An Introduction To Gestalt Therapy
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An Introduction To Gestalt Therapy

Theory And Implications for Practice: A Psychotherapy Training & Therapist Training Providing Gestalt Therapy Techniques
4.1 (11 ratings)
Instead of using a simple lifetime average, Udemy calculates a course's star rating by considering a number of different factors such as the number of ratings, the age of ratings, and the likelihood of fraudulent ratings.
155 students enrolled
Last updated 11/2016
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What Will I Learn?
  • Apply Gestalt Therapy in Practice
  • Understand The Principles of Gestalt Therapy
  • Help Clients Identify and Resolve Unmet Needs
  • Deepen Your Understanding of Human Motivation
  • Bring More Excitement and Growth to the Therapeutic Process
  • Acquire The Ability to Help Others Find Genuine Healing
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  • No prerequisite knowledge is required to take this course.

This course provides an introduction to the theory, and applied practice, of Gestalt Therapy.

Gestalt therapy is an existential/experiential form of psychotherapy that emphasizes personal responsibility, and that focuses upon the individual's experience in the present moment, the therapist–client relationship, the environmental and social contexts of a person's life, and the self-regulating adjustments people make as a result of their overall situation. 

Gestalt therapy was developed by Fritz Perls, Laura Perls and Paul Goodman in the 1940s and 1950s.


Joel Latner stated that Gestalt therapy is built upon two central ideas: that the most helpful focus of psychotherapy is the experiential present moment, and that everyone is caught in webs of relationships; thus, it is only possible to know ourselves against the background of our relationships to others.

Gestalt therapy was forged from various influences upon the lives of its founders during the times in which they lived, including: new insights in physics, Eastern religion, existential phenomenology, Gestalt psychology, psychoanalysis, experimental theatre, as well as systems theory and field theory. 

Gestalt therapy rose from its beginnings in the middle of the 20th century to rapid and widespread popularity during the decade of the 1960s and early 1970s. During the '70s and '80s Gestalt therapy training centers spread globally; but they were, for the most part, not aligned with formal academic settings. As the cognitive revolution eclipsed Gestalt theory in psychology, many came to believe Gestalt was an anachronism. Because Gestalt therapists disdained the positivism underlying what they perceived to be the concern of research, they largely ignored the need to utilize research to further develop Gestalt theory and Gestalt therapy practice (with a few exceptions like Les Greenberg, see the interview: "Validating Gestalt"). However, the new century has seen a sea of change in attitudes toward research and Gestalt practice. 

Gestalt therapy is not identical with Gestalt psychology but Gestalt psychology influenced the development of Gestalt therapy to a large extent. 

Gestalt therapy focuses on process (what is actually happening) over content (what is being talked about). 

The emphasis is on what is being done, thought, and felt at the present moment (the phenomenality of both client and therapist), rather than on what was, might be, could be, or should have been. 

Gestalt therapy is a method of awareness practice (also called "mindfulness" in other clinical domains), by which perceiving, feeling, and acting are understood to be conducive to interpreting, explaining, and conceptualizing. 

This distinction between direct experience versus indirect or secondary interpretation is developed in the process of therapy. The client learns to become aware of what he or she is doing and that triggers the ability to risk a shift or change. 

The objective of Gestalt therapy is to enable the client to become more fully and creatively alive and to become free from the blocks and unfinished business that may diminish satisfaction, fulfillment, and growth, and to experiment with new ways of being.

For this reason Gestalt therapy falls within the category of humanistic psychotherapies. 

There are four chief theoretical constructs that comprise Gestalt theory, and that guide the practice and application of Gestalt therapy:

  1. phenomenological method
  2. dialogical relationship
  3. field-theoretical strategies
  4. experimental freedom

Although all these tenets were present in the early formulation and practice of Gestalt therapy, as described in Ego, Hunger and Aggression (Perls, 1947) and in Gestalt Therapy, Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality (Perls, Hefferline, & Goodman, 1951), the early development of Gestalt therapy theory emphasized personal experience and the experiential episodes understood as "safe emergencies" or experiments. 

Through the influence of such people as Erving and Miriam Polster, a second theoretical emphasis emerged: namely, contact between self and other, and ultimately the dialogical relationship between therapist and client. 

Later still, field theory emerged as an emphasis.

At various times over the decades, since Gestalt therapy first emerged, one or more of these tenets and the associated constructs that go with them have captured the imagination of those who have continued developing the contemporary theory of Gestalt therapy. 

