Gestalt Psychotherapy


Psychology is a science which studies and explains human behaviour. There are mainly four approachs or four schools of thought to accomplish this study.

The psychoanalytic approach (Freud, M.Klein, H.Sullivan, Lacan etc) understands human behaviour as a result of processes of unconscious motivation. The behaviour is basically view as projective expression of Ego, Id and Super-ego.

To behaviourists (Watson, C.Hull, Skinner) the behaviour results from conditioning of the innate reflexes.

To functionalists (Piaget, W. James, Dilthey) behaviour is synonym of adaptation, it is the expression of the interaction between the organism and its environment.

The gestalt psychology (the classical gestalt psychologists Koffka, Koehler, Wertheimer) understands behaviour as perceptive process.

The psychoanalytic school, since its beginning (Freud), was concerned with the therapeutic aspect of psychoanalysis, with the treatment of neurosis and phobias. Behaviourists and functionalists, built a theory to explain human behaviour, as well as techniques to modify it, treat it through social and educational interventions.

The gestalt psychologists (in Germany, 1912) explained human behaviour as being a result of perceptive processes. Their preoccupation was to perceive the human dimension and they would not propose a therapy for what was not yet globally perceived. Their main task consisted of eradicate the elementarism and organicism which was dominant in the psychological conceptualization of human behaviour. It was not created a gestalt psychotherapy at that time.

In the sixties, Fritz Perls appears as the creator of Gestalt Therapy. He used to say that the 'whole is not the sum of the parts' (a gestalt psychology's concept), but, holding the idea, holding the belief in the existence of the unconscious, he could not admit knowledge as a relational data, as a perceptive data. He would rather continue thinking knowledge as a result of inner, subjective processes. He did not understand behaviour as perceptive process, but as an expression of unconscious motivations. This conceptual dualism prevented him to perceive the being-in-the-world (Gestalt). Still thinking as Freud - the being versus the world - he exiled himself from any gestaltic context where unity is a fundamental concept. Fighting for "lose your mind, gain your senses", he wrote his dualistic manifesto.

I completed the graduate training in Psychology in 1968, at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), and started my work on psychotherapy creating the Psicoterapia Gestaltista (Gestalt Psychotherapy).

In 1972, by the occasion of the launch of my first book "Psicoterapia Gestaltista - Conceituações" ("Gestalt Psychotherapy - Conceptualizations") I wrote:

"This book results from an unitarian view of the human phenomenon. In this sense it is enclosed and based in the gestalt psychology as a theory regarding human behaviour, in the phenomenology and in the dialectical materialism as methodological approach (dialiectical materialism shall not be mistaken as marxism as ideology). This unitarian view surpass its fundamental constituents - gestalt psychology, phenomenology and dialectical materialism - while synchronizing them in their mediators.

We reached this synchronization starting from a phenomenological attitude: to know the phenomenon, in this case the man, without a priori, through his evidence, through the apprehension of his essence. This starting point revealled a whole: the-being-in-the-world. This perception led to the questioning of how we perceive, what is perceived or not perceived, in short, the laws of perception, their meaning and organization inherent to the process of being-in-the-world, in the context of time and space. We are fundamented in the theory of gestalt regarding human behaviour and in the dialectical materialism, since by the appearance of the man - the whole, the Figure - it is insinuated his context - the Ground, the world. Through Closure - one of the principles which characterizes the perceptive organization - we perceive the time dimension, the space, the reality, the matter, the movement, the continuity which characterizes the existencial cosmic processes. The synchronization happened, since we did not unilateralize the perception of the processual phenomenon to its mediators, configurations or essences, but we rather apprehended its essential configurative mediation. This is the reason why in this book the man is studied as a whole, questioning and answering his genesis, his movements of constituent and constituted. This aspect has major importance since in the pragmatic, in the dualistic, the estruturalist, the marxist, the religious, the sociological, the anthropological and physical approaches, it is not done any questioning about what is the human being, in spite of speaking about him, in spite of presenting solutions for his problems, mainly in the diverse therapeutic views unilaterally fundamented, where one searchs and justifies those solutions without the datas of the problem. These absurdity occurs only because it is done through pre-conceptualizations, preconceptions, and never through conceptualizations. In this book, we look for the conceptualization of man in his context - that means in living temporality - taking in consideration its structuralization and des-structuralization, pointing out dogmatic aspects impeditive of this aprehension." [pg.15 / 16]

