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Gestalt therapy theory and development: A critical and theoretical review

17 June 1988


Gestalt Therapy was developed in the 1940's and 1950's by Frederich and Laura Perls. It was developed in part as a reaction to Freudian libido theory and an intrapsychic conflict model. Although there are many books and articles discussing the techniques of Gestalt therapy, there are only a few texts explicating the theory of Gestalt Therapy, , a significant gap in the literature. Additionally, the anti-intellectual climate of the 1960's and early 1970's when Perls and others such as Simkin, Zinker, and the Polsters were teaching Gestalt therapy- primarily in Workshop style- did not promote theory building. Gestalt therapy's roots are in psychoanalysis" Gestalt psychology, f i eld theory, holism, and existential philosophy. Gestalt therapy offers a particularly useful definition and understanding of the 'self', an important concept in current discussions of psychotherapy. While the theory was initially created in part because of Perls' observation of early developmental factors which he felt were not adequately addressed by Freud, a systematic examination of developmental theory for the Gestalt therapist has been missing from the literature. Object relations theory and Self Psychology offer important clinical models of early development. Findings from developmental psychology can augment this clinical material. Object relations theorists can be divided into two primary groups; drive/structure theorists or relational/structure theorists. The relational model theorists are philosophically and methodologically compatible with Gestalt therapy. The development of the self in Sullivan, Fairbairn, Guntrip, Kohut, and Stern is reviewed and critiqued from a Gestalt theory perspective. A heuristic schema for conceptualizing the development of contact boundary disturbances is proposed. Gestalt therapists with awareness of developmental issues are in a better position to work with a broader range of clients.


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