Gestalt and Behavioral Therapies Term Paper

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Gestalt and Behavioral Therapies

The purpose of this paper is a comparison of gestalt and behavioral therapies. The research paper provides an overview and assessment of each therapy, and the ways each are used in the field of counseling. The researcher proposes the gestalt approach to therapy is more patient-focused and may lead to quicker positive outcomes than behavior therapies, though the two therapies are much the same in terms of their purpose and ideals.

Gestalt Therapy

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Gestalt "theory" and "therapy" are terms often used interchangeably. They focus on the individual in the present moment; combining their identity with the relationship, they have with the therapist to emphasize responsibility for one's behaviors and actions (James & Jongeward, 1996, p.30). Among the first theorists to believe in the gestalt approach were a Jewish psychologist and analyst known as "Fritz Perls" who incorporated many psychological influences when forming the idea that therapy should be holistic in its approach, and emphasize the client's responsibility for all actions and consequences personally (James & Jongeward, 1996). Using this line of thinking, a gestalt therapist would encourage someone who committed a crime for example, to take responsibility for their actions by recognizing the motives behind their actions and the consequences their actions had on others. This approach today is more common among therapists interested in integrated therapy, something gestalt therapy shares with many behavioral therapies, which attempt to adopt a mind/body approach (Fine & Schwebel, 1994).

Behavioral Therapy

Term Paper on Gestalt and Behavioral Therapies Assignment

Much like gestalt therapy, behavioral therapy encourages the patient or client to take charge of their lives and outcomes by identifying underlying behaviors leading to unwanted situations or outcomes (Fine & Schwebel, 1994). Behavioral therapy also encourages participants to identify the relationships that exist between individuals and their family, community and immediate surroundings, as well as their relationship with their therapist, but less so than gestalt therapy (Fine & Schwebel, 1994). The behavioral approach incorporates a systematic approach to therapy that enables individuals in counseling to "live in ways they find acceptable" and often fulfilling when possible (Fine & Schwebel, 1994, p.4).

Assessment in Practice

Many theorists and researchers including Diemer et al., (1996) use Gestalt therapy to explain and interpret events in unstructured counseling sessions and brief therapy. For example, Diemer et al., (1996) suggests when evaluating dream interpretation in unstructured counseling therapies, gestalt theory postulates that dreams and other unexplainable phenomenon result from a clients experiences of disownment, and when a client is allowed to experienced disowned feelings, they can "increase self-acceptance" through greater understanding of the conscious, subconscious and event (p. 99). Many feel this approach is much better at providing immediate results or a quicker means to an end than behavioral therapies, because less time is involved (Diemer, et al. 1996) when trying to identify the core events problematic to patients.

One of the more popular forms of behavior therapy is cognitive behavior therapy or CBT, often used to help people overcome addictions and negative thought patterns, much like gestalt therapy (Cleland, et al., 2005). CBT therapy, when compared to other behavioral therapies often proves superior in motivating patients to identify malevolent behaviors early in counseling sessions (Cleland, et al., 2005). Cleland, et al. (2005) admits however, that for some, "insight-oriented therapies" often necessitate greater "conceptual ability and verbal abstraction" and that for people like this, "structured interventions" may be more appropriate to produce long-term outcomes (Cleland, et al., 2005).

Behavior therapy and gestalt therapy have in common the desire to encourage patients to adopt a more positive outlook on their life and create a more fulfilling life by recognizing how their actions relate to outcomes. Each form of therapy involves one-to-one interaction with the client and therapist. In gestalt-based sessions, a more intimate relationship between the therapist and client may exist according to some, whereas in Behavioral Therapy the therapist concentrates more on the individual and their relationship with the self alone, and how that self relates to others in the community and in their peer groups (Cleland, et al., 2005).

Some describe gestalt therapies as more sequentially-based than behavioral therapies, though each adopts specific strategies to encourage the client to take individual action to help promote healing and fulfillment of their needs (Cleland, et al., 2005; Diemer, et al., 1996). Some believe gestalt therapy is faster than other therapies especially for individuals in tuned with the concept of the interaction between the body, mind and spirit (Diemer et al., 1996). Others suggest immediate results may be seen by clients who engage in certain forms of behavior therapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy, because it encourages patients to affirm positive statement that result in positive realities during their lifetime (Fine & Schwebel, 1994).

