Gestalt Psychology - Major Schools of Thought - Definitions

Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World - Andrea Bonior 2016

Gestalt Psychology
Major Schools of Thought

Have you ever seen a particularly good optical illusion, perhaps a picture that looked at first glance like a vase but then became the profile of two people, and your brain couldn’t decide which image to see? If there’s really supposed to be a one-to-one correlation between our mental representations of objects in the external world and the objects themselves, then you might ask why we can even have optical illusions. Gestalt psychology is concerned with just that question—how we perceive the whole of an object, not just the discrete parts of which it’s composed. Gestalt psychology can also be viewed as yet another departure from structuralism, since Gestalt psychologists emphasize that when things are broken down into excessively small components, something meaningful is lost. (The term Gestalt cannot be translated perfectly from German to English, but its general meaning is that of a configuration or a pattern of interrelated ideas.) In this way, Gestalt psychology is conceptually related to humanistic therapy, as evidenced in notions like self-actualization, which propose that essential components can build on each other in the creation of something that is qualitatively different—and, many would say, greater—than the sum of the constituent parts. Most of all, Gestalt psychology is concerned with our efforts to organize aspects of the world in personally meaningful ways. By contrast with behaviorism, Gestalt psychology posits that we place our greatest focus on our perceptions. Gestalt therapy, developed by Fritz Perls in the 1940s, is not precisely aligned with the concepts of Gestalt psychology, but it does focus on the parts that we play in our relationships with others, and on how our relationships affect our emotions in the present. Gestalt therapy is known for using a variety of role-playing techniques, including having the patient (or client) imagine that an empty chair holds a person with whom an issue needs to be worked through.