Gestalt Therapy

What Is Gestalt Therapy?

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It’s normal for difficulties in the past to persist in the present. There is no reassurance that old problems won’t haunt you in the future if you don’t address them or find a solution. With the help of a certified counselor, gestalt therapy can be an incredibly beneficial resource for individuals in this situation.  Instead of focusing on the past or worrying about the future, gestalt techniques encourage change through interactive activities. As a unique approach to psychotherapy, gestalt techniques focus on increasing an individual’s self-direction, freedom, and awareness. The Gestalt method, which is supervised by clinicians, also encourages human growth by emphasizing needs, feelings, and wants.

When Is Gestalt Therapy Used?

Following its inception, Gestalt therapy has become a proven and effective therapeutic approach for addressing and treating various mental health issues. Gestalt therapy is known to benefit the following mental conditions:

      • Anxiety: If you have anxiety, you can learn to minimize catastrophic thinking styles by focusing on the present moment. This also enables people to identify any existing ideas, emotions, or behaviors that may be causing them to worry.

      • Depression: If you have depression, these exercises can teach you mindfulness practices to recognize stress-inducing triggers that worsen your symptoms.

      • Low self-esteem: If you struggle with low self-esteem, these sessions can help you to identify and overcome underlying factors contributing to your poor self-image such as intrusive thoughts and negative thinking patterns.

      • Relationship difficulties: You can benefit from identifying unhealthy patterns of behavior that may negatively impact your relationships. With gestalt techniques, you learn to focus on modifying your negative habits and changing your relationships for the better.

      • Self-awareness: Instead of talking about the past, you are encouraged to experience life in the present and to take responsibility for the management of your positive and negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

    Since the 1950s, gestalt therapists have employed experiential exercises that focus on awareness and understanding the present moment. Each session also encourages individuals to take responsibility for their actions and become more aware of how they interact with the world around them. As a result, this type of therapy helps you gain insight into your thought patterns, emotions, and behaviors so you can make changes to better manage your mental health. 

    What to Expect in Gestalt Therapy

    When you work with a Gestalt therapist, you can expect them to inquire about your current experiences in that present moment. During these sessions, you will also work with your therapist to explore your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, values, and behaviors in order to gain insight into how these things may be affecting your life. As you discuss your current situation, close attention will be focused on your experience and how you are feeling.

    Gestalt therapy aims to increase the client’s awareness of their current experience. Although it may seem paradoxical, paying close attention to what you are going through may help you gain insight into harmful behaviors and change them. For this reason, your therapist will focus on your current situation in order to help you gain insight into why you behave the way you do. 

    Similarly, your counselor may ask questions about your history to better understand why certain situations bring up certain emotions or reactions in you. Throughout your time in therapy, you will also participate in various exercises and activities that can help you gain a better understanding of yourself or your relationships with others. 

    Gestalt Therapy Techniques in Treatment

    Exercises and experiments are used to practice Gestalt therapy in individual and group settings. Gestalt often uses hands-on exercises to bring about actions, emotions, or goals. In fact, a key element of this therapy is experimentation. As a result, you can explore several techniques to better understand the elements that contribute to conflict in your life.

    Gestalt techniques3 include:

        • Empathy/empathetic

        • “I” statements

        • Problem-solving

        • Artistic exercises

      Knowing your therapist’s goal is to increase your awareness of the “here” and “now”, gestalt techniques often include mindfulness practices. Mindfulness techniques can help you focus on the present moment without getting distracted by worries over past or future situations. 

      The Empty Chair

      The empty chair technique is a popular role-playing exercise, allowing you to envision and take part in a conversation with another person or a metaphorical part of yourself. In this approach, you will sit in front of an empty chair while your therapist offers instructions on how to imagine a particular scenario. For example, your counselor may suggest picturing someone else (such as an angry or judgmental past self) seated in the chair. During this activity, you engage thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as the imaginary situation unfolds. In turn, these mental exercises can help you grow more aware of your surroundings and mindful of different aspects of yourself.

      Exaggeration

      When using the exaggeration technique, your therapist may urge you to make an exaggerated motion or to repeat the same action throughout the session to give body language a voice. This might be especially useful if you need help putting what is taking place right then into words. Through these sessions, you can become more conscious of the emotions driving your behavior as well as the current sensations as a result.

      How Gestalt Therapy Works

      Gestalt therapy is a physical, mental, and emotional activity in which your therapist considers your body language in addition to hearing what you say and how your movements relate to your emotions. The gestalt method emphasizes developing a dialogue-based connection grounded in your personal experiences, being conscious of one’s own bodily and emotional feelings, and engaging in “here and now” or present moment exercises. Emotions must be expressed to be resolved.8

      Gestalt therapy concentrates on the present because the past cannot be changed. Since the present is the only thing that can be actively changed, gestalt sessions attempt to bring previous issues into the present. This process takes place using gestalt exercises through client-therapist interactions.4

      Gestalt Therapy Pros and Cons

      It’s always a good idea to remember that therapy of any kind is better than no therapy, especially if you are dealing with a mental illness.

      Pros of Gestalt Therapy

      Gestalt therapy has been proven incredibly successful with more pros than cons. With that being said, each client enters treatment with their own unique experiences that will influence therapeutic needs.

      Pros of gestalt therapy include:

          • A stronger sense of self-control

          • Enhanced capacity to control and keep track of thoughts and emotions

          • Heightened consciousness of emotional demands

          • Increased emotional intelligence

          • Increased awareness and improved communication skills

        Cons of Gestalt Therapy

        Cons of the gestalt method include:5

            • May take more time than other therapeutic methods

            • Present-focused techniques may not be appropriate for those with unresolved trauma who need to confront and heal from past experiences.

            • Therapists may use Gestalt exercises incorrectly if they lack a thorough comprehension of the theory and its applications.

          How to Get Started

          For several reasons, you might want to consider Gestalt therapy. For instance, this treatment can be beneficial for you if you have trouble controlling your emotions. Similarly, gestalt techniques may be helpful for keeping you in the present. This is especially true if you tend to reflect on past mistakes or worry about messing up in the future. These sessions do not follow specific guidelines, and depending on the situation, gestalt methods urge therapists to be creative in their methods.9

          It is important that you are willing and ready to use these therapeutic approaches to reap the greatest benefits. Although the empty chair and exaggeration techniques may seem strange at first, try to have an open mind to your therapist’s instructions.

          Reach Out

          During treatment for substance abuse, gestalt therapy can be a highly effective method of change. The gestalt method is fundamentally about respecting the potential and unpredictability of ongoing interactions between people on a daily basis. Both sides evolve as a result of those interactions and together, they create new realities and experiences.

          If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, please call us today at 888-965-3085 to find the right level of care for your unique situation. Gestalt therapy is one of our evidence-based therapy offerings and it has assisted many of our clients during treatment for substance abuse and in recovery.

          Gestalt Therapy FAQs

          Gestalt therapy’s fundamentals have not altered over time. However, our understanding of “the self” and the most therapeutically effective techniques is constantