What is Gestalt Therapy?

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on May 15, 2023
4 min read

Gestalt therapy is a form of psychotherapy that is centered on increasing a person's awareness, freedom, and self-direction. It's a form of therapy that focuses on the present moment rather than past experiences.

Gestalt therapy is based on the idea that people are influenced by their present environment. Each individual works to achieve personal growth and balance. Gestalt therapy focuses on the use of empathy and unconditional acceptance. This helps individuals get rid of distress by learning how to trust and accept what they feel. 

The word "gestalt" is a German term with no direct English translation. It generally means "whole" or "form." It is an idea that views every individual as a blend of the mind, emotions, body, and soul with unique experiences and realities.

In practice, psychology professionals apply this concept by helping people concentrate on what's happening in their lives at the present moment rather than focus on their past experiences. Gestalt therapy puts the focus on the here and now.

Through gestalt therapy, individuals are able to develop new perspectives and bring positive changes into their lives. They can do this because gestalt therapy promotes increased self-awareness and a clear understanding of thoughts, emotions, and behavior.

Since its introduction, gestalt therapy has become a proven and effective therapeutic approach in addressing and treating different mental health conditions. Some of these conditions include:

  • Anxiety. Gestalt therapy helps people focus on the present. This allows individuals to discover what immediate thoughts, feelings, or behavior may make them feel anxious.
  • Behavioral health issues. Gestalt therapy can help people with behavioral conditions like bipolar disorder. It's also an effective therapeutic method for treating substance abuse, compulsive gambling, and PTSD. People struggling with these conditions may develop a new view on life through gestalt therapy and may see a positive change in their lifestyles.
  • Depression. Since gestalt therapy focuses on self-awareness, it can help people with depression become aware of possible stressful situations that trigger their depression.
  • Relationship difficulties. Gestalt therapy can help couples recognize underlying destructive behaviors that may be negatively impacting their relationships. This can help them work toward making positive changes in their relationship and individual lifestyles.
  • Self-esteem issues. Gestalt therapy helps people with low self-esteem identify and overcome underlying factors that contribute to their low self-esteem.

The different gestalt therapy techniques involve a series of experiments and exercises. Therapy can be done individually or in a group setting. Exercises and experiments help individuals increase their awareness and understanding of the here and now.

Different techniques of gestalt therapy work differently for different individuals since everyone's past experiences are unique. Here are examples of the different gestalt therapy techniques:

  • Paradoxical change. The theory of paradoxical change focuses on the need for self-acceptance. It helps individuals develop an improved sense of self-awareness. When an individual makes peace with who they are as a person, it helps them live in the present. This results in more positive feelings and mood.
  • "Here" and "now". This technique enables individuals to appreciate past experiences and how they influence their present thoughts and behavior. By being conscious of internal factors that influence their present lives, individuals can learn to let go of the past. This helps them focus on the here and now. The objective of this technique is to help them live for the present and make positive changes going forward.
  • Empty chair technique. This technique helps individuals to open up and practice talking with an empty chair. The goal of this technique is to visualize yourself opening up to a particular person you needed to talk with. When you open up as if the person was sitting there listening, the therapeutic experience of opening up sets the stage for healing.
  • Exaggeration technique. This technique works by making an individual become aware of underlying issues that could be linked to their present problem. The therapist may request you to exaggerate a specific behavior or emotion. This helps in identifying and addressing the root of the problem.

Gestalt therapy is a comprehensive therapeutic method that gives long-lasting benefits to an individual's mind, emotions, body, and spirit. Common benefits of gestalt therapy include but are not limited to:

  • Increased self-awareness
  • Improved self-confidence 
  • Ability to make peace with the past, and an improved sense of acceptance
  • Increased ability to deal and cope with stressful situations
  • Being more responsible, improved ability to own up for mistakes and behaviors without placing blames

The only limitation of gestalt therapy is that it may not help with the psychological effects of hereditary behaviors. Neither does it help with psychological factors that are not influenced by an individual's thoughts. However, it is an effective therapeutic treatment option for several addiction problems and mental health conditions.