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What Is Gestalt Therapy Used For?

In-depth look at Gestalt therapy - definition, techniques, examples. Discover how Gestalt therapy works and who can benefit from it, on HealthyPlace.

Gestalt therapy is a client-centered, experiential approach that focuses on self-awareness as the key to healing. It was developed by Fritz Perls in the 1940s as an alternative approach to psychoanalysis, encouraging clients to act out their difficult emotions and experiences in a therapeutic session. It has shown to be effective in the treatment of various mental health disorders and emotional issues, but what exactly does this mean, and what is Gestalt therapy used for?

What Is Gestalt Therapy?

Gestalt therapy is an alternative approach to psychotherapy that encourages people to bring their problems and experiences into the room, rather than simply talking about them. This way, issues can be processed in real-time rather than reported back to the therapist and dissected in session.

This approach is humanistic in nature, so it focuses on the individual and their needs at the time while placing emphasis on the uniqueness of their experience. The Gestalt model of therapy offers clients a safe space to share these experiences, free from confrontation or judgment.  

Who Benefits from Gestalt Therapy?

Gestalt therapy provides benefits for a range of different mental and emotional disorders. It has been shown to be effective at treating the following conditions:

Gestalt Therapy Techniques, Goals and Examples

Gestalt therapy often uses role-playing to try to resolve past conflicts. This way, the therapist can view the source of conflict or emotional distress and help you actively work through the experience. Gestalt therapy may also incorporate areas of the creative arts, such as painting, sculpting and drawing to express feelings or situations. This is because, according to Gestalt theory, acting out emotions in various forms is often more helpful than simply talking about them.

Other Gestalt therapy techniques include:

  • The use of “I” statements: The Gestalt therapist will teach you to use language that reflects self-awareness and personal ownership rather than focusing on the behavior of others. For example, rather than saying “If he could just do this, I wouldn’t get so upset,” you would learn to say, “I feel upset when he does this because it makes me feel undervalued and unloved.”
  • Body language: During your session, a Gestalt therapist will observe your body language and may enquire about what you think is happening in this moment. For example, a therapist might say, “I notice you wring your hands when you talk about your relationship. Does this topic make you feel nervous or uncomfortable?”
  • The empty chair: This is a role-playing exercise where you act out a conversation with an empty chair while imagining that the person you're speaking to is sitting there. You may also engage in dialogue with another version of yourself, for example, your inner child or the critical voice in your head. This is a hallmark Gestalt therapy technique.
  • Locating emotion: Your therapist may help you increase self-awareness and understanding of your body by assigning particular emotions to parts of the body. For example, if you say, "I feel sad," the Gestalt therapist may ask, "Where do you feel that?" You may locate the sensation in the pit of your stomach, or as a lump in your throat.
  • Moving blocks: With the help of your therapist, you will identify “blocks” that get in the way of your emotional, spiritual or physical growth and visualize moving them out of the way so that you can continue forward.

The main goal of Gestalt therapy is to collaborate with your therapist in a safe and judgment-free environment so that you can increase personal awareness and process emotional issues.

Anyone can benefit from this form of therapy, as long as they are interested in increasing their self-awareness. As Perls suggested, when this therapy was founded, "Becoming aware of ourselves is healing." In other words, during the process of therapy, we can uncover and heal parts of ourselves that may have been lost, as well as gain a greater sense of self along the way.

article references

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2019, October 10). What Is Gestalt Therapy Used For?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, February 22 from https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/mental-illness-overview/what-is-gestalt-therapy-used-for

Last Updated: October 15, 2019
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Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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