Gestalt therapy is a contemporary system of psychotherapy emphasizing organismic self-regulation by encouraging awareness. According to this approach, simply speaking of an emotion is not enough; one must also experience it in order to achieve the gestalt goals. By dwelling on consciousness, client can choose and experience his own behaviour (Blom, 2006). Gestalt therapy focuses on creating a therapeutic environment for the client to get “in touch” with unfinished business by re-experiencing and integrating his experiences into current awareness. (Corey, 2013).
The “empty chair” technique allows a client to address polarized elements in his mind, unfinished events and interpersonal problems – by imagining an absent person in the chair; speak to that person to generate awareness, thereby creating a here-and-now experience (Blom, 2006). For individual counselling, this is greatly effective when used on highly socialized, restrained, and constricted individuals; but less suitable for severely disturbed individuals, because methods used are powerful catalysts for opening up feelings and getting clients into contact with their here-now experiences. Suitable for groups, Gestalt approach emphasizes direct experiencing and action, rather than merely talking about problems or feelings. Members must participate in experiments in order to deepen their moment-by-moment experiencing. In a group session, the “hot seat” concept is a voluntary experience whereby the therapeutic focus is on a single member while other members observe (Corey, 2012).
A major benefit of group therapy is the experience of universality. Being in a group with other members struggling with similar problem let one realizes he is not alone; that some fellow members are similarly coping with the same difficulties. Thisdisconfirmation of a client’s feelings of uniqueness is a powerful source of relief. Despite complexities of human problems, certain common denominators between people are evident. Take for example, members of sexual-abuse groups benefit from the experience of universality because an integral part of group session is the private sharing, which underlined the sense of universality- afundamental step in the therapy of clients who felt shamed, stigmatised, and self-blaming. (Yalom & Leszcz, 2008)
The next benefit lies in the providing of an arena for safe practice for group members (Capuzzi & Gross, 2009; Johnson & Johnson, 2009). Members can practise new skills/or behaviour in a supportive environment before venturing into the real world. Examples-Rehearsing job interviews, learning to be more assertive, making new friends, and sharing personal information, etc. (Jacob, Masson, 2012). Therapy groups serve as a powerful social laboratory, providing a means for members to try out interpersonal skills, to test how one person comes across to others, how a situation might appear to others. Hence, facilitating open exploration of common problems isan important therapeutic goal (Spiegel & Classen, 2008)
Thirdly, social support and instilling a sense of belonging is another important advantage. The support from other members is a major factor in helping people overcome the negative effects of traumatic events. A group setting provides the opportunity to develop supportive, trusting, and healthy relationships. Empiricalstudies confirmed that people with family/friends support whom provide them with psychological/material resources are better at dealing with stress, compared to those with fewer supportive social networks (Gabriel, 2010). Understanding the powerful human need to belong (Adler, 1927; Berne, 1964; Glasser, 2000; Maslow, 1962) – A sense of belonging has proven beneficial in such groups like addicts, people with disabilities, and the elderly. This experience of being accepted is one of the most important features of the group (Jacob, Masson, 2012).
Feedback from varied and different perspectives is the fourth benefit for group therapies. Group feedback is more powerful than individual ones because when several people said the same thing, the validity of that particular perception is hard to ignore. There are many kinds of group feedback. Examples are metaphorical and written feedback. Different kind of feedback exercises elicit different responses. It is important to note that the level of trust among members is an important consideration when deciding to focus on feedback as a way to share feelings and thoughts about each other (Jacobs, Masson, 2012).
Last, but not least, there is cost benefit.Instead of focusing on one client, a therapist can devote the time to a larger group of people; makinglimited professional resources available to more people. Economically, group therapy may be up to four times more affordable for clients and for institutions (Hellman, Budd et al., 1990; Yalom,1995; Yalom and Yalom, 1990) (Spiegel & Classen, 2008).
While the works of Yalom (2005) and Bloch et al. (1981) emphasizes the effectiveness of group therapies, they also take into account aspects of group processes that may be harmful/damaging. In a comprehensive study conducted at Stanford University, Lieberman et al. (1973) found that around 10 per cent of the people who had participated in the study could be classified at the end as ‘casualties’. It appeared that being in the group had caused more harm than good, drawing criticisms to some of the potentially worrying aspects of group approaches (Mcleod, 2009).
Individual counselling assures clients confidentiality. This is especially beneficial for clients who wish only to disclose in privacy without fears that information may be used against them, while some clients are anxious about howothers (in a group context) would react to their disclosures, and suchanxiety precludes their productive participation for group sessions. Similarly, clientswho otherwise would not disclose “secret” material are best suited to individual therapy (Ellis & Dryden, 2007).
