Sample Theology Essay Paper on Gestalt Play Therapy for Children


This paper seeks to explain the Gestalt theory, and how it is used to offer therapy,
particularly to children. It was founded by Friedrich Salomon Perls in an attempt to offer a
different approach to psychotherapy. Various concepts such as play therapeutic play are
explained. Further, it delves into a number of theories such as holism, orgasmic self-regulation,
contact and contact boundary disturbances, amongst many others. It the offers insight o the
Empty-chair technique and how it used I application of the therapy. At the tail-end, it presets
some of the aims of Gestalt therapy, ad my personal opinion.
Gestalt Play Therapy for Children


Friedrich Salomon Perls, popularly known as Frederick came up with a different
approach to psychotherapy, where the aim was to help regain self-awareness of an individual
when they suffer from a psychological disorder (Labuschagne, 2004). This approach to
psychotherapy is what is now regarded as Gestalt therapy.
Play therapy is described as a psychotherapeutic technique that the therapist tries to
utilize in providing the child with the chance to lay out their feelings orally and non-verbally. To
achieve this, the therapist relies on play, which is, ideally, the child's original way of
communication. Play functions as a language that is of symbolic value. Children go through a lot
of experiences that they find difficult to express through language (Oaklander, 1988). As such,
they turn to play, to formulate and resonate with what they are going through. Through play,
children are more comfortable and can express themselves without any reservations. "For

children to play out their experiences and feelings is the most natural dynamic and self-healing
process in which children engage" (Landreth, 1991).
While most researchers have struggled with agreeing on the ideal definition of play, one
commonly used definition was presented by Erikson and is thus quoted by O'Conner, "Play is a
function of the ego, an attempt to synchronize the bodily and social processes with the self; it is
free to compulsions of a conscience and from impulsions of irrationality" (O'Conner, 2000). This
explanation by Erikson applies with regard to play behavior associated with normal children. In
contrast, children who are disturbed or troubled tend to depict play behavior that is compulsive
and irrational.
The concept of therapeutic play results when one creates an environment that utilizes the
features of play that are therapeutic. Therein, play therapy utilizes therapeutic play features but is
different to the extent that it employs a play therapist who has the requisite skills to operate
within a specific theoretical model to assist the child develop better mental health efficiently.
Thus, it is prudent that counselors comprehend the various psychological theories that relate to
their work. Such knowledge acquired is critical to the proper functioning of the various
theoretical models. Play therapy encompasses the therapist's particular theoretical orientation,
which resonates accordingly with the child's exact needs and personality (Oaklander, 1988). This
helps maximize the ability of the child to develop characters that are exciting and intrinsically
Further, play therapy involves the client's participation in a therapeutic process through
the utilization of counseling skills, as well as other techniques that ought to be utilized if the
ideal therapeutic change is to be witnessed. Thus, play therapy is a fundamental factor in the

therapeutic process. From all those as mentioned above, various theoretical principles of Gestalt
play therapy arise.

Theoretical Perspectives of Gestalt Play Therapy


In Gestalt theory, holism refers to the idea that an individual is not just defined by the
various components that make up them. The body, emotional and spiritual segments, language,
behaviors, thoughts, etc., cannot exist on their own and are thus interrelated. Gestalt play therapy
thus demands that all the different processes that make up a child be taken into consideration.
Research shows that children suffering from stuttering are most likely to benefit from the
holism approach. Stuttering, being a communication disorder, could affect their full functioning.
Such children tend to experience physical tension and disfluent speech, resulting in a body image
that sends conflicting signals (Irwin, 2006). Further, many people suffering from stuttering have
revealed that their sensory perception is often disturbed, as well as their ability to be aware of
themselves and their environment during the stuttering periods. Such individuals go through
underlying feelings and thoughts regarding their stuttering, which could impact on their
intellectual abilities.

Orgasmic Self-regulation

This process sees an individual keep his or her balance while going through various
circumstances. They do so by taking the necessary actions to satisfy the various needs they may
have. The healthy individual utilizes available resources either within himself or within his
environment to satisfy the needs that arise. Failure to satisfy these needs sees the child go

through a period of discomfort, which upsets their hormonal balance (Irwin, 2006). This entire
process that the child utilizes to satisfy his needs entails orgasmic self-regulation.
For instance, stuttering children generally have an urgent need for affection and to be
accepted, particularly amongst their peers. However, they encounter immense difficulty when
trying to associate with their peers, and this impacts negatively on the development of their
social relationships. Consequently, such children do everything to keep away from social
situations. Such therapeutic support could go a long way in boosting the ability of these children
to self-regulate.

Contact and Contact Boundary Disturbances

Contact arises once the child makes use of the environment to satisfy the needs that he
has. Boundaries come in to differentiate the various environmental fields that the child may
encounter. It serves two purposes, i.e., it links the child with the environment while at the same
time separating the two from each other (Joyce and Sills, 2001). Such positive contacts help
boost one's psychological health. It becomes a worrying problem when such a child is unable to
connect positively with the environment or the outside world. Such contact boundary
disturbances disrupt the child's holistic functioning, thus impeding their awareness capabilities.
A stuttering child, who has to deal with fear and a general lack of self-control, could channel his
energy inwardly, thus causing withdrawal or unresponsive symptoms.


the child's personality could be described as polarized when it features either competing
or opposing opposites. Polarities relate to emotions and various character traits. When such arise,
the child is bound to be confused. For instance, a child could feel anger and hatred towards a

person they actually love. During such instances, "an integration, reconciliation, or synthesis of
one's opposing sides, positive and negative, is a prerequisite to a dynamic and healthy life
process" (Joyce and Sills, 2001). This statement reinforces the need to work with children facing
such polarities. For such children to function in a healthy manner, they need to develop the
ability to move flexibly or comfortably along any such polarity lines.
For instance, stuttering children could feel anger over their communication disorder while
at the same time extending the anger to their speech therapists since they may have no cure. Such
situations could be said to be polarized as the child could want to show anger at the therapist, but
they could also be holding respect for them. Such children ought to be guided to adopt awareness
over various polarities that could arise in their lives to help achieve a positive balance and
integration level (Irwin, 2006). Creative play techniques could be integrated to help the child
handle any polarities. Such play techniques could include art, clay, collages and stories.