Since 1990 the literature focused upon Gestalt therapy has flourished, including the development of several professional Gestalt journals. Along the way, Gestalt therapy theory has also been applied in Organizational Development and coaching work. And, more recently, Gestalt methods have been combined with meditation practices into a unified program of human development called Gestalt Practice, which is used by some practitioners. 

(1) Phenomenological method

The goal of a phenomenological exploration is awareness. 

The phenomenological method comprises three steps: (a) the rule of epoché, (b) the rule of description, and (c) the rule of horizontalization.

(a) Applying the rule of epoché one sets aside one's initial biases and prejudices in order to suspend expectations and assumptions. 

(b) Applying the rule of description, one occupies oneself with describing instead of explaining. 

(c) Applying the rule of horizontalization one treats each item of description as having equal value or significance. 

The rule of epoché sets aside any initial theories with regard to what is presented in the meeting between therapist and client. The rule of description implies immediate and specific observations, abstaining from interpretations or explanations, especially those formed from the application of a clinical theory superimposed over the circumstances of experience. The rule of horizontalization avoids any hierarchical assignment of importance such that the data of experience become prioritized and categorized as they are received. 

A Gestalt therapist utilizing the phenomenological method might say something like, “I notice a slight tension at the corners of your mouth when I say that, and I see you shifting on the couch and folding your arms across your chest … and now I see you rolling your eyes back”. 

Of course, the therapist may make a clinically relevant evaluation, but when applying the phenomenological method, temporarily suspends the need to express it. 

(2) Dialogical relationship 

To create the conditions under which a dialogic moment might occur, the therapist attends to his or her own presence, creates the space for the client to enter in and become present as well (called inclusion), and commits him or herself to the dialogic process, surrendering to what takes place, as opposed to attempting to control it. 

With presence, the therapist judiciously “shows up” as a whole and authentic person, instead of assuming a role, false self or persona. 

The word 'judicious' used above refers to the therapist's taking into account the specific strengths, weaknesses and values. The only 'good' client is a 'live' client, so driving a client away by injudicious exposure of intolerable [to this client] experience of the therapist is obviously counter-productive. 

For example, for an atheistic therapist to tell a devout client that religion is myth would not be useful, especially in the early stages of the relationship. To practice inclusion is to accept however the client chooses to be present, whether in a defensive and obnoxious stance or a superficially cooperative one. 

To practice inclusion is to support the presence of the client, including his or her resistance, not as a gimmick but in full realization that this is how the client is actually present and is the best this client can do at this time. 

Finally, the Gestalt therapist is committed to the process, trusts in that process, and does not attempt to save him or herself from it (Brownell, in press, 2009, 2008)). 

(3) Field-theoretical strategies

“The field” can be considered in two ways. There are phenomenological dimensions and there are ontological dimensions to one’s field. 

The phenomenological dimensions are all those physical and environmental contexts in which we live and move. They might be the office in which one works, the house in which one lives, the city and country of which one is a citizen, and so forth. The phenomenological field is the objective reality that supports our physical existence. 

The ontological dimensions are all mental and physical dynamics that contribute to a person’s sense of self, one’s subjective experience—not merely elements of the environmental context. These might be the memory of an uncle’s inappropriate affection, one’s color blindness, one’s sense of the social matrix in operation at the office in which one works, and so forth. 

The way that Gestalt therapists choose to work with field dynamics makes what they do strategic.

Gestalt therapy focuses upon character structure; according to Gestalt theory, the character structure is dynamic rather than fixed in nature. To become aware of one's character structure, the focus is upon the phenomenological dimensions in the context of the ontological dimensions. 

(4) Experimental freedom

Gestalt therapy is distinct because it moves toward action, away from mere talk therapy, and for this reason is considered an experiential approach. 

Through experiments, the therapist supports the client’s direct experience of something new, instead of merely talking about the possibility of something new. 

Indeed, the entire therapeutic relationship may be considered experimental, because at one level it is a corrective, relational experience for many clients, and it is a "safe emergency" that is free to turn out however it will. 

An experiment can also be conceived as a teaching method that creates an experience in which a client might learn something as part of their growth.

Examples might include: 

(a) Rather than talking about the client's critical parent, a Gestalt therapist might ask the client to imagine the parent is present, or that the therapist is the parent, and talk to that parent directly; 

(b) If a client is struggling with how to be assertive, a Gestalt therapist could either (a) have the client say some assertive things to the therapist or members of a therapy group, or (b) give a talk about how one should never be assertive; 

(c) A Gestalt therapist might notice something about the non-verbal behavior or tone of voice of the client; then the therapist might have the client exaggerate the non-verbal behavior and pay attention to that experience; 

(d) A Gestalt therapist might work with the breathing or posture of the client, and direct awareness to changes that might happen when the client talks about different content. 

