Humanistic therapy is a positive approach to psychotherapy. It focuses on the person’s individual nature as opposed to categorizing groups of people with similar characteristics as having the same problem (Feltham, 2003). In this essay, the writer will be focusing on Gestalt and Person-Centered therapy as two humanistic approaches to therapy. Firstly, a brief overview of these two approaches discussed. Secondly, the strengths, limitations, similarities, and differences between each therapy will be discussed. Thirdly, a context in which the therapy can be used will be discussed. Lastly, a conclusion will be stated in which an opinion will be given.
Person Centered Therapy is a school of thought founded by Carl Rogers during the 1900’s. This therapy is not theory-centered, symptom-centered, or problem-centered; but puts emphasis on the client as the center of the work. Rogerian therapy is founded on the belief that every human being has the capacity and desire for personal growth and change (Self-actualization). Therefore, everyone strives for and has the capacity to fulfil his or her own potential (Rogers, 1962). This approach to therapy diverged from the standard model of “the therapists as an expert” towards a more non-directive approach of empathy that empowers and motivates the client during the therapeutic process (Worall, 2014). Therefore, in order to facilitate change, the therapists avoids directing the course of therapy by providing the client with positive unconditional regard and empathy. This passive level of support, guidance, and structure allows the client to assume a leading role during the therapeutic process and to discover personalized solutions within themselves (Cain, 2014). Rogers suggested that if a person met six key factors, the person will move towards a constructive fulfilment of potential. These factors include the therapists-client psychological relationship; the client’s recognition of their incongruence and vulnerability; the therapist’s self-awareness and genuineness towards the client; the client’s unconditional positive regard towards the client; the therapist’s empathetic understanding; and the client’s perception of the therapist’s empathetic understanding and unconditional positive regard towards them (Corey, 2017).
Gestalt Therapy was a school of thought founded by Friedrich “Fritz” Pearls during the 1900’s and is based on the idea of being a “unified and organized Whole”, also known as being “Gestalt” (Truscott, 2014). Fritz developed this model of therapy that emphasizes personal responsibility and experiencing the present moment, as opposed to focusing on what may be happening now and how it’s influenced by past experiences (Mann, 2014). Another focus of Gestalt therapy is guiding the client through the paradoxical theory of change. This theory states that in order for a person to incite change within themselves, the person first has to become aware of and accept who they are (Beisser, 1970). Therefore, the whole process of Gestalt therapy is about identifying affective and emotional inconsistencies in the client that contribute to phonies and imbalance. The more incongruent behaviors that the client exhibits, the more likely the client is “stuck” (impasse) and living in the background. The Gestalt therapists will guide the client to willingly confront these phony behaviors and once this happens, they will enter the “figure” state which is more conscious and clearly identifiable. As the therapist digs deeper and encourages the client to stay in the “here and now” with these uncomfortable feelings, the true Corrective Emotional Experience occurs. The client thus reaches the “Gestalt/Whole” and then “Poof”, the process of change is incited and the clients functioning improves (Corey, 2017).
Context in Which Either or Both Therapies Can Be Applied
Every type of approach to therapy has a context in which it thrives. In order to understand how any therapeutic approach will fair in any given context, it is vital to first understand the strengths and limitations of that specific therapeutic approach (Feltham, 2003).
Strengths, Limitations, Similarities, and Differences
Gestalt and Person-Centered therapy are two different approaches to therapy but they are similar in a number of ways (Corey, 2017).
Firstly, the similarities between these two approaches is that they are both humanistic in nature. Humanistic therapies view the client as a whole and not at conflict with themselves in terms of mind, body, or both. Additionally, the approaches used in this therapeutic process are generally centered on the concepts of self-actualization, innate potential for change, creativity, and authenticity (Beisser, 1970). This is because these theories hold the notion that human beings are good, self-determining, and curious beings that are only being held back by traumatic and negatively perceived past situations which hinder personal growth (Feltham, 2003). The goal of therapy is to guide the client into a state whereby the client can incite a change within themselves by either soothing or eradicating the negative forces debilitating their personal growth. Therefore, these approaches naturally follow therapeutic processes that incite the client to remain in the “here and now”, such as mindfulness, talking, and intensive encounter. However, more focus is being placed on identifying potentially negative non-verbal behaviors that the client might not be aware of (Feltham, 2003; Rogers, 1962). H
Secondly, there are a number of differences between each theory. Each difference highlights the strengths and limitations of that theory (Feltham, 2003). Gestalt therapy is a process that is guided by the therapist to help the client resolve unfinished business. Additionally, it is very experimental because the focus is on direct experiencing rather than talking about feelings, for example the empty chair as a means for therapeutic role play. However if the client is unimaginative, the resulting feelings of the intense need to be emotionally expressive might not be explored and dealt with. Thus, the client might not be able to effectively participate in the process of becoming “Gestalt” (Kennedy & Tang, 2009). On the contrary, Person-Centered therapy lets the client assume the leading role. This allows the client to explore their issues and develop personalized solutions under the supervision of the therapist (Rogers, 1962; Worall, 2014). However, due to the therapists’ passive role in terms of direction and structure, there is always the possible danger that therapy might not aid the client. This is mostly true for clients who seek more directed help and immediate solutions from the “expert therapist” (Corey, 2017).
Taking these various factors into consideration, it then becomes easier to apply and understand the context in which either therapy can be applied. It is in the writers’ opinion that Gestalt therapy would thrive within an individual counselling context because of its focus on the therapist guiding the client into the “here and now” (Kennedy & Tang, 2009). Whereas, Person-Centered therapy would thrive within a group counselling context because of its focus on self-directed and self-solution based therapy. Additional to the therapists’ role as a passive facilitator and the support of other group members, the collective input of the participants allows each individual to be their own source of transformation. Thus boosting the possible success of therapy (Corey, 2017).
It is the writers’ opinion that although each therapy tries to maintain its unique characteristics, there are similarities. Additionally, it would be presumptuous to say that one approach is better than the other, because where one therapy is beneficial the other is limited (Feltham, 2003). Both of the approaches put the client as the locus of change and growth. The major difference between the two approaches is who leads the therapeutic process. This then becomes the deciding factor between successful and unsuccessful therapy. Because of this, it is important to understand the clients’ background, reason for therapy, and their overall goal of therapy (Corey, 2017).