Structure of the Personality

These structures entail five different neuroses' layers that indicate how individuals
fragment their lives. It is essential to observe these layers in order for an individual to attain
psychological maturity. Such layers could be equated to an onion and can successfully be
observed by "peeling." The layers include: 1) the phony layer where the child attempts to be
something he is not, and does so by playing games or engaging in various roles- this could see
them deny they stuttering problem (Pelczarski and Coleman, 2005); 2) the phobic layer sees the
child attain awareness of the phony games or roles he plays, but still struggle with
acknowledging who he really is- this could see the problem get worse, but the child unaware of
how to disclose the problem; 3) the impasse layer sees the child get over the phony games, but
still unaware of how best to replace them- the child could become withdrawn or depressed

(Oaklander, 1988); 4) the implosive layer sees the child gain awareness on who he is, and tries to
adopt to new attitudes and behaviors- though the child may struggle a bit, there are positive signs
as the child begins to accept his communication problem, and more accepting to therapy; 5) the
explosive layer sees the child's attempt at new behavior become successful, and the energy once
held within is released- thus, the child stops pretending, embraces who he is and are able to mee
and satisfy their needs.

Aim of Gestalt Play Therapy

The main objective of this therapy is to encourage awareness, particularly amongst
children. Awareness is generally defined as being in touch and in control of your own existence,
i.e., knowing what you are doing, the manner in which you are doing it, as well as knowing that
though you have alternatives, you choose to proceed in a particular manner.
Children are fragile beings and need to be made aware of their own processes. A child's
own process entails "who they are, what they feel, what they like or do not like, what they need,
what they want, what they do and how they do it" (Blom, 20014). As the child goes through the
experience of therapy, he gradually develops awareness over his own processes. Such processes
place him in a position where he identifies the choices he has to make. Consequently, he
endeavors to experiment on different choices and gradually get rid of unproductive or self-
defeating behaviors.
Gestalt therapy approach is premised on the idea that raised awareness results in a
change. Children face their emotions and release them accordingly. The result of this is that the
child eventually understands the experiences he is going through, as well as any feelings he may

It is perfect for stuttering children as it affords them the opportunity to exploit different
communication disorder levels at different levels. As such, the initial self-consciousness is
replaced with an awareness that is healthy and geared towards positive development.

The Empty Chair Technique

This is a technique commonly used in Gestalt therapy. It focuses o both interpersonal and
internal conflict that an individual is facing. The aim is to help such persons have different
perspectives over different situations (Labuschagne, 2004). The different perspectives help
influence positive feelings and behavior.
The chair is used in the following way: one sits on an empty chair and is asked to picture
himself or anyone with whom he has a conflict; he then speaks to the chair, explaining any
feelings he may have, as well as trying to understand the situation. After sharing his thoughts, he
moves to a different chair and answers the same issues he had earlier raised, from another
person’s perspective.


From the preceding, it is clear that Gestalt play therapy is important, particularly with
children. Reference was made to children who stutter as the ideal individuals to whom the
therapy could be applied. A look at the processes through which the therapy is applied shows
that the therapist first creates an environment that is safe and tailor-made according to every
child's uniqueness (Neuman & Neuman, 2006). The children are then given the opportunity to
exploit different personal experiences concerning their disorder at various levels, i.e., physical,
sensory, emotional, and cognitive levels. This is done in due regard to the fact that stuttering
affects the children's full functioning, as discussed above.

Further, the therapist exercises restraint when dealing with the children as they tend to be
tensed and anxious because of their communication disorder (Labuschagne, 2004). Thus, they do
not intrude or push the child. It is important to note that the Gestalt approach is, at best, natural.
The stuttering child is given the space to think independently, act without restraints, and feel
individually. To assist the children, they are given different activities and experiences that assist
the child in letting off the self-aspects that had previously been suppressed or withheld. The
advantage of the entire process is that the children get the chance to nurture themselves
accordingly and confidently express any thoughts they have.
It is my opinion that the Gestalt play therapy is the ideal tool to explore the emotional
side of the stuttering disorder. Thus, it could be utilized in helping these children let-off any
negative thoughts or emotions that they may have struggled with previously. In addition to that,
the children get to go through different experiences that consequently boost their self-esteem and
confidence amongst their peers.
As had been mentioned above, stuttering children often struggle with interacting with
their peers as their self-esteem is quite low. Social relationships are integral to the growth of any
child. A lack of it could hinder their holistic development. This underlines the importance of
Gestalt play therapy, as it helps build the self-esteem and confidence of such children. Their
interactions with their peers are made easier, and they end up fitting in perfectly or dealing with
their self-esteem in a more positive manner. Such struggling children should be identified early
enough so that they are given help before it is too late. Every child deserves an equal shot at life,
and the Gestalt play therapy affords them with exactly that.



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M.A.(C.P.) (Clinical Psychology) dissertation. University of Pretoria.
Landreth, G.L. 1991. Play therapy: the art of the relationship. United States of America:
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Neuman, B.M. & Neuman, P.R. 2006. Development through life: A psychological approach. 9th
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Oaklander, V. 1988. Windows to our children: A Gestalt therapy approach to children and
adolescents. Highland, New York: Center for Gestalt Development, Inc.
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