Still, there is much evidence suggesting behavioral therapies take some time to effectuate a positive response in patients (Fine & Schwebel, 1994) when compared to gestalt-based approaches, because by focusing on behavior one must focus on a lifetime of behaviors, some of which may not easily change on command.

Major Differences in Approach

Palme (2006) demonstrates the similarities and differences in approach using gestalt therapy vs. cognitive behavior therapy when approaching clients with eating disorders. Palme (2006), a certified psychologist and therapist as well as health educator, notes behavioral therapy always assumes disturbances of the psyche are learnt behaviors, but have no real intent or positive purpose in one's life. This assumption is backed by research in behavioral therapy (Cleland, et al., 2005). The aim with patients for example, that have an eating disorder, would be to assess the ways people think and interpret life experiences and attempt to help them think in a more useful way or in a manner that promotes greater utility (Palme, 2006). Gestalt therapy as defined and described by Fritz & Perls however, would attempt to teach a patient to become more aware of the relationship between the body, mind and spirit, so one is more likely to explore their inner feelings and world, their perceptions and beliefs. This would allow them to be more assertive when faced with issues that may lead to problems like an eating disorder (Palme, 2006; Diemer, et al., 1996). Palme (2006) suggests that the differences in approach gestalt therapists adopt when compared to behavioral therapists is not easily distinguished, as both attempt to help the patient become more aware of their belief systems, behaviors and habits. Behavior therapy however, is more likely to point out how some behaviors an individual may engage in are pointless, and therefore will work to eliminate those behaviors, encouraging the client to adopt behaviors with positive utility or outcomes (Palme, 2006).

Using the case of a client with an eating disorder, Palme (2006) compares the Gestalt approach to the behavioral approach. The behavioral approach would encourage the patient to eat regularly, up to five times daily, whereas with gestalt therapy a client would be encouraged to eat by paying attention to their hunger cues, and to eat when hungry and stop thereafter (Palme, 2006).

Behavioral therapy would work to encourage patients that are bulimic to delay purging of any food they consume, whereas gestalt therapy would work to increase the patient's awareness of the circumstances of their environment and inner conscious that encourage them to vomit (Palme, 2006). For example, with Gestalt therapy, the therapist may ask a patient to define what feelings cause them to desire purging, such as one's inability to achieve a goal, or their feelings of perfection (Palme, 2006; Diemer, et al., 1996).

Both therapies focus on changing client's attitudes toward a harmful event or life circumstance, or the client's beliefs in this example toward eating disorders and body image (Palme, 2006). The subtle distinguishing factor is a behavioral therapist is more likely to identify why conceptions or beliefs about body image or food may be incorrect and change them, whereas gestalt therapy might encourage the client to look within and identify what image makes them feel happy and complete.

Both therapies also enable patients to identify the connections existing between life experiences and inappropriate behaviors; behavioral therapy does this more literally, by enabling a patient to identify actual connections. A gestalt therapist however, is more likely to encourage a patient to be more aware of internal and external factors that lead to the need to engage in wrongful behaviors. An example may be anxiety or stress within one's body for example (Palme, 2006).

Perhaps the single most distinguishing factor between the two approaches is behavior therapy takes a more literal approach, and gestalt therapy a more holistic and conscious approach. A behavior therapist will ask a client to identify problems and then find new ways to cope with problems. A gestalt therapist will also encourage the patient to identify problems in their behavior or actions, and find alternatives, however they will encourage the patient to select the solution that is most appropriate to them (Palme, 1996).


One can conclude by saying that Gestalt therapies and Behavior therapies are very similar in their approaches, encouraging patients to identify problems… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Gestalt and Behavioral Therapies" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Gestalt and Behavioral Therapies.  (2007, July 30).  Retrieved January 15, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Gestalt and Behavioral Therapies."  30 July 2007.  Web.  15 January 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Gestalt and Behavioral Therapies."  July 30, 2007.  Accessed January 15, 2021.