Integration of both modalities
The Gestalt and psychodynamic psychotherapies stem from the common source. Both draw from psychoanalysis and on its basis or in opposition to it, they built specific techniques of work and theoretical frameworks.
Since the very beginning, the psychotherapists in both modalities shared the views on the human psyche and therapeutic techniques (Robinson, 1991). Both Gestalt and psychodynamic psychotherapists saw deepening the knowledge of oneself as an opportunity for clients to overcome mental difficulties. They were also agreed as to the complexity and dynamic nature of the human psyche – showing for instance in the coexistence of mutually exclusive needs or desires within one individual. The psychotherapists of both modalities were also in agreement as to the essence of the role of defence mechanisms and underlined the meaning of dreams in the mental life of the studied individuals. They also allowed for the possibility of showing mental difficulties in the form of somatic symptoms such as muscle tension or pain.
Despite the differences between the Gestalt therapy in its early development and the classic psychoanalysis, over time the techniques of these approaches started to be closer and closer. Today, the style of work in both psychotherapy modalities in question does not differ significantly. The psychodynamic theory is currently less deterministic and less focused on the dark sides of the human psyche and assumes the possibility of reaching for the actualisation of the potential dormant in the individual participating in psychotherapy. Psychodynamic psychotherapists also see the importance of the psychotherapeutic relationship as a new bond with the potential of corrective experience and attach more weight to the “here and now” – what is currently happening in the office – as a result of an interaction of two different people. As a result, both psychotherapy modalities recognise the currently key role of conscious feeling and experiencing, not limiting the work to insight only or seeking meaning in the material connected only with the mental life of the client. On the other hand, the contemporary Gestalt psychotherapy takes advantage of the mindful dialogue, characteristic of the psychodynamic approach, which is more often accompanied by different types of Gestalt experiments, while not being the essence of the meeting in the psychotherapeutic office. An aspect of widening the awareness that cannot be overestimated is the value of the psychodynamic perception of intrapsychic processes showing during psychotherapy and the possibility of making use of the theories created and described in this modality.
In the beginning of both modalities, both Gestalt and psychodynamic psychotherapists underlined the role of the psychotherapeutic relationship – despite a different way of understanding it, a different nature or a different organisation of contact between the client and the psychotherapist (Robinson, 1991). It is exactly in the psychotherapeutic contact that the representative of both modalities saw the opportunity to overcome the difficulties reported by the clients and to develop their personality. The importance of the psychotherapeutic relationship for the healing process or development of the client was confirmed by scientific studies. Learning the mechanisms favourable for the psychotherapeutic work allowed building a common approach to the psychotherapeutic relationship. At present, the ways the Gestalt and psychodynamic psychotherapists establish contact with the client is becoming more and more similar to each other. The representatives of both modalities actively participate in the process of psychotherapy, using their own emotionality and building an atmosphere of security where the client can start a creative work on themselves. Winnicott (1974), a British psychoanalyst, compares this form of work to play: “Psychotherapy happens where two areas of play overlap each other: the one belonging to the client and the one belonging to the therapist. Thus, psychotherapy regards two people playing together. Therefore, if playing is not possible, the therapist must first make the client become able to do that.”
Robinson J. (1991) Towards a State of Being Able to Play: Integrating Gestalt Concepts and Methods into a Psychodynamic Approach to Counselling, British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 19:1, 44-65, DOI: 10.1080/03069889108253590
Winnicott D.W. (1974). Playing and Reality. London: Harmondsworth: Penguin.