With all these experiments the Gestalt therapist is working with process rather than content, the How rather than the What.

Who is the target audience?
  • This course is designed for therapists and counselors
  • This course is also designed for students training to be a therapist or counselor
Compare to Other Psychotherapy Courses
Curriculum For This Course
32 Lectures
Getting Started
5 Lectures 10:23

Welcome to the course. I am glad you are here. The individuals involved in this training are introduced: Kenny Hallstone is the instructor; Russell Jensen and Sydney Farr are serving as sample clients (they are not real clients but are also therapists).

Preview 00:50


In addition to viewing the lectures, please also read the descriptions for each lecture. 

The descriptions clarify concepts covered in the videos and provide additional valuable information.

The descriptions for each lecture are an essential part of this course - carefully crafted to help you learn Gestalt Therapy.

Course Curriculum

Kenny Hallstone has a Master's Degree in Psychology from San Francisco State University. He has been a therapist for over 40 years. He was also tenured faculty in Psychology at Fresno City College. Kenny has been trained in Gestalt Therapy by Joel Latner, Bob Martin, Bob Resnick, Gary Yontef, Erv Polster, and Miriam Polster. Kenny's approach to Gestalt Therapy is based upon the work of Fritz Perls. Kenny's expertise includes understanding Fritz Perls theory of Gestalt Therapy, and Fritz Perls application of Gestalt Therapy. Kenny has done Gestalt Training for therapist all around the world.

Instructor's Credentials - About Kenny Hallstone

Gestalt therapy is an existential/experiential form of psychotherapy that emphasizes personal responsibility, and that focuses upon the individual's experience in the present moment, the therapist–client relationship, the environmental and social contexts of a person's life, and the self-regulating adjustments people make as a result of their overall situation. Gestalt therapy was developed by Fritz Perls, Laura Perls and Paul Goodman in the 1940s and 1950s.

Definition of Gestalt

It is important to read through this brief overview of Gestalt Therapy as it will give the basis for understanding the applied practice of Gestalt Therapy. 

An Overview of Gestalt Therapy
Understanding Gestalt
5 Lectures 13:58

Fritz Perls was a German-Jewish psychoanalyst who fled Europe with his wife Laura Perls to South Africa in order to escape Nazi oppression in 1933. 

After World War II the couple emigrated to New York City, which had become a center of intellectual, artistic and political experimentation by the late 1940s and early 1950s. 

Early influences

Perls grew up on the bohemian scene in Berlin, participated in Expressionism and Dadaism, and experienced the turning of the artistic avant-garde toward the revolutionary left. Deployment to the front line, the trauma of war, anti-Semitism, intimidation, escape, and the Holocaust are further key sources of biographical influence.

Perls served in the German Army during World War I, and was wounded in the conflict. After the war he was educated as a medical doctor. He became an assistant to Kurt Goldstein, who worked with brain injured soldiers. Perls went through a psychoanalysis with Wilhelm Reich and became a psychiatrist. Perls assisted Goldstein at Frankfurt University where he met his wife Lore (Laura) Posner, who had earned a doctorate in Gestalt psychology.

They fled Nazi Germany in 1933 and settled in South Africa. Perls established a psychoanalytic training institute and joined the South African armed forces, serving as a military psychiatrist. During these years in South Africa Perls was influenced by Jan Smuts and his ideas about "holism". In 1936 Fritz Perls attended a psychoanalyst's conference in Marienbad, Czechoslovakia, where he presented a paper on oral resistances, mainly based on Laura Perls' notes on breastfeeding their children. Perls' paper was turned down. Perls did present his paper in 1936, but it met with "deep disapproval". 

Perls wrote his first book, Ego, Hunger and Aggression (1942, 1947), in South Africa, based in part on the rejected paper. It was later re-published in the United States. Laura Perls wrote two chapters of this book, but she was not given adequate recognition for her work. 

Perls' seminal work was Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality, published in 1951, co-authored by Fritz Perls, Paul Goodman, and Ralph Hefferline (a university psychology professor, and sometime patient of Fritz Perls). Most of the Part II of the book was written by Paul Goodman from Perls' notes, and it contains the core of Gestalt theory. This part was supposed to go first. However, the publishers decided that Part I, written by Hefferline, fit into the nascent self-help ethos of the day, and they made it an introduction to the theory. Isadore From, a leading early theorist of Gestalt therapy, taught Goodman's Part II for an entire year to his students, going through it phrase by phrase. 

