Freudian theories and methods and sought to develop a new system of psychotherapy.
In Frankfurt, Perls came under the tutelage of many psychologists, and psychoanalysts, all of whom had direct or indirect roles in Gestalt psychology principles and therapy. At the Institute for Brain-Damaged Soldiers, Perls met his wife, Laura, who was also a student of Gestalt therapy.
The goal of Gestalt therapy is often to help clients become aware of their primary sensations and environment so they can respond more effectively in the present moment. Therapists guide clients to focus on the "here and now" instead of past experiences. Once clients can fully experience the present, they may more easily confront past conflicts or, as Perls called them, "incomplete Gestalts."
What Are Examples Of Gestalt Psychology?
You may be able to find examples of Gestalt psychology in your daily life.
Have you ever had a flipbook of animated drawings where you run the pages of a small book through your fingers? Each page is a separate drawing a small component of the whole object, but when you flip them in rapid succession, you have the illusion that the subject is moving even though the pictures are stationary objects. This illusion of perceived motion is an example of continuity, where the whole is made up of the contents, Gestalt psychology attempts to do this with human experiences and consciousness.
If you've ever looked closely at an oil or acrylic painting of a landscape, you may notice that the painting is made up of varying brush strokes or effects from a palette knife that don't make sense when viewed up close. However, if you back away from the painting, you may perceive the brushstrokes as grass, trees, and solid ground. This is an example of similarity. We perceive the brushstrokes similarly to how we might see plants in nature.
When you enter a restaurant, and a group of people is standing by the bar in proximity, you may assume that they are a group of friends because they are close together. This is an example of proximity, where minds tend to group things by how close they are to one another.
What About Gestalt Psychology Today?
Today there are just over 60 Gestalt therapy institutions of learning around the world, and the number is growing. These institutions study natural sciences associated with Gestalt theory and nearly all major cities within the United States have at least one Gestalt institute.
To date, there is no national organization devoted to Gestalt psychology. As such, there are no standards for the institutes to follow nor standards for trainers or trainees. Each institution develops its curriculum on Gestalt psychology and has its own criteria for selecting students.
As a relatively modern development, for potential clients seeking to benefit from Gestalt therapy, each person may come to their own conclusions about Gestalt therapists' training and whether this type of therapy is the best treatment for them.
What Can I Expect From Gestalt Therapy?
Gestalt therapy techniques emphasize personal responsibility for attaining one's psychological and physical needs. A Gestalt therapist may consider issues like freedom and responsibility, the immediacy of experience, and your role in creating meaning in your life.
Therapy using Gestalt psychology is often a holistic approach that may aim to resolve conflicts and ambiguities stemming from the inability to integrate various personality features.
Participants may be urged to discuss memories and concerns using the present tense in therapy. The therapist might dramatize conflicts to help participants make sense of their problems. For example, a therapist could ask clients to act out situations to bring out thoughts and perceptions they may have repressed.
Is Gestalt Therapy Effective?
Studies show that therapy using Gestalt psychology can be effective. A recent study showed patients significantly improved in personality dysfunction, self-concept, and interpersonal relationships. For many individuals looking to try this counseling method, online Gestalt therapy is a beneficial option.
Online therapy has been found equally effective as its in-person counterpart regarding phobias and other conditions where counselors might use Gestalt techniques as primary treatment approaches. In addition, online therapy offers lower pricing than in-person therapy because online therapists don't have extra costs for office rent or parking.
If you're curious about trying an online modality of Gestalt psychology, consider signing up through a platform such as BetterHelp. BetterHelp offers a vast database of counselors specializing in various treatment modalities.
Below are some commonly asked questions related to Gestalt therapy.
What Do Gestalt Psychologists Mean By "Figure-Ground"?
Wertheimer and other Gestalt psychologists identified another feature of visual perception called figure-ground. Figure-ground refers to the ability to recognize the difference between the primary design and the background of an image.
You will often see pictures you can perceive in one of two ways. One figure-ground example is an image that looks like a candlestick one way and two faces the other way. The picture doesn't change, but how you focus on it is different. The figure-ground roles change depending on how you perceive the picture.
