Gestalt Counselling in a Nutshell


Gaie Houston

  • Citations
  • Add to My List
  • Text Size

  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • SAGE

    SAGE has been part of the global academic community since 1965, supporting high quality research and learning that transforms society and our understanding of individuals, groups and cultures. SAGE is the independent, innovative, natural home for authors, editors and societies who share our commitment and passion for the social sciences.

    Find out more at:


    View Copyright Page


    This book is gratefully dedicated to all the supervisees who over the years have shared their knowledge and experience with me, and given me much of the material for the highly edited case vignettes throughout this book.

    About the Author

    Gaie Houston Dip. A.B.Sc., has a degree in English literature from Oxford University, and had her first training in gestalt in the United States. She has taught and practised gestalt therapy and organisational behaviour in London since the 1970s, and currently in many places outside the UK. She has written 18 radio plays broadcast by the BBC, and more recently has directed operas in this country and Italy. She has written a number of books on gestalt, group behaviour, supervision and integrative therapy. She is currently Emeritus Adviser to The Gestalt Centre, London, and on the editorial board of three gestalt journals. She sees global warming as the most urgent issue for everyone now.


    This book sets out to be an account of gestalt therapy theory and practice. Over the years and in different cultures, there has inevitably been Darwinian change and development in both these areas. Though emphases have changed in different trainings and countries, a core of assumptions and methods persist. These I hope to describe here, with reference to a number of the many other variations that are current. In this short account I have quoted few writers, and of necessity left out the names of many of the worldwide contributors to the evolution of this still under-researched but undeniably effective form of psychotherapy.

    As quoted more than once in the following chapters, Laura Perls, one of the co-founders of gestalt therapy, said that every new patient requires a new therapy. The best I would hope from your reading this is that you feel well informed about this optimistic and co-operative form of psychotherapy. If you are a practitioner, I hope you will be empowered to respond, within a clear theoretical discipline, yet freely and creatively, to your clients, and so create another new therapy. In this way gestalt can continue to encourage excitement and growth, and what the Buddhists term ‘right living’, in all parties to it.

  • Glossary

    • Aggression In gestalt therapy theory, the word is used in its root Latin sense, to mean all outwardly directed activity. In everyday language it more often means hostile activity.
    • Confluence Flowing together, with loss of boundary clarity.
    • Contact-boundary Perls and Goodman were fascinated with the mutually constructed boundary between self and other, or, as they termed it, organism and environment. To them, this was the locus of awareness and experience.
    • Egotism The tendency to be self-observing rather than fully present.
    • Field A dynamic play of forces that forms a whole, perceived as a shifting figure against a background.
    • Formation, gestalt This is the configuring or organising process of moving from some disequilibrium or need, through to taking action, and then withdrawing either into gratification or the learning that the action did not achieve what was needed. The four stages of successful gestalt formation are:
      • Fore-contact The state of quest, unease, disequilibrium which leads to the emergence of a clear figure against a background. A hopeful shopper's discovery of ‘Help, I forgot my purse’ is a simple example.
      • Contact Following this inner realisation, some action in the world follows. Run home? Borrow from a friend? Explain to the shopkeeper?
      • Final contact This in the probably brief moment of sensing ‘I did it!’ as the friend or shopkeeper smiles, or you get home and find your purse. Money is in your hand again.
      • Post-contact Now there is an unwinding. Whew! The relief or gratification of what you have done. The there can be learning: ‘I won't go out again without checking my pockets.’ And the whole episode starts to fade down and lose interest. You are on an even keel again until the next figure surges into awareness.
    • Gestalt The German word is used because there is no exact equivalent in English. It means pattern, or organisation into a form or pattern. The underlying idea is that we all constantly organise fields of data into patterns with transient figures against a particular background.
    • Introjection Swallowing whole of what is presented, the way an infant swallows milk. That is a useful introjection. Swallowing whole the idea that other people always know best, or that dancing is the work of the devil, can be worth re-considering and chewing through.
    • Proflection Doing to someone else what you would like done to you. Many of us in the caring professions are doing this at least some of the time.
    • Projection A cinema projector throws an image forward on to a screen. Seeing something only in another person when it is also part of you is projection.
    • Retroflection This word covers two ideas. Literally it means turning back, as when a self-harmer turns anger on himself rather than attacking another person. It is also used to mean what has come to be called proflection.


