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Insight into Gestalt Therapy for OCD

written by: Kelly Marquize • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 11/15/2010

Gestalt therapy can play a pivotal role in the treatment of OCD. Learn how this therapy technique can teach patients with OCD to finally overcome their compulsions.

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    Understanding Gestalt Therapy as Treatment

    To gain insight into Gestalt therapy for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), we must first learn what Gestalt therapy is and its implications. Gestalt therapy can be somewhat difficult to fully understand or may be misinterpreted. There is much to be said and to learn about this type of therapy, but for this article, a very brief description will be given. To learn more about this therapy in greater detail, follow the links in the “reference” section at the end of this article

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    What is Gestalt Therapy?

    Gestalt therapy was co-founded by Fritz Perls, Laura Perls Ralph Hefferline and Paul Goodman in the 1940s-1950s. The focus of Gestalt therapy is on the “experiential present moment” and relationships with others and the world around us. The Association for the Advancement of Gestalt Therapy (AAGT) describe this focus as a “here-and-now awareness and the interactive field.” Furthermore, “theory provides a system of concepts describing the structure and organization of living in terms of aware relations” (AAGT, 2010).

    The following list, Moral injunctions of Gestalt therapy (Betty Hardwick Center, 2010), will give you a clear idea of the backbone behind Gestalt theory.

    • Live now, stay in the present.
    • Live here, be with the present.
    • Stop imagining, experience reality.
    • Stop unnecessary thinking.
    • Express, rather than manipulating, explaining, justifying, or judging.
    • Give in to unpleasantness do not restrict your awareness.
    • Accept no "should" or "ought", other than your own.
    • Take full responsibility for your own actions, feelings and thoughts.
    • Surrender to being who you are right now.
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    Gestalt Therapy and OCD

    Insight into Gestalt therapy for OCD can be understood as making the patient “aware of personal responsibility, how to avoid problems, to finish unfinished matters, to experience thing in a positive light, and in the awareness of now” (PsyWeb, 2010).When treating patients with OCD, Gestalt therapy may prove useful as it teaches the patient how to interact with their surroundings in a responsible way.

    The patient is taught that they alone are responsible for their actions. For those with OCD, this means that the patient has control over their behaviors and can change or correct those behaviors. OCD, along with other disorders, can involve “splitting,” a term that simply means that the individual separates themselves from negative behaviors or actions. “For example, the child separates the father whom she depends on for love and protection from the father who abuses her. This allows her to preserve an image of the 'good' father, but at great cost. She is left identifying herself as 'bad' in order to make sense of the abuse.” McClendon, 1994). Gestalt therapy addresses this and helps correct it.

    Peter Philippson from the Manchester Gestalt Centre tells his clients “that the obsessions and compulsions are energy-diversions from anxiety, 'volume controls on anxiety', and the optimum for therapy is to adjust the volume control to permit some anxiety through to be worked with, but not so much as to overwhelm them (we take images of "going berserk" seriously).”

    By showing the patient how to control the compulsions and neurotic behaviors, Gestalt therapy can help them to overcome OCD.

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    References

    Association for the Advancement of Gestalt Therapy (2010). Introduction. Retrieved November 14, 2010, from http://www.aagt.org/main.cfm?p=gestalt&c=intro

    Betty Hardwick Center (2010). Psychotherapy: Gestalt Theory. Retrieved November 14, 2010, from http://www.bhcmhmr.org/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=8139&cn=91

    McClendon, P. (1994). Splitting vs. Dissociation: Definitions. Retrieved November 14, 2010, from http://www.clinicalsocialwork.com/splitting.html

    Philippson, P. (2005). Obsessive-compulsive disorder. Retrieved November 14, 2010, from http://www.123webpages.co.uk/user/index.php?user=mgc&pn=10718

    PsyWeb (2010). Psychotherapy. Retrieved November 14, 2010, from http://psyweb.com/Mdisord/MdisordADV/AdvPsych.jsp