Individual therapy provides an opportunity to develop a closer therapist/client relationship, a factor that is especially important and beneficial for some clients who have yet to develop close relationships withsignificant people in their lives; and for whom group therapy mayprove too threatening in the initial stage(Ellis & Dryden, 2007).
On the third benefit, an aspect of the therapeutic alliance in individualized therapy lies in the task sector. Bordin(1979) emphasized that in individual counselling, the client is encouraged to carry out tasks that arebest suited for him; and through doing so, he is more likely toachieve his therapeutic goals. For example, certain clients progress better by employing techniques that are inclined to cognitive in nature, whereas other clients may benefit better from executingtasks that are more emotive in nature, yet another group of clients do best by carrying out behavioural tasks (Ellis & Dryden, 2007).
Undivided attention during individual therapy is another important benefit – Human personality ego structures differ in every individuals. Emotional problems are complex/diverse, with compelling influences on all facets of human functioning. These emotions can manifest in distortions in one’s life – in dimensions like psychic/somatic and interpersonal. In the case when pathological scale of a client so deeply scarred by specific experiences, intensive personal therapy may be practical/imperative to restore equilibrium (Wolberg, 2013).
The fifth benefit is time flexibility. Client is encouraged to make intermittent contact with therapist whenever the need arises. Research shown that most therapies take place within a limited number of sessions where averagely, clients undergo about six-eight sessions. Research included examining the efficacy of a ‘2+1’ model, whereby client can see the therapist two sessions one week apart, then a follow-up meeting around three months later. Studies have shown that clients are most likely to benefit from this approach (Mcleod, 2009).
Compare and Contrast
Relationship dynamics –Trust is an important theme in Gestalt therapy’s highly personal nature of exchanges, a compelling factor in promoting therapist/client relationship dynamics. However, these takes time to emerge before they can develop a therapeutic effect. Contrastingly, group approach involves simultaneous interaction with people, usually outside the client’s social and familial network. Sometimes, the groups are homogeneous, with members having similar problems and common issues, or they can be heterogeneous, having diverse background and concerns. Group facilitators are able to look for the dynamics typically within the moment, – the here and now—, reflecting the current issues in the members’ lives (Jacobs, Masson, 2012).
Empty chair technique – On the use of Gestalt technique in both approaches, individual therapy ‘empty chair’ technique involves two chairs whereby client role-play both the “underdog” and “top dog” in order to externalizes his introjection, so that he can experience the conflict fully. It is an emotional exercise, and a very personal experience aimed at promoting higher level of integration between the polarities and conflicts that exist in everyone (Corey, 2013). Contrastingly, the empty chair technique in group therapy is the “hot seat” concept – a voluntary experience where the therapeutic focus is on a single member observed by fellow members (Corey, 2012). The leader’s skills of linking and an interactive style encourage members to explore the problem, heighten their awareness and attend to their interpersonal style of relating; bringing in an interpersonal dimension that maximizes the therapeutic potency with the group (Corey, 2013).
Without undermining its effectiveness, one criticism lies in the theoretical grounds of Gestalt therapy. The methodology being confrontational, presents potential manipulation by therapist with its powerful methods. A Gestalt therapist/Group leader must be sensitive, empathetic and inventive; possess a sense of timing, and competence, failing which Gestalt procedures become merely a series of mechanical exercises; or even worse, stir up feelings and open up dramatic catharsises without the competency to see to proper closure will serve more harm than good (Corey, 2013).
Privacy – Both individual and groups therapies involve self-disclosure. Individual therapy assures clients privacy; whereas group approach involving more than one person, members must assume everyone involved is trustworthy. What if some group members inadvertently pass along what they learned about other group members to family or friends, and that information ripples outward, causing harm? Group therapists struggle with these difficult issues in ways to respect clients’ legitimate rights to privacy, confidentiality, and privilege and their right to know the limits (Pope & Vasquez, 2007).
On a critical perspective about self-disclosure- Often, group leaders do not know the extent to which a member is withholding information. There are two maladaptive functions of self-disclosure – an individual who disclosestoo muchthereby creating an uncomfortable environment for disclosure – and one who disclosestoo littleand loses self-esteem by withholding personal information from the group; or members who feel uncomfortable with the idea of developing close relationships might fear self-disclosure. Another reason to dislike self-disclosure is their anxiety associated with discussing certain topics, topics that they are uncomfortable with (School-Psychology.org, 2012).
Experts believe group-work is going be a major force in the field of counselling; its future lies in the integration of counselling theories with an active, multi-sensory, intrapersonal model of leading. Much training in specific group leadership skills is essential to prepare for the different kinds of groups existing in the coming decade. Group leaders must learn more ways to involve the members in the therapeutic process while using counselling theories and the intrapersonal model (Jacobs, Masson, Harvill & Schimmel, 2012).