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Limitations

One of the limitations related to Gestalt counseling and psychotherapy has little to do with the theory itself but with Peris (Reilly & Jacobus, 2009). The reliance on the workshop format developed during the 1960s seemed to lead to a reliance on Peris himself as a sort of guru who could answer any problem by demonstrating Gestaltism in a workshop (Stoehr, 2009). Although today's practitioners of Gestalt are gentler and less confrontational, the therapy is still largely associated with the antics of Peris himself (Yontef, 2007). In addition, Perls's work is sometimes seen as a potpourri of various theories – a little Freud, a little Jung, and a lot of the Berlin school – yet Peris seldom credits them for their contributions. Consequently, in her later years and upon reflection, Laura Peris noted that there were as many ways to do Gestalt therapy as there were Gestalt therapists, which further dilutes the practice of the theory (Brownell & Fleming, 2005).

Another limitation of Gestalt therapy is the temptation for novice counselors or therapists to use such Gestalt techniques (i.e., processes) as empty chair, top dog-underdog, figure-ground, and locating feelings without sufficient practitioner training. However, these processes alone can be of little value in helping the client. In addition, the intense emotional responses that some Gestalt experiments evoke can be harmful to the client if misused or abused by an inexperienced counselor or therapist (Melnick et al., 2005).

Other criticisms stem from counselors who use Gestalt therapy and integrate other techniques into a hybrid form of counseling that does not fit under the Gestalt theoretical umbrella. Sometimes these other techniques clash with Gestalt theory and are ineffectual (Brownell & Fleming, 2005). Some practitioners believe the client's cognitive process is important in counseling or psychotherapy work, yet many Gestaltists tend to deemphasize cognition, focusing more on feeling (Yontef, 1993). In addition, the holistic nature of Gestalt counseling and psychotherapy and its allowances for therapist creativity in developing treatments fly in the face of today's trend toward specialization in the medical field. Finally, Gestalt therapy does not lend itself well to diagnosis using the DSM-IV-TR (American Psychiatric Association, 2000) or behavioral contracting, which limits its applicability in managed care settings (James & Gilliland, 2003).

Despite the limitations that may exist in Gestalt counseling and psychotherapy, its holistic nature is one of its most appealing features. Contrasted with more empirical scientific approaches, it offers a wide variety of opportunities to facilitate the client's journey toward greater health and development.

 
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