Gestalt Theory and Cognitive Behavioral Theory: Comparison

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The theoretical basis is crucial for effective therapeutic interventions within the scope of mental health issues. Effective counseling practice requires thoughtful consideration of the clients’ needs and applying the most appropriate approaches to meet those needs and ensure successful healing. The abundance of theories within the counseling practice provides professionals with a wide range of choices. When building one’s therapy strategy, a counselor chooses one theoretical framework to preserve psychological treatment consistency. However, choosing only one approach limits the professional to a set of techniques within a given theory and does not always provide the most favorable outcome. That is why it might be beneficial for patients and counselors to apply a combined approach using theories that have predispositions for merging. Such approaches are Gestalt Theory and Cognitive Behavioral Theory, which share the concentration on the human experience as the basis for treating mental health issues and support the opportunity to implement techniques from other theories. Therefore, this paper aims to argue that based on the similarities and phenomenological attributes of Gestalt Theory and Cognitive Behavioral Theory, these therapy approaches might be combined for better counseling patient outcomes.

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Gestalt Theory

As a theoretical approach to counseling with a relevantly long history of existence, Gestalt therapy has become a valuable framework for effective psychological issue resolution. The core of the approach is the consideration of a gestalt, which is a phenomenon that entails units of experience formed under the influence of the current environment and needs of a person (Mann, 2020). This theory’s goal is to help clients deal with the negative patterns in their reality perception by focusing on their experience in a present situation. As Boris et al. (2017) state, “Gestalt therapy is thus a ‘here and now’ therapy, in which, during the session, we ask the client to pay full attention to what he is doing at the moment, throughout the session” (p. 485). The therapists use the concept of creative adjustment as a Gestalt therapy tool that allows for finding coping mechanisms within the individual’s inner resources, depending on their current experience and needs rather than the past (Mann, 2020). Therefore, Gestalt Theory provides a basis for concentrating on human capacity and desire to overcome the problem.

The relationship between a therapist and client plays a vital role in the overall therapy process since it is through communication that the client can achieve progress. Indeed, presence and authentic dialogue are considered to be the necessary components of Gestalt therapy (Corey, 2016). Mann (2020) explains Gestalt therapy as a relational therapy that is based on three central philosophical ideas. These ideas include field theory, phenomenology, and dialogue. Firstly, the client’s experiences are approached from the perspective of the filed or situation in which they are now (Mann, 2020). Secondly, from the phenomenological point of view, “the search for understanding through what is obvious and/or revealed, rather than through what is interpreted by the observer” (Mann, 2020, p. 4). Finally, dialogue as a contact and relationship, both verbal and non-verbal, is the key to understanding. Thus, Gestalt Theory is an integrative and complicated approach that incorporates a broad spectrum of concepts and philosophies applicable to multiple mental health issues.

Cognitive Behavioral Theory

Cognitive Behavioral therapy emerged at the intersection of separate Behavioral and Cognitive theories. According to Corey (2016), Cognitive Behavioral Theory implies that human cognitive processes define their behavior. The goal of this therapy is to change the client’s cognitive impairments and behavioral misconceptions through the process of altering their thinking and attitude-forming patterns. Therefore, cognitions are addressed as the central elements of this approach. Cognitive Behavioral therapists assume that “how people feel is … influenced by their subjective assessment of the situation” and the set of their “beliefs, attitudes, assumptions, and internal dialogue” (Corey, 2016. p. 304). This therapy is commonly applied in psychotherapy circles for a variety of conditions. David et al. (2018) refer to Cognitive Behavioral therapy as to a gold standard of mental health treatment due to its personalized and process-centered approach that prioritizes clients’ needs. Thus, the vast research and evidence available on this theory’s application to counseling indicate its effectiveness and significant potential for positive patient outcomes.

The foundations of Cognitive Behavioral Theory lay in the separate Cognitive and Behavioral Theories and rely on the assumption that cognition and behavior are inherently intertwined. The therapy is very popular among counselors specializing in a variety of disorders and has accumulated a vast volume of practical evidence. As Hayes and Hofmann (2017) state, the set of methods used within the scope of Cognitive Behavioral therapy allow for the achievement of significant improvements upon short-term problem-centered therapy sessions. The therapy methodologies include “mindfulness methods, acceptance-based procedures, decentering, cognitive defusion, values, psychological flexibility process,” which stimulate clients’ coping strategies and ensure the long-term effect of treatment (p. 245). The application of the interventions within Cognitive Behavioral Theory produces frequent positive outcomes for patients with substance abuse.

Similarities Between Gestalt Theory and Cognitive Behavioral Theory

Despite existing within different theoretical perspectives, Gestalt Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy share significant similarities. Firstly, both theories are complex in their nature and combine several philosophies and methodologies. In the case of Gestalt Theory, these combined elements are field theory, phenomenology, and dialogue; in the case of Cognitive Behavioral Theory, they include Cognitive and Behavioral concepts and methodologies. Secondly, the approaches share a similar philosophy based on the importance of the client’s willingness to participate in therapy sessions. Thirdly, interpersonal communication between a counselor and a client is inherent in both therapy approaches. Precise attention to the client’s experiences and thinking patterns is central to both theories. Fourthly, they both similarly aim at building coping strategies based on the client’s willingness to overcome a mental health problem. Thus, the scope of similar features between the two theories allows for stating that they share the same basis for effective work with the client through the restructuring of their thinking patterns or attitudes.

