The founder of gestalt therapy, Laura Perls defined the notion “gestalt” as a system of
integrity. This concept can be used both in psychology and in philosophy. It may be applied
for treatment of classical psychopathological disorders, for correction of behavioral disorders
and people’s relationships. Members of the same family have the most acute perception of
such problems, as misunderstanding and disunity. Family Gestalt therapy allows to return
harmony and to revitalize fading feelings of the spouses.
Essence of the method
Gestalt family is a single and whole organism. Moreover, it is a dynamic system, and each
member of this system solves his own problems. Interaction of different interests often
results into the conflict. However, a family problem is not caused by the conflict; it is caused
by a wrong way to solve this conflict. If the couple’s actions are balanced and these actions
complement each other, the system exists in harmony and does not disintegrate. If the
spouses “get stuck” on any obstacle and begin to look for the guilty person, the process of
problem solution begins to slow down the development of relations. Gradually, each spouse
begins to follow his own path, moving away from the partner. Correct form of solving family
problems is similar to the harmony of an artwork, which is perceived as a whole. We do not
criticize the artist’s painting or a novel writer. We either enjoy them or not. The same
situation is in the family. It is no sense to look for the guilty person; you just need to move
forward by going through certain stages of development:
● Pessimism is replaced by hope.
● Helplessness and apparent “dead end” turn into a skill acquisition process.
● Chaos in thoughts and actions goes away; it is replaced by clarity and peace of mind.
● The vicious circle is broken, and a joint movement towards the future begins.
● Reciprocal accusations and projections are replaced by respect for each other.
These processes describe the basis of happy family relationships. For many people, it will
seem an unattainable ideal. Gestalt therapy will help to achieve it. According to the main
postulate, if the person is not disturbed, he will surely be happy, like a tree planted in fertile
soil. But why it is difficult to live in harmony?
First, let us study an example. When we aregoing to have lunch, we are hungry. Therefore, we perform a whole range of actions to achieve the goal (we prepare food or go to a restaurant; we shift our meetings or invite a partner for lunch with us).Then, culmination of the lunch comes; it is meeting with food. Our hunger is satisfied. This is so-called completed cycle, giving a sense of harmony and integrity. This model can refer to any human interaction, including family relations.
Any incomplete cycle, when the need has not been completely satisfied, leads to conflict
and contact rupture. Family Gestalt therapy must teach the partners to complete cycles in
Principles of family gestalt therapy
In order to consistently transform the “conflict form” of a family into a harmonious one,
several principles must be followed. These principles are practiced with a psychotherapist
during group and individual sessions. Let us study them in detail.
The principle of “open eyes”
In order to be able to change the situation consciously, it is necessary to have a thorough
understanding of this situation. During the first sessions, the doctor explains in detail to the
couple the essence of their problems. Moreover, he explains the mechanisms that prevent
the couple from finding a right solution. At the same time, patients are not outside listeners of
theoretical material. Through the dialogue, they are included in the process of interaction.
The psychotherapist sends this process in the right direction.
Forming aesthetics of relationships
During the work, the couple acquaints with the criteria of beautiful relations. What does it
mean? Every person has his own life experience. Family problems are often caused by this
experience. The past takes people away from harmony, and it is necessary to find this
harmony anew. Aesthetics of relationships is not born as a result, but it is born during the
process. The couple learns to face with typical situations without disturbing this harmony.
Thus, a new experience is gradually being formed. This experience is not destructive. On the
contrary, it strengthens the relations.
Forcing the system of values
There are many concepts in society that characterize values, but not all of them can be
applied to family relationships. Psychotherapist should acquaint his clients with “necessary”
notions, which will cement the family and contribute to joint elimination of conflict situations.
The following notions should be mentioned:
● Effectiveness of thoughts, emotions and actions.
● Even distribution of energy between partners.
● Self-regulation and self-assessment.
● Maintenance of a trusting climate.
● Constant contact and flexible boundaries between individuals.
● Stability of relations.
● Joint adaptation to changing conditions of the outside world.
● Equality of partners.
● Intimacy and respect for each other.
This list can be continued. Above all, the specialist must understand that every phrase in this
list is connected with a certain skill, and it is necessary to practice these skills with the
Emphasis on the present
This principle is inherent in all aspects of Gestalt therapy. It is much more difficult to live
“here and now” than it seems. Usually, our psyche is governed by our own projections, which are transferred to family relationships. These projections interrupt contact with reality
and cause misunderstanding between spouses. It does not mean that all past experience
must be forgotten and discarded. In new relationships, the past is a helpful theoretical
model. However, it does not fully determine people’s actions. The combination of active
interaction with common experience of the spouses creates harmony and a good “family
Active participation of psychotherapist in the system
Dealing with family problems and interfering the couple’s contacts, the doctor experiences
his feelings and emotions. This is a key to the improvement of interpersonal processes in the
family. Psychotherapist analyzes his own reactions to specific problems and first develops
the right solution within himself. His ability to analyze helps to formulate a detailed essence
of the problem and to find acceptable solutions without violating harmony and integrity.
The paradox principle
It is used by many psychotherapeutic methods. In gestalt therapy, it sounds like a
paradoxical theory of change. In a light version, patients are offered to tell the truth about
themselves. In the process, a person can look objectively at his own “Self”. As a result, the
patient recognizes numerous negative factors of his own personality. In a more rigid version,
the family creates an artificial model of a typical situation that is brought to an extreme point,
to the point of absurdity. For example, constant indulgence in the pranks of a younger child
can be “cured” in a day, when this child becomes the real head of the family and decides
what other family members should do.