First instances of Gestalt therapy 

Fritz and Laura founded the first Gestalt Institute in 1952, running it out of their Manhattan apartment. Isadore From became a patient, first of Fritz, and then Laura. Fritz soon made From a trainer, and also gave him some patients. From lived in New York until his death, at age 75, in 1993. He was known worldwide for his philosophical and intellectually rigorous take on Gestalt therapy. Acknowledged as a supremely gifted clinician, he was indisposed to writing, so what remains of his work is merely transcripts of interviews. 

Of great importance to understanding the development of gestalt therapy is the early training which took place in experiential groups in the Perls' apartment, led by both Fritz and Laura before Fritz left for the West Coast, and after by Laura alone. These 'trainings' were unstructured with little didactic input from the leaders, although many of the principles were discussed in the monthly meetings of the institute, as well as at local bars after the sessions. Many notable gestalt therapists emerged from these crucibles in addition to Isidore From, e.g., Richard Kitzler, Dan Bloom, Bud Feder, Carl Hodges, Ruth Ronall, etc. In these sessions both Fritz and Laura used some variation of the 'hot seat' method in which the leader essentially works with one individual in front of an audience, with little or no attention to group dynamics. 

In reaction to this omission emerged a more interactive approach in which gestalt therapy principles were blended with group dynamics. Notably in 1980 the book 'Beyond the Hot Seat', edited by Feder and Ronall, was published, with contributions from members of both the NY and Cleveland Institutes, as well as others. Fritz left Laura and New York in 1960, then briefly lived in Miami, and ended up in California. Jim Simkin was a psychotherapist who became a client of Perls in New York, and then a co-therapist with Perls in Los Angeles. Simkin was responsible for Perls coming to California, where Perls began a psychotherapy practice. Ultimately, the life of a peripatetic trainer and workshop leader was a better suited to Fritz's personality. So, starting in 1963, Simkin and Perls co-led some of the early Gestalt workshops and training groups at Esalen Institute, in Big Sur, California, where Perls eventually settled and built a home. Jim Simkin then purchased property next to Esalen. Simkin started his own training center, which he ran until his death in 1984. Simkin refined his precise version of Gestalt therapy, training psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors and social workers within a very rigorous residential training model.

Preview 08:56

The focus of Gestalt Therapy is the present. There is plenty of going on in the present moment for Gestalt therapy to work with.

The Present Moment

If we start right now, in the present moment, whatever is important to your psyche will make itself known.

Accessing The Unconscious

In Gestalt, we don't refer to the conscious & unconscious. Using the concepts of "conscious" and "unconscious" already implies a split. In Gestalt, we are looking at the whole. Therefore, in Gestalt, the words "figure" and "background" are used. In many ways, this can just be seen as a semantic difference. For the new student, you can think of "figure" as that which is "conscious", and "background" or "ground" as that which is "unconscious".

Figure & Background

There is much more to the human psyche than that which is intellectually known. Experience is essential to Gestalt Therapy. In Gestalt, we look to the present moment. What does the client observe in the present moment? What does the therapist observe about the client in the present moment? As a therapist, pay as much or more attention to what the client is doing, than what the client is saying. The client will have ideas about their problems, but those are just ideas. Focus on what the client is doing. Bring your awareness to what the client is doing. Then bring the client's awareness to what they are doing. Don't just focus on the intellectual concepts. Go beyond intellect. Focus on what is occurring.

Beyond Intellect
Experiencing Gestalt
2 Lectures 04:12

The minute we bring awareness to our experience in the present moment, we move beyond the intellect. Aspects of our experience, and our psyche, which were not intellectually known then emerge.

An Applied Exercise - Bringing Awareness to Experience in the Present Moment

Gestalt Therapy is present centered - the power is in the present. There is plenty going on right now. Kenny highlights Sydney's experience, showing what would stand out to a Gestalt Therapist and what a Gestalt Therapist would focus upon.

Analysis of Applied Exercise - The Present Moment is the Starting Point
Field Theory
2 Lectures 07:01

Field theory is a psychological theory which examines patterns of interaction between the individual and the total field, or environment. The concept first made its appearance in psychology with roots to the holistic perspective of Gestalt theories. It was developed by Kurt Lewin, a Gestalt psychologist, in the 1940s.