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Differences Between Gestalt Theory and Cognitive Behavioral Theory

The most fundamental difference between Cognitive Behavioral and Gestalt Theories is their approach to the explanation of the causes of mental health issues. On the one hand, Gestalt therapy views disorders from the perspective of an immediate experience here and now. On the other hand, Cognitive Behavioral therapy considers the causes as the result of thinking influence on behavior. Also, the methodological issues differ in the two approaches. Cognitive Behavioral Theory assumes that the treatment outcomes might be measured and qualified, while Gestalt Theory perceives therapy results as non-measurable experiences, providing them with more phenomenological meaning.

Another difference is the overall structure of the therapies. Gestalt therapy involves a process-oriented strategy that cannot be applied with goals but evolves with the client’s journey through the understanding of their experience and environment. On the contrary, Cognitive Behavioral Theory aims at setting achievable goals and accomplishes them by means of structured sessions. Explanation of the thinking patterns behind behavioral decisions is the goal of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. However, the enlisted differences between the two theories do not imply that either of them disregards another or denies the existence of a different approach. The differences mostly apply to the perspective from which Cognitive Behavioral and Gestalt Theories view the nature of human psychics and the possible ways of influencing it. Therefore, there is a space for these therapies to complement each other and expand the scope of benefits they might provide for clients if used as a combination.

Potential Benefits of Integration of the Two Theories

The identified similarities and differences might be addressed as the background for integration, where the elements lacking in one approach might be complementary to the other. Moreover, both therapies have proven their high level of effectiveness in treating substance abuse. Gestalt Theory was found to be “effective in decreasing the level of alcohol dependence among adults” (Suchitra et al., 2016, p. 784). Similarly, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy might be a valuable tool in overcoming alcohol addiction even “with minimal clinical monitoring” due to the structured treatment approach (Kiluk et al., 2016, p. 1999). Thus, when applied to the field of substance abuse counseling, the integration of the principles and methodologies of both Gestalt and Cognitive Behavioral therapies might produce numerous benefits for the patients.

The ever-evolving theoretical grounds behind effective counseling require continuous improvement regarding mental health issues prevalence and the needs of the clients. Therefore, mere limitation to a closed system of techniques available from only one theoretical framework might be insufficient. In such complex situations as substance abuse, the personal characteristics of a client, their predispositions, cultural background, and temperament features should be incorporated to validate the personalized approach in counseling. Thus, the integration of several combinable theories might be an effective solution to multifaceted problems. The scientific and practice-oriented approach used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy might be a valuable contribution to Gestalt Therapy’s mostly experiential treatment (Tonnesvang et al., 2010). The strict structuring of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with “explicit formulations of goals” is perceived as “a restriction on the possibility of investigating the procedural patterns in gestalt formations” (Tonnesvang et al., 2010, p. 597). Also, Gestalt-specific sensation is excluded from Cognitive Behavioral therapy, which, combined with experiential practices with less structured patterns of treatment would allow for achieving better and more enduring healing results.

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Conclusion

In summation, the choice of theoretical basis is crucial for the effective work of a counselor. Despite the variety of possible theories and approaches to counseling that exist in the scientific domain, they are commonly restricted to a set of methods and techniques that exclude contradictory or complementary ideas. However, Gestalt Theory and Cognitive Behavioral Theory share many similar features, and both allow for considering ideas form other therapies as the opportunities for improvement. Since some differences in approaching the mental health issues were identified between these two therapy methods, the disadvantages of one therapy might be addressed by the advantages of another and visa versus. Indeed, the combination of scientifically and evidentially based Cognitive Behavioral Theory with the experience-oriented Gestalt Theory will allow for developing a multifaceted structured, goal-oriented, but experience-based therapy for patients with substance dependencies.

References

Boris, G. D. J. B., Melo, A. K., & Moreira, V. (2017). Influence of phenomenology and existentialism on Gestalt therapy. Estudos de Psicologia (Campinas), 34(4), 476-486.

Corey, G. (2016). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy (10th ed.). Cengage Learning.

David, D., Cristea, I., & Hofmann, S. G. (2018). Why cognitive behavioral therapy is the current gold standard of psychotherapy. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9(4). Web.

Hayes, S. C., & Hofmann, S. G. (2017). The third wave of cognitive behavioral therapy and the rise of process‐based care. World Psychiatry, 16(3), 245-246.

Kiluk, B. D., Devore, K. A., Buck, M. B., Nich, C., Frankforter, T. L., LaPaglia, D. M., Yates, B. T., Gordon, M. A., & Carroll, K. M. (2016). Randomized trial of computerized cognitive behavioral therapy for alcohol use disorders: Efficacy as a virtual stand‐alone and treatment add‐on compared with standard outpatient treatment. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 40(9), 1991-2000.

Mann, D. (2020). Gestalt therapy: 100 key points and techniques. Routledge.

Suchitra, S., Rajeswari, H., Indira, A., & Kalavathi, B. (2016). Effectiveness of gestalt therapy on level of alcohol dependence among adults in selected villages, Nellore. International Journal of Applied Research, 2(8), 784-93.

Tonnesvang, J., Sommer, U., Hammink, J., & Sonne, M. (2010). Gestalt therapy and cognitive therapy – contrasts or complementarities?. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 47(4), 586-602.

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