Fritz Perls's work was carried on after his death in 1970 by his wife, Laura Peris. It has become increasingly clear since her own death in 1990 that Lore (Laura) Posner Peris (b. 1905) contributed significantly to Gestalt counseling and psychotherapy, having studied with Max Wertheimer and gaining recognition as a Gestalt psychologist in her own right (Gaffney, 2009). She continued her work long after her husband's death, becoming an influential force in Gestalt therapy and the training of Gestalt therapists until her own death.
Another person who participated in the development of Gestalt therapy is Paul Goodman (Bloom, 2009). When he met Peris in 1949, Goodman was already an accomplished classical scholar, wrote fiction and political criticism, and had been deeply influenced by his studies of Sigmund Freud, Otto Rank, and Wilhelm Reich (Stoehr, 2009). Goodman collaborated with Peris on Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality (Peris et al., 1951). Although Peris initially received the recognition for this work, many scholars have since come to credit Goodman with writing at least half of the manuscript, specifically the half dealing with the theory of Gestalt therapy (Serlin & Shane, 1999). Goodman's role is now seen as one of collaboration with Fritz and Laura Peris, and his own contribution to development of the theory is acknowledged (Gaffney, 2009). While Fritz Peris is still credited as Gestalt therapy's most boisterous and ardent promoter, there are those who now consider Paul Goodman its chief theoretician (Meier & Davis, 2009).
Phenomenology, Existentialism, Field Theory, Dialogue, and
Gestalt psychology was not the only influence that inspired Gestalt therapy. Although the roots of Gestalt therapy can most certainly be found in phenomenology and field theory (Bloom, 2009), there exists within it the influential existentialist writings of Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Buber, Paul Tillich, and Martin Heidegger; the writings of Aristotle, William James, John Dewey, and Immanuel Kant; and the philosophies of Zen Buddhism and Taoism. In addition, there are also some added basic principles from psychoanalytic theory, humanistic theories, and Reichian body therapy (Reilly & Jacobus, 2009). The coagulation of all these perspectives placed the focus on improving clients' awareness of their subjective experience. Gestalt therapy does this by facilitating the client's ability to become authentic and make choices that lead to a meaningful life, while setting in motion the natural process of growth that moves toward integration within self and between self and the environment (Yontef, 2007).
Phenomenology is the study of human experience through attending to the subjective observations of individuals (Yontef, 2007). Inquiry into experience/ or observing one's own experience, is inherently a subjective undertaking. The focus of inquiry maybe internal (on the self) or external (on the environment), but the observations of the individual are considered to be relevant and meaningful. Phenomenology suggests a conscious awareness of the subject's own experience through self-observation (Borrett & Kwan, 2008).
Existential thought came to the forefront during the 19th century when philosophers in Europe began contemplating the absolutism of such prior ideas as, What is truth and what is fact? Was the "whole" person (Gestalt) more than the sum of the parts? (Plhakova, 2008). Existentialism is concerned with human existence as directly experienced. People seek to find meaning in their experience (Ginger, 2004).
The Gestalt therapy perspective relies heavily on field theory (Gaffney, 2009). Field theory focuses on the whole, in which all the elements found within the field are in relationship to and influence one another. Thus, no individual part operates in isolation from any of the other parts in the field (Russell, 2009).
The importance of dialogue in the counselor-client or therapist-client relationship has been recognized, and this enhanced recognition is thought to be the most important advance in Gestalt therapy in recent years (Reilly & Jacobus, 2009). The main objective to the dialogue component of Gestalt therapy is to facilitate rapport and relationship building with the client (Yontef, 2007).
The fundamental theory behind the dialogic approach is that people develop in relationship to others (Falconer, 2009). When a person is supported through a genuine and trusting relationship, that person can grow in a positive direction and gains a positive sense of self. In contrast, when a person is not supported, he or she often experiences shame and this can thwart the growth of a positive concept of self (Pack, 2009). Therefore, empathic understanding through dialogue is seen as an important part of the change process.