Field theory is not a widely known aspect of Gestalt theory, a doctrine that includes many important methods and discoveries. It is a crucial building block to the foundation of Gestalt psychologists' concepts and applications. There is some confusion as to the basics of field theory, causing misconceptions of how it should be used in Gestalt therapy.

Kenny explains field theory like this: all phenomenon are inextricably linked. THE INDIVIDUAL IS ALWAYS INFLUENCED BY THEIR ENVIRONMENT, AND THE ENVIRONMENT IS ALWAYS INFLUENCED BY THE INDIVIDUAL. Everything influences everything.

Nobody has an "objective" place in the field. Nobody is separate from the field, looking at it from a removed and objective point of view. Everybody, including even the therapist, is in the field.

An important implication of this is that you cannot separate the client from the therapist.

In Gestalt Therapy, the influence the client has on the therapist is important and relevant to the client's therapy. 

The experience in the present moment of the **therapist** is relevant to the therapy of the client.

The client influences the therapist, and the therapist influences the client.

In Gestalt Therapy, in contrast to most other therapy modalities, the therapist's experience in the present moment can be helpful to the client;s therapy.

Importantly, the field also includes the totality of all experience. For an individual, the totality of their experience is primarily relevant.

For example, Fritz once observed a client opening and closing a box of matches. 

"I notice you are opening and closing that box of matches," Fritz observed. "What does opening and closing that box of matches bring to mind for you?"

The client's eyes then welled up with tears.

"Closing the lid on my father's coffin," the client responded.

Everything is connected to everything.

The client is connected to the totality of their experience.

The therapist and the client are connected and influencing each other in the present moment.

The objects in the room are influencing the client, and the therapist, in the room.

The client and the therapist could influences the objects in the room (remove them, break them, clean them).

Everything influences everything.

Everything Influences Everything

The traditional therapeutic model was not one of equality. In the traditional model, the therapist was the "expert" or "doctor" who would tell the client what was wrong with them and how they needed to fix it. There are still many models of therapy today that subscribe to this approach. Very notably, the field of psychiatry subscribes to this approach: the psychiatrist hears a little bit about the client's problems, diagnosis the problem, then prescribes some pill. 

In Gestalt Therapy, the relationship between the therapist and the client is very different - it is one of equality.

Nobody is an expert of anybody's experience - including their own.

Instead, experience (in the present moment) is something to be explored. 

We often do not know, intellectually, why we do what we do in the present moment.

However, if we explore what we are doing in the present moment, if we inquire into our experience in the present moment, then we learn about ourselves.

The role of the Gestalt Therapist can be seen as that of a coach, or a teacher. The Gestalt Therapist should teach the client how to inquire into their experience, and to learn from their own experience, in order to understand themselves. 

There is equality between the Gestalt Therapist and the client. Neither of them know the other, nor even themselves, in totality. However, insight into self can be realized through the process of Gestalt Therapy, that is, through the process of paying attention to experience in the present moment and inquiring into it.

The Gestalt Therapist helps the client through dialogue, experientially teaching the client how to pay attention to experience and inquire into it. The Gestalt Therapist teaches the client through the process of paying attention to one's experience in the present moment and exploring one's experience.

Preview 02:07
Awareness = Choice = Change
6 Lectures 17:46

With awareness, we have choice. With choice, we have the possibility to change.

As we become more aware of ourselves, we see things about ourselves that we didn't see before.

For example, we might see that we have a pattern of not having any time for anyone - of always needing to be busy. 

When we see this behavior, the possibility of changing the behavior then opens for us. We have the potential for change.

We can question the behavior. We can observe the behavior. We can look at the impacts of the behavior.

Aware of the behavior, and its impacts, we can then choose a different behavior - we can change.

Continuing our example, we could choose to make time for others; to stop, take a breath, look the other person in the eye, and connect with them.

Another example: only as I become aware of my loneliness, and its impact, can I choose to reach out to someone for connection.

Another example: only as I become aware of how much I control the other and how dominate I tend to be, can I choose a different behavior. 

Learning to be aware, and practicing awareness of one's own experience in the present moment, is essential to Gestalt Therapy.

As in all fields, and academics, we can categorize things of which we can be aware. We can be aware of the 

(1) outside world - seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting

(2) the inside world - sensations, emotions, somatic experiences

(3) cognitive activities. - thinking, remembering, fantasizing

Awareness Facilitates Change

Gestalt focuses upon experience in the present moment.

If you want to know what a client is thinking, then ask them a "why" question.

