Gestalt therapy

On this page you will learn about Gestalt therapy. You can read more about it below.

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Gestalt therapy focuses on the here and now, and it places emphasis on enhancing awareness, freedom and self-responsibility. Gestalt Therapy describes a way of being in the world and is not limited to just a type of person-centered psychotherapy. 

Gestalt therapy is a theory of health, not pathology. The aim of gestalt therapy is not to analyze but to contact and create awareness with the environment, because the person is assumed to just exist in contact with the environment, and it consists of both the internal and external worlds.

“No individual is self-sufficient; the individual can exist only in an environmental field”
(Perls, 1973)

The Historical Roots of Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt lends itself from German and means “whole” or “form”, as according to its principle we can´t find the meaning from breaking something down into parts but rather from appreciation of the whole. From this perspective, we consider a person as a totality of body, mind, emotions and spirit, someone who is unique to themselves and special. 

Gestalt therapy was developed by Fritz Perls and his wife, Laura, in the 50s. They took components of other therapies and merged them together, seasoned with their own contributions. 

It was at first an alternative to conventional psychoanalysis and offered an answer to a social crisis. It had an impact on global culture and society, as at that time the population was going through a crisis in its values after two world wars and the economic crisis after the great depression. 

Principles of Gestalt Therapy

  • Awareness – Fritz Perls thought that people develop issues with their mental health because they were not aware of their body sensations, their emotions and their environment. Other problems he suggested may arise when the person is not aware of their boundaries in regards to relationships. Personal limits protect and defend the individual hence setting boundaries is vital to healthy relationships, but in order to set them one has to be aware of their needs.
  • Focus on Here and Now: The past no longer exists and the future hasn’t arrived yet so the only real thing that we have is this present moment. In this present moment you are reading my words and trying to learn a bit more about the Gestalt. What brought you to this site or what you will do with this information doesn’t matter because both outcomes don’t currently exist. What you feel is in the present tense, and therapy can work with that, even though the roots of the pain are in the past or in the future, the aim is to heal in the present, in the here and now.
  • Curiosity or “phenomenological inquiry”: maintaining an open mind to understand the client’s point of view and attempting to bracket off pre-existing experiences. The goal of being curious is not to classify, it is to explore the phenomenological world of the client, it is about understanding the client’s experience and conveying to the client what we truly understand without judgment.
  • Focus on the process, and not just on the content. Both, content and process cannot be separated. To comment on the process is to create the opportunity for being real, honest, even when it may feel uncomfortable. 

How Gestalt works?

Gestalt therapy has been shown to be effective in treating a wide range of issues such as anxiety, stress, addiction, depression, low self-esteem, and relationship issues. It can be administered in individual sessions, groups, couples, teams and organizations settings.

Compared to traditional therapy, which often focuses on past experiences and asks the client to talk about past situations, Gestalt therapy encourages the patient to experience those situations through a variety of exercises in the here and now.

Working with past experiences can be important at times, however Gestalt therapy focuses more on the here and now and how these experiences influence how we perceive the life around us in the current moment. It teaches the client to take responsibility for their actions, rather than searching for something or someone to place the blame on.

Gestalt is a creative therapy that does not follow specific guidelines hence the therapist should be flexible in their approaches depending on the context and each client’s personality.

The therapist and the client work collaboratively . Gestalt therapists refrain from interpreting what the client shares, focusing only on what is happening in the moment and the emotional and physical responses. The Gestalt therapist is interested in “how and what” and not the why. It is focused on the interaction process and how a human being interacts with their environment. Gestalt therapists want to understand how clients face problems, how they feel, how they internalize them and how they live with them.

An important aspect of this kind of psychotherapy is the therapeutic relationship as the therapist and client work together at the same level. Trust, respect and congruence are major components of this therapeutic relationship, where the therapist can share with the client how they feel – when it is relevant for the therapy process – to encourage them to be real, honest and open in therapy.

Gestalt Therapy Techniques

The exercises suggested in session are designed to arouse emotions and actions from the client, and alongside with the therapist they will examine the result of those exercises in order to increase awareness and understand their real self, conflicts they may be having, repetitive patterns or relationship difficulties. 

A common exercise used is “the exaggeration” where the client is asked to repeat and exaggerate a certain movement (such as touch their face or avoid eye contact while they are talking), in order to make them more aware of the emotions attached to the conduct.

The most well-known exercise is “the empty chair” or “two chair”, which is a truth-telling method that allows clients to express themselves or express what they may otherwise be too afraid to communicate. During the technique the client is asked to imagine that someone (alive or not, such as their parents, or a boss) or a part of themselves (such as their inner critic) is sitting in the chair. The therapist will encourage a dialogue between the client and the “person” that is in the empty chair, allowing them to speak and express their feelings, to understand the other’s point of view, release strong feelings that could be hidden, gain insight into their feelings and behaviors, and work through interpersonal or internal conflict.

Another useful technique to take responsibility for our lives is  the “I’m responsible” exercise. Its purpose is to help the client be more aware of what is happening inside, to perceive it, accept it and to be more active in order to make the changes we need.Last but not least, “turn your questions into affirmations” which may seem very simple but it helps to declare internal realities and mobilize resources. This invites the client to take responsibility and be brave with what they feel.

Last updated on: 2022.02.18

Author: Marina Moran

Reviewed by: Antigone Lanitis