Gestalt therapy: overview, uses, techniques, benefits


Gestalt Therapy is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on the present moment. The approach is humanistic, holistic and rooted in experience. In this type of therapy, the focus is on self-awareness, experience and the present.

Read on to learn more about Gestalt therapy, its basic principles, techniques, and effectiveness.

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What is Gestalt therapy?

Gestalt therapy was developed in the 1940s by psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and psychotherapist Fritz Perls and his wife, Laura Perls, psychologist and psychotherapist.

“Gestalt” refers to the form or configuration (the way things are put together) of something whole, which means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, every aspect of us is valuable and essential to the fabric of who we are as a whole.

Gestalt therapy emphasizes a person’s current experience and being in tune with the present moment. Recognizing that challenges exist and have an impact here and now is part of the process. Gestalt therapy examines the context of a person’s life and the meaning derived from individual experiences.

The human being is complex. Our experiences of self, our relationships with others, and how we view the world can shape our perspective. Gestalt therapy can help a person maintain contact with the present, accept personal responsibility, and examine their life on a deeper level.

The key principles

The gestalt perspective looks at each individual as a whole while recognizing different parts of us. Experiences and environment are keys to understanding a person, creating meaning and self-regulation.

There are a few principles that are integral to Gestalt therapy. These include:

  • Perception
  • The context
  • Presence
  • Pain
  • Self-awareness

Our perception can influence our reality. Exploring how we perceive ourselves, our relationships with others, events and situations can enhance awareness and understanding. However, to really investigate what is going on, it is essential to look at the context of a person’s life and current situation.

By focusing on the present, we can learn to be in tune with what is happening mentally, emotionally, and physically. Complex thoughts or feelings are not ignored in Gestalt therapy. Although the focus is not on the past, strong emotions are recognized and their connection to the present is taken into account.

Self-awareness is at the heart of Gestalt therapy. Being self-aware can help us change and grow. For this reason, self-exploration and discovery are integral to the process.


The principles of Gestalt therapy can resonate with and support people with various concerns. Some of its uses include:

Gestalt therapy in action

Gestalt therapy in action might look like:

  • Explore how you relate to yourself and others
  • Identify emotions as they arise
  • Learn to communicate your experiences clearly
  • Deal with situations and events that seem unresolved
  • Use all of your senses to ground yourself in the present and dissect experiences

In a session, a therapist may encourage you to tap into the present, share their own observations, or engage in exercises that help you look deeper.


Gestalt therapists use a variety of tools to encourage self-awareness, self-direction, and processing.

Empty chair technique

In this technique, you will sit in front of an empty chair and imagine that you are talking to another person or to yourself. You communicate your thoughts, feelings, and emotions to the person in the other chair. Then you switch chairs and answer from the other seat.

This exercise creates space and an opportunity for you to talk to another part of yourself or an important person in your life, perhaps someone you might have a conflict with. This tool can be helpful in overcoming difficult experiences.

exaggeration exercise

Expressing yourself is not always easy. When we can’t find our words, we can use our bodies to release our emotions. A therapist may ask you to imagine a movement that represents what you are feeling and act it out. This exercise can provide insight and catharsis.


While Gestalt therapy looks at a whole person, it is important to take stock of our parts and how they contribute to the whole.

Role-playing exercises can be a beneficial way to tap into different parts of yourself. The empty chair technique is an example of a role-playing activity.

Locate the emotion

Thoughts and emotions are felt by the body. In addition to naming what you feel, a Gestalt therapist may ask you to imagine where and how you feel something in your body. This exercise can help a patient connect to their experience in the present.

Body language

Body language, including facial expressions, gestures, posture and eye contact, is full of information. A therapist may make observations about body language when asking a patient to talk about their experiences.


Gestalt therapy has several benefits, including:

  • Cultivate mindfulness
  • Address relationship issues
  • Deal with what arises
  • Reduce anxiety symptoms
  • Improve mood and treat depression
  • Increase self-esteem and confidence

What to expect

Gestalt therapists strive to create a collaborative, supportive, and empowering therapeutic relationship with their patients. The patient has autonomy (being able to act according to his own values ​​and interests). It encourages self-discovery in an open, tolerant, experiential and non-judgmental environment.

In Gestalt therapy, you can expect:

  • Collaborative therapeutic relationship
  • Encouragement of self-exploration and self-awareness
  • Focus on the here and now
  • Exploration of body language and emotions
  • Guided exercises to deepen introspection (your mental and emotional processes)

When looking for a therapist, you may want to ask about their education, training, and practice in Gestalt therapy. Gathering information about a therapist’s experience and approach can help you decide if they are right for you.

Find care

To find a therapist, you can ask for a referral from your health care provider, your insurer (if you have one), or your employee assistance program at work, if available. You can also search for mental health resources in our national helpline database.

Before starting therapy, you may also find it helpful to discuss the cost of the sessions. A therapist may offer a sliding fee scale or reduced rates for people who do not have insurance. This can significantly reduce the cost of care for the patient.


Some studies have evaluated Gestalt therapy and demonstrated the benefits of this approach.

A review of studies on Gestalt therapy found it to be effective in helping Indigenous activists tell their stories and experiences. This has allowed Aboriginal women to be more active and present in their communities.

The same review noted another study in which anxious parents of elementary school children participated in a gestalt group. As a result, parents learned to develop mindfulness, which helped reduce symptoms of anxiety.

In older people, Gestalt therapy can help improve functioning and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Elderly people who participated in Gestalt therapy also felt empowered to resolve unfinished business and conflict in their lives.

A study that evaluated women with depression found that gestalt therapy had a greater impact on decreasing symptoms of depression than certain medications.

Although not as widely studied as other therapeutic approaches, Gestalt therapy is gaining attention for its ability to help patients explore their experiences and find healing and growth.


Gestalt therapy focuses on the present and helps patients investigate and understand their lives. By increasing self-awareness, tackling unfinished business, and being grounded in the present, patients can learn to transform their energy.

Gestalt therapy involves a partnership between therapist and patient based on empathy, trust and support. Therapists use a variety of techniques to encourage self-discovery.

A word from Verywell

Gestalt therapy can be a catalyst for change. By learning to explore and process your experiences and stay grounded in the present, you can resolve issues such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, as well as improve your relationships. Finding a knowledgeable therapist trained in Gestalt therapy can help facilitate this process.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the purpose of Gestalt therapy?

    The goal of Gestalt therapy is to help patients improve their sense of self-awareness. Through insight and responsibility, growth can happen. Gestalt therapy provides a safe and experiential environment conducive to empowerment and action.

  • How long does it take to see results from Gestalt therapy?

    The duration of treatment with Gestalt therapy may vary from person to person. Gestalt therapy is less goal-oriented than other approaches. Because this form of therapy focuses on treatment, it may take some time before you begin to see results.

  • What is the main difference between Gestalt therapy and other types of therapy?

    Gestalt therapy focuses more on a person’s sense of self-direction and change. There is less emphasis on specific goals and/or behavior change, which is central to many other approaches. In Gestalt therapy, individuals have space to focus on the present and process their experiences.


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