If you want to know what a client is experiencing, then ask them a "what" or "how" question.

Questions To Ask Clients - What & How

Kenny demonstrates with Sydney and Russell how to practice awareness.

They use the sentence, "Now I am aware ..." and then complete the sentence.

They follow their awareness, taking turns. 

The purposes of this exercise is to demonstrate following what is in one's awareness - a stream of perception in the present moment.

Practicing Awareness - An Experiential Exercise

Sydney and Russell report that of which they are aware.

Kenny illustrates what type of category what they are aware of falls into:

(1) outside world - seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting

(2) the inside world - sensations, emotions, somatic experiences

(3) cognitive activities. - thinking, remembering, fantasizing

Illustrating Types of Awareness

In what has now become a "classic" of Gestalt therapy literature, Arnold R. Beisser described Gestalt's paradoxical theory of change. The paradox is that the more one attempts to be who one is not, the more one remains the same. Conversely, when people identify with their current experience, the conditions of wholeness and growth support change. Put another way, change comes about as a result of "full acceptance of what is, rather than a striving to be different".

Carl Ransom Rogers (January 8, 1902 – February 4, 1987), an American psychologist and one of the founders of the humanistic approach (or client-centered approach) to psychology, said it this way: "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change."

The Paradoxical Theory of Change

Everything influences everything.

Kenny illustrates "field theory" by having Sydney and Russell bring awareness to how something in the field influences them.

Sydney and Russell look around the room and then report on something which influences them.

Awareness & Field Theory - Their Interrelationship Illustrated
Contact & The Contact Boundary
3 Lectures 09:43

In Gestalt Therapy, "contact" is the meeting of differences.

Dick Price later added that "contact" should also be a recognition of similarities.

The essential definition of "contact" in Gestalt, however, is the meeting of differences.

In the coming videos, we will explore why "contact" is essential to understanding the theory, and application, of Gestalt Therapy.

For now, just know that "contact" in Gestalt Therapy, is the meeting of differences.

Defining Contact in Gestalt

"Contact" is a meeting of difference in Gestalt Therapy.

The "contact boundary" is where two different things meet.

We are all part of the "field" where everything influences everything.

Every "thing" in the field can make contact with every other "thing" in the field.

"Contact" is the meeting of these two different things.

The "contact boundary" is where these two different things meet.

The important practice in Gestalt Therapy is awareness in the present moment.

We we make "contact" with things in the field, we bring awareness to this experience.

Exploring Contact & The Contact Boundary - An Exercise

A lot of people talk about "setting boundaries" and having "boundaries."

When we talk about the "contact boundary" in Gestalt, we are not talking about "setting a boundary" as in setting a barrier that should not be crossed; setting a limit.

The "contact boundary" in Gestalt is where "contact" occurs: it is the point of "contact" between two things in the field; where self is separate from other; the point at which influence from one item in the field crosses over to the other item in the field.

You can think of this "contact boundary" as a semi-permeable membrane - not a barrier or a limit.

We talk about the "contact boundary" in Gestalt because this allows us to discuss where one thing meets the other - where self meets other - where self meets anitem on a bookshelf. There is "contact" and there is the "contact boundary" - self is on one side of the "contact boundary" and other is on the other side of the "contact boundary."

"Contact" is what occurs.

"Contact boundary" is where it occurs. 

Specifying the "contact boundary" allows us to talk about what crosses, and what does not cross, the "contact boundary" when we make "contact" with an item in the field.


Imagine there is a picture on a wall. When I look at that picture, which is a picture of a ship, it fills me with anxiety. I am making contact with the picture. This is "outside world" visual "contact." The "contact boundary" is where the "contact occurs." I can think about what is passing over this "contact boundary." The picture is now in my present awareness. There is a "contact boundary" between myself and the picture. The two items in the field are separate, yet they are interacting. I am being influenced by the picture. What

Clarifying Contact & The Contact Boundary
1 Lecture 14:09

In the field, everything influences everything. The field will never fail to surprise us, and this is no exception: the cameraman filming the training asks a question for clarification. A dialogue then ensues between Kenny and the cameraman. This dialogue nicely summarizes the principles of Gestalt Therapy. In addition, the dialogue serves as an example as to how everything and everyone is in the field, how we are all influenced by that which is in the field, and how we all influence what is in the field.

Review - The Essentials of Gestalt Therapy
The Gestalt Cycle - Contact, Confluence, & Withdrawal
3 Lectures 11:20

The Gestalt Cycle is a way of explaining drives and actions. 