Max Wertheimer founded the Gestalt movement and became the first Gestalt psychologist. Before Wertheimer began his work, other psychologists proposed various explanations for how we perceive objects and theories about how we think, learn, and behave.
The subjects in Wertheimer's first studies of visual perception were Wolfgang Kohler and Kurt Koffka, who later became his partners as Gestalt psychologists. These three psychologists represent the origin of Gestalt psychology.
Gestalt theory was also a response to the earlier theories of Wilhelm Wundt and others who believed in structuralism, which aimed to break mental processes down to their core elements. Wilhelm Wundt's view of psychology was based on three theories: atomism, associationism, and sensationalism. Atomism (which is like structuralism) is the view that Gestalt theorists struggled most to accept. This theory states that all knowledge is built from simple elements.
Which Psychologists Were Influenced By Max Wertheimer And His Work?
Some prominent Gestalt psychologists, as well as psychologists in other schools of thought, have been influenced by the work of Max Wertheimer and Gestalt psychology. Among them are Abraham Maslow, Solomon Asch, and George Katona.
Gestalt psychologists have changed their approach as modern psychology has progressed. Some of the fields in which Gestalt principles may now be used include:
- Gestalt therapy
- Social psychology
- Quantum cognitive modeling
- Cognitive psychology
- Perceptual psychology
- Visual arts and design
What Is A Gestalt Psychologist?
A Gestalt psychologist can be either a researcher or a therapist. Gestalt researchers study Gestalt phenomena that relate to principles such as the law of proximity or figure-ground. Gestalt researchers may also study the outcomes of Gestalt therapy.
Gestalt therapists use a holistic approach to help their clients live happier, fuller lives. They use the concepts of Gestalt, along with humanistic psychology, existentialism, and psychoanalysis, to help clients make sense of their world.
What Is Gestalt Explained Simply?
A Gestalt is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Gestalt psychologists and therapists often refer to "Gestalts" in their studies and in counseling clients.
What Is The Main Goal Of Gestalt Therapy?
Gestalt therapists view therapy as a means to help clients understand themselves better. They want clients to understand how their choices impact their own lives and the lives of those around them. Self-awareness is often the primary goal.
Other goals of Gestalt therapy include:
- Feeling "alive" and "present"
- Getting past mental or emotional blocks
- Dealing with unfinished business
- Understanding things as they are rather than as they could or should be
- Learning mindfulness techniques to relax the nervous system
- Recognizing the intrinsic nature of situations and how your perceptions reflect or distort that
- Learning to take individual responsibility for your actions
- Taking care of your mental and physical needs
- Improving communication skills
- Being able to tolerate negative emotions
Gestalt psychology is often about understanding the Gestalt laws and how they relate to visual perception and thought processes. Gestalt psychologists who are engaged in research study various aspects of Gestalt theory, including the law of proximity and figure-ground concept in structured experiments. Their goal may be to explore subjects such as memory, learning, and behavior.
Psychologists who specialize in Gestalt therapy often have different goals. They may focus on helping clients understand their thought processes, make better decisions, and change their behavior. As clients see how the whole is greater than combining the parts, their thinking processes might become more precise. With a new perspective, they may progress toward achieving life goals.
What Is Gestalt Therapy Used For?
Gestalt therapists use Gestalt theory to help clients with physical and mental health problems, including:
- Relationship problems
- Ulcerative colitis
- Back pain
- Unresolved anger
- Other negative feelings
How Does Gestalt Therapy Work?
Early in the development of Gestalt theory, Fritz Perls explained that each human should be viewed as a whole person with a body, mind, and soul, and the best perspective from which to view that whole was the person themselves. This outlook offers some clues about how Gestalt therapy works.
The Gestalt therapist may help clients learn to express thoughts and emotions from a present-moment perspective to increase self-awareness. They ask participants to set aside any assumptions about their experiences and describe them. They also suggest that the participant treat each part of the events or objects described as equally significant.
How does Gestalt psychology explain human behavior?
Why Gestalt theory is important?
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