    Beisser, A. (1970) ‘The paradoxical theory of change’, in J.Fagan and I.Shepherd (eds), Gestalt Therapy Now. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behaviour Books.
    Bion, W. (1961) Experiences in Groups. London: Tavistock.
    Bowlby, J. (1999) Attachment. New York: Basic Books.
    Bruch, H. (1978) The Golden Cage: The Enigma of Anorexia Nervosa. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    Buber, M. (1970 [1922]) I and Thou. New York: Scriveners.
    Crocker, S.F. (1981) ‘Proflection’, The Gestalt Journal, 4(2).
    Darwin, C. (1990) The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. London: Folio Society.
    Delisle, G. (1999) Personality Disorders. Ottawa: Les Editions du Reflet.
    De Waal, E. (2010) The Hare with Amber Eyes. London: Chatto and Windus.
    Dunn, J. (1993) Young Children's Close Relationships: Beyond Attachment. London: Sage.
    Ellis, W.D. (ed.) (1938) A Source Book of Gestalt Psychology. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
    Freud, S. (1921) Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
    Frew, J. (1992) ‘Three styles of Therapeutic Intervention’, lecture at AAGT Conference, Boston.
    Ginger, S. (2003) Gestalt Therapy: The Art of Contact. Paris: Marabout-EPG.
    Goodman, P. (1960) Growing Up Absurd. New York: Random House.
    Houston, G. (2003) Brief Gestalt Therapy. London: Sage.
    Kierkegaard, S. (2001) The Kierkegaard Reader, eds J.Chamberlain and J.Rée. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
    Kirschenbaum, H. and Henderson, V.L. (eds) (1990) The Carl Rogers Reader. London: Constable.
    Lewin, K. (1951) Field Theory in Social Science. New York: Harper and Brothers.
    Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962) Phenomenology of Perception, trans. ColinSmith. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
    Miller, A. (1995) The Drama of Being a Child. London: Virago.
    Nevis, S.M. (2003) ‘Intimate and strategic behaviour: An integrative perspective’, Gestalt Review, 7(2).
    Oberman, L. and Ramachandran, V.S. (2009) ‘Reflections on the mirror neuron system: Their evolutionary functions beyond motor representation’, in J.A.Pineda (ed.), Mirror Neuron Systems: The Role of Mirroring Processes in Social Cognition. New York: Humana Press, pp. 39–62.
    Ovsianka, M. (1928) Die Wiederaufnahme von unterbrochenen Handlungen Psycholog ische Forschung. In : Psycholog ische Forschung.
    Perls, F.S. (1969[1947]) Ego, Hunger and Aggression: A Revision of Freud's Theories. New York: Random House.
    Perls, F.S. (1978) The Gestalt Approach and Eye-Witness to Therapy. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behaviour Books.
    Perls, F.S., Hefferline, R. and Goodman, P. (1951) Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality. New York: Dell Publishing.
    Phillippson, P. (2009) The Emergent Self: An Existential-Gestalt Approach. London: Karnac.
    Pursglove, P.D. (ed.) (1968) Recognitions in Gestalt Therapy. New York: Funk and Wagnalls.
    Ramachandran, V.S. (2009). ‘Self awareness: The last frontier’, Edge Foundation web essay (1 January):
    Reich, W. (1972) Character Analysis,
    3rd edn.
    New York: Simon and Schuster.
    Rogers, C. (1961) On Becoming a Person. London: Constable.
    Sartre, J.-P. (2003) Being and Nothingness. London: Routledge.
    Stephenson, D.F. (ed.) (1975) Gestalt Therapy Primer: Introductory Readings in Gestalt Therapy. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.
    Stern, D. (1985) The Interpersonal World of the Infant. New York: Basic Books.
    Stern, D. (2004) The Present Moment. New York: W.W. Norton.
    Stevens, B. (2005) Don't Push the River. Highland, NY: Gestalt Journal Press.
    Stoehr, T. (1994) Here Now Next: Paul Goodman and the Origins of Gestalt Therapy. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
    Van Deurzen, E. (2010) A Handbook of Existential Psychotherapy. London: Routledge.
    Wertheimer, M. (1944) ‘Gestalt theory’, Social Research, 11(1): 78–99.
    Yontef, G. (1993) Awareness, Dialogue and Process: Essays on Gestalt Therapy. Highland, NY: Gestalt Journal Press.
    Zinker, J. (1978) Creative Process in Gestalt Therapy. New York: Vintage Books.

    • Loading...
Back to Top

Copy and paste the following HTML into your website