In 1993, while writing "Terra e Ouro são Iguais - Percepção em Psicoterapia Gestaltista" ("Earth and Gold are Equal - Perception in Gestalt Psychoterapy"), I wrote:

"Be a psychotherapist is a way of being in the world with the other. I don't believe in psychotherapic function, I don't see the relational processes for the sake of results, in spite of knowing that the profession I have has a socio-economic structure well delineated, functionally specified. To me, what characterizes the psychotherapist is the way he perceives, what he expresses - speaks and communicates - how he is structured, what are his positions.

I always had a conceptual and theoretical approach, as, in my opinion, only starting from this point, I can globally perceive the other who is with me as "client". It is this theoretical approach which allows me to perceive the other not emphatically as my fellow-creature, but as a complaint, a difficulty, a sorrow, an incapacity, a possibility not realized, contingentiated, limited by necessities, positioned before me.

My psychotherapic experience has been a constant questioning in the sense of not blind my tool, eternizing a theoretical position. When I created the concepts responsible for the structuralization of the Psicoterapia Gestaltista (Gestalt Psychotherapy), besides of thinking that neurosis was fundamentally non-acceptance, I developed the concept of perception as knowing by the senses, following the gestalt fundaments, antidualistic and not based on the hypothesis of the unconscious. In this context, I believed that, through the attitude of acceptance, I would realize the antithesis necessary to change. In 1978, in my book "Mudança e Psicoterapia Gestaltista" ("Change and Gestalt Psychotherapy"), my worry was to understand and explain the changing: " psychotherapy changing may happens as adaptation or as transformation; (...) the psychotherapy may means taking-position, 'positionament' (...) the client's will to change, to do psychotherapy, is, at times, the search of a place to hide, to keep, to develop or to confort his problems. The existence of the psychotherapist makes sense only as a propitiator of antithesis, of changes; in case he stabilizes himself taking-position, defining himself as holder of verities, or as a theorist of realities and representative / defender of constituted orders - be them any one, even the most revolutionary ones - he negates himself as psychotherapist to become an authority, a propitiator of well-being and adaptation, never a propitiator of transformation and existential synchronization.

Later on, I perceived that to know by the senses - perception - was 'relationship'. This globalization of processes allowed me to emphasize the questioning as a lever which propitiates changes. As neurosis is basically perceptive distortion, the questioning, the denunciation, gives the possibility of other perceptions responsible for changes. Changing the perception one changes one's own behaviour - this was the dominant concept.

Today, decades after the beginning of my work of conceptualization of the gestalt psychotherapy, I know that neurosis is non-acceptance and perceptive distortion, that to perceive is to know by the senses, and that this relation is perception. But I perceive also that perception is vivência , that neurosis is positionament. From that comes my psychotherapic attitude of antithesis be basically characterized by the break of positions - this is what I express in this book, when I deal with the classical dualities which configure the human, showing that they are partial and unilateral apprehensions of the human: subject-object, quantity-quality, for exemple.

As a psychotherapist, in spite of my theoretical position, I feel contemplative when I merge with the problem of the other (client) to get it globally. We only find a solution if we dedicate to the problem, if we plunge into it. To search solution outside the configurative context of the problem, is never to find it. This type of solution is a way to adaptation, normally reached through interpretations and control of behaviour. The psychotherapist shall not even desire the improvement of the client, what he should aspire of is that the client perceives why he is as he is: fearful, confused, not accepting oneself, divided, after all, neurotic." [pag.127,128,129]

Vera Felicidade de Almeida Campos
- August 1996 -