The Gestalt Cycle is represented by this diagram:


We experience sensations, which capture our awareness. 

For instance, a lion might experience the pang of hunger. The sensation of hunger enters the lion's awareness.

When the pang of hunger becomes strong enough, the lion then mobilizes and takes action to fulfill its need.

The lion is in the field. The lion moves through the field. 

The lion influences the field, and is influenced by everything in the field. 

The lion makes contact with a gazelle, and kills the gazelle.

The lion eats.

The lion  satisfies its hunger and withdrawals from contact with the gazelle.

The lion goes back to a resting state, known as the fertile void, where no compelling sensation motivates the lion to mobilize into action. 

This is the fertile void because there is a void of any one sensation capturing the organisms awareness strongly enough to compel mobilization and action. The organism is "void" of any one compelling need. The moment is "fertile" because anything might arise and be born - the moment is pregnant with infinite possibility.

The Gestalt Cycle encompasses everything we have already learned:

  • figure & background
  • field theory - everything influences everything
  • awareness - the power of awareness to create change: awareness = potential for choice = change
  • contact & the contact boundary - items in the field make contact at the contact boundary

The Gestalt Cycle is explains the motivations and actions of an organism in the field. When an organism acts in the field, it makes contact with other items in the field. Everything in the field is interconnected and interrelated. Everything includes that which is figure ("conscious") and that which is background ("unconscious" - though we don't use the actual words "conscious" and "unconscious" in Gestalt as that implies a split, and there are not splits in Gestalt, because everything is everything, it is all part of the whole, it is all ultimately one thing).

In practice, when I think of the Gestalt Cycle, I drop the motivation preamble and just think about making contact to have a need fulfilled, fulfilling that need (confluence), then withdrawing:

  • contact
  • satisfaction / confluence
  • withdrawal

A organism has needs. The organism moves through the field motivated by the most pressing needs. The organism makes contact with other items in the field. There might be confluence between the organism and some other item in the field. Confluence is the process of a need being fulfilled. Once a need is fulfilled, the organism withdrawals from the item in the field with which it made contact.

Notice that this is a **theory** about how organisms operate.

Notice, also, that this is the **Gestalt Cycle**.

The Gestalt Cycle is a cycle of recognizing a need, fulfilling that need, and then withdrawal from that which fulfilled the need. This is Gestalt - the whole cycle. This is the completion of an energetic cycle within the organism.

Gestalt thinks about a client in this context.

What Gestalt cycles have not been completed for the client - what needs have not been met?

Maybe the client had a need for their father to be there more for them. While this need wasn't met when the client was young, The Gestalt therapist would direct the client's awareness to this need. Is there a way to get this need met now? How is the desire to meet this need driving the client's behavior? 

Perhaps the client is frequently sexually promiscuous.

Is this because he/she is seeking to have the need for the absent father met?

Gestalt would encourage awareness around this unmet need.

With awareness, the client would have the opportunity to make conscious choices.

A technique which might be utilized in that situation includes "empty chair" work. The client could talk as each part in the psyche. The client could talk to the abandoned child. The client could talk **as** the abandoned child to the adult self. The client would literally talk to the "empty chair" and then switch from chair to chair, embodying each part of the psyche. 

The goal in Gestalt Therapy is awareness of the present moment.

We cultivate an awareness of what is being experienced in the present moment. 

The goal of this awareness is to determine what needs want to be fulfilled. 

We can then make conscious choices to fulfill those needs to the healthiest extent possible.


Some of what Fritz believed and taught is not considered good practice. 

Taken to the extreme, the process of making contact to fulfill needs can become non-relational and cold: if we need each other, then we will come together; and if we do not need each other, then we will go our separate ways.

Fritz wrote about this in his book, Gestalt Therapy Verbatim:

I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
If not, it can't be helped.

The key idea of the statement is the focus on living in response to one's own needs without projecting onto or taking introjects from others. It also expresses the idea that it is by fulfilling their own needs that people can help others do the same and create space for genuine contact; that is, when they "find each other, it's beautiful."

The above excerpt from Fritz's book has become known as the "gestalt prayer". This prayer raises questions around autonomy versus interdependence.

The prayer does not characterize Gestalt therapy today, but rather is a reflection of Fritz's personal shortcomings.

The Gestalt Cycle - Introduction

Contact & Withdrawal are equally valued.

We make contact to fulfill needs. We then withdraw once those needs are fulfilled.

Kenny emphasizes the equal importance of contact and withdrawal. 

