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Dr. Cassidy Blair, Psy.D. Licensed Clinical Psychologist | PSY 22022

Dr. Cassidy Blair, Psy.D.

what is gestalt therapy
What is Gestalt Therapy?: Everything You Need to Know

Are you, or someone you know, struggling with an addiction? In a 2017 survey, 19.7 million American adults over the age of 11 struggled with a form of substance abuse disorder. Tens of millions of Americans suffer from mental illness each year.

Estimates show that only half of those with a mental disorder get treatment. Consequences of mental illness can include disability, incarceration, and even suicide.

Is it time for you to get help? There are many different styles and approaches for treatment. You need to find the one that best fits your needs.

One approach, called gestalt therapy, has proven helpful for people battling mental and emotional issues. You may ask, “what is gestalt therapy?” Continue reading to answer this question.

What is Gestalt Therapy?

Gestalt therapy,  a method of experiential psychotherapy, focuses on gaining personal insights into relationships with other people. It concentrates on the here and now.

Frederick and Laura Perls developed gestalt therapy in the 1940s. This approach increases the therapist’s and the patient’s awareness of perceptions, feelings, and actions. It helps to differentiate these emotional responses from preexisting attitudes and beliefs.

Gestalt comes from the German word that means shape or form.  It refers to the character or spirit of something.

Gestalt Therapy Techniques

This therapy can occur in individual or group settings.

Role-playing in a setting of unconditional acceptance, help clients meet therapy goals. The therapist and the client work together to identify feelings and events happening now. The therapy plan is then formulated to reach desired results.


The exercises aim to stimulate actions, emotions, or other goals established for the individual’s treatment. After completing the exercise, discussion about the experience follows to increase awareness.

Examples of awareness exercises include:

Here-and-Now: Describe what you are aware of each moment. You can begin each sentence with phrases such as “right now” or “at this time”.

Then repeat the exercise, using your senses this time. Describe what is happening and what you’re feeling. Think about your actuality and whether you can actually feel it?

Remembering: Choose a memory that is not too old or difficult. Close your eyes.

What do you see? The door? Is someone opening it? Is there furniture? Other people?

Do not try and figure out what is in your mind. Let your thoughts be there. Stay in this place and see what is there from the perspective of an observer.


Experiments occur more organically as the therapeutic process and relationship develops. This represents a fundamental component of gestalt therapy.

Participation in these experiments helps the person understand different views of a conflict, experience, or mental health issue.

Empty Chair Technique

This represents the ultimate gestalt therapy exercise.  The client sits across from an empty chair. They imagine that someone, such as a relative, significant other, or boss, or even part of themselves, is sitting in the chair.

This helps the person have a conversation or dialogue with the individual in the empty chair. This technique helps people become aware of the whole situation, or some forgotten piece of their own self.

Exaggeration Exercise

This exercise helps clients be more aware of the emotion attached to their behavior and reconnect with parts of themselves they may be ignoring or denying.

Benefits of Gestalt Therapy

The key benefit of gestalt therapy is that it keeps the client focused on the present. They become more aware of their mental and emotional processes. With guidance and activities led by the therapist, the individual learns that these mental and emotional processes drive decisions, actions, and behaviors.

The person can become more skilled at monitoring their thoughts and actions in real time. They have a more concrete understanding of what they are thinking and doing.

Gestalt therapy provides a greater sense of freedom, self-control, and peace. Their behavior changes from reactive to more conscious, thoughtful actions. This can create amazing results in addictive, compulsive, and abusive behaviors.

Conditions Treated with Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt therapy has proven useful when incorporated into treatment programs for teens and adults. Many different disorders are being treated with this approach including:

  • Substance abuse
  • Addiction
  • Behavior disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Grief/loss
  • Trauma
  • Sex addiction
  • Compulsive gambling
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression

Other disorders may benefit from gestalt therapy. The client and therapist must first develop a therapeutic relationship and agree upon desired treatment outcomes.

How Long Does It Take for Gestalt Therapy to Work?

Gestalt therapy may require a short-term or long-term treatment plan. The client’s individual requirements impact the length of therapy. The therapist must determine the severity and complexity of the disorder or problem.

There have been occasions when gestalt therapy was a form of crisis intervention. It focused on helping those affected by an acute traumatic event.

How to Determine if Your Therapist is Certified in Gestalt Therapy

Candidates for certification must pass a series of examinations to verify their theoretical and clinical knowledge. Certification takes approximately 4 years to complete.

The individual must also take part in 50 hours of individual gestalt therapy. They must also complete at least 75 hours of supervision. This means that the candidate conducts gestalt therapy sessions under the supervision of an experienced therapist.

Before beginning the certification process, the individual must prove a mastery of basic theory.

Therapists receive certification is after:

  • Completion of the 220-hour course
  • Completion of the written exam
  • Completion of the clinical exam requiring the candidate to demonstrate their gestalt therapy technique

Before beginning gestalt therapy, you may wish to ask if your practitioner has certification in gestalt therapy.

Would You Like to Learn More About Mental Health?

Now that you have the answer to the question, “what is gestalt therapy?”, we invite you to learn about more treatment techniques. Mental disorders impact many people’s lives.

If you are ready to start making changes, talk to people close to you and ask for support. Explore our site further and watch some videos today about increasing your mental health. Make sure to check out the other types of treatments we offer as well!

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