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Comparing Cognitive Behaviour Therapy with Gestalt Therapy

Abstract: Gives examples of use of the methods of cognitive behavioural therapy as compared to Gestalt therapy as applied to eating disorders.

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Comparing Cognitive Behaviour Therapy with Gestalt Therapy

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Written by: Gunborg Palme, certified psychologist and certified psychotherapist, teacher and tutor in psychotherapy.
First version: 22 Jul 2008.
Latest revision: 18 Apr 2017.

What is meant by cognitive behavioural therapy, and how is it different from Gestalt therapy?


Behavioural therapy is based on the assumption that psychic disorders are based on learned, non-suitable behaviours. It is based on research and therapies from the theory of learning.

Cognitive therapy is focused on how people think, and how they interpret experiences. Cognitive therapy tries to help people to think in new, more suitable ways, and in ways which do not cause psychic disorders.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, CBT, is a combination of both these therapy methods, and is used for many kinds of psychic disorders, for example eating disorders. Here is a comparison of how a therapist interacts with a patient using CBT and using Gestalt therapy. Gestalt Therapy is based on concentrating on the immediate, current experiences of a patient.

The intention with this text is not to prove that one school of treatment is better or worse, but to show how both schools can be used to achieve a better result than with only one of them.

CBT: Eat regular, nurturing meals, three to five times a day.

Gestalt: Eat when you have a psychical hunger and stop eating when you are physically satisfied.

CBT: Delay, and gradually cease, compensatory behaviours such as vomiting.

Gestalt: Increase understanding of the internal experiences which lead to vomiting. Learn to withstand uncomfortable feelings, and concentrate on your goals in life, such as getting rid of eating disorders.

CBT: Investigate and modify false ideas about food, slimming and looks.

Gestalt: Investigate what the individual, while thinking in grown up ways, feels is right and wrong in regard to slimming and looks.

CBT: Learn to see how bad eating habits are related to personal difficulties:

Gestalt: Experience and be aware of, at a physical emotional level, how anxiety and stress leads to a need to deafen physical pain by using food as a drug. Get help to become curious about your real feelings and want to examine them.

CBT: Identify problems och find alternative solutions.

Gestalt: Identify problems and find which solutions you have chosen.

CBT: Learn that self esteem is more than body shape.

Gestalt: Find yourself as regards to feelings, desires and physical senses, which can lead to a deeper feeling of true self esteem.

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