Kenny guides Sydney and Russell in noticing what it is like for them both when they make contact, and when they withdraw from making contact.

Contact, Confluence, Withdrawal - An Exercise

Kenny directs Sydney and Russell to simulate confluence - the satisfying of needs.

Sydney and Russell then report what the experience was like for them, illustrating the use of their awareness in the present moment and reporting that which arises from the ground and becomes figure (the most present in their awareness). 

Russell reports intrigue with pulses.

A Gestalt therapist might ask Russell, "What arises for you, when you think of the pulsing of a heart?"

A Gestalt therapist might ask Sydney, "What was your response to the contact boundary? How did it influence you?"

Kenny reflects upon how an individual with an engulfment fear will often find an individual with an abandonment fear. 

The person with the abandonment fear desires more connection.

A person with an engulfment fear desires less connection.

This is an illustration of people recreating that which they know.

The person with the abandonment fear was abandoned - which is what they find in their partner, a person who has an engulfment fear and does not want too much connection.

The person with the engulfment fear has found a person who wants more, and more, and more connection - which is what the person with the abandonment fear wants.

They find each other because this is what they have learned - this has been the conditioning of their psyche: the person with the abandonment fear was and now is again abandoned; the person with the engulfment fear was and is now again engulfed. They have recreated their present moment based upon their past moments (their conditioning, their background).

A Gestalt therapist would look for the underlying need that has not been met, bring that into awareness with the client, and then with awareness, more skillful choices can be made.

The client might speak to the abandoned/engulfed child from their past.

The client might speak **as** the abandoned/engulfed child from their past.

The abandoned client might choose to find a partner who is there for him/her (which will go against the client's conditioning and not feel "right" - the client will not innately be attracted to a partner who is there for them).

The engulfed client might choose to find a partner who is not as needy (which will go against the client's conditioning and not feel "right" - the client will not innately be attracted to a partner who is not needy and clingy).

The human mind seems to have a pattern for recreating the familiar, even if it's not pleasant.

We recreate and re-experience unmet needs until we become aware of what we are doing and learn to choose differently.

Confluence - Satisfying Needs
Questions & Answers
4 Lectures 13:55

In Gestalt, contact is made to meet needs

Making contact does not always lead to needs being met.

This is why clients come to therapists - they are making contact, and making contact, and making contact trying to get their needs met, and their needs aren't being met.

The Gestalt Therapist's role is to help discover the client's unmet needs, bring awareness to those unmet needs, and then help them learn to make more skillful choices.

A technique which can be used is to use the "open chair" to meet needs in the present moment - have the client speak **as** and **to** the disparate parts of themselves.

We make contact to meet needs

The goal of Gestalt Therapy is awareness.

Kenny illustrates with an example - reflecting upon his own behavior at parties.

The Goal of Gestalt Therapy is Awareness

All humans have unmet needs.

Kenny demonstrates "open chair" work.

Kenny uses the "open chair" to talk to disparate parts of his psyche: the part that gets nervous when presenting in front of others, and another part of himself which is aware of this.

Applying Gestalt Therapy with Clients - "Open Chair" Work

Yes, Gestalt Therapy works.

Does Gestalt Therapy Lead To Change?
1 Lecture 00:37

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Contacting Kenny
About the Instructor
Todd McLeod
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133,673 Students
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Faculty in Computer Science and Computer Information Tech

I am passionate about helping others learn and improve their lives. The courses offered under my account are courses taught by myself, along with courses I helped friends create. As for my credentials, I am tenured faculty in Computer Information Technology at Fresno City College. I have also served as adjunct faculty in Computer Science at California State University, Fresno. I began programming in 1996. I began teaching programming in 2001. My area of expertise is web programming, the Go programming language, and online education. I have taught over 560,000 students online how to build websites and use the Go programming language. Follow me on Twitter to stay current @Todd_McLeod 

Kenny Hallstone
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Gestalt Therapist & Tenured Psychology Professor Emeritus

Kenny Hallstone has a Master's Degree in Psychology from San Francisco State University. He has been a therapist for over 40 years. He was also tenured faculty in Psychology at Fresno City College. Kenny has been trained in Gestalt Therapy by Joel Latner, Bob Martin, Bob Resnick, Gary Yontef, Erv Polster, and Miriam Polster. Kenny's approach to Gestalt Therapy is based upon the work of Fritz Perls. Kenny's expertise includes understanding Fritz Perls theory of Gestalt Therapy, and Fritz Perls application of Gestalt Therapy. Kenny has done Gestalt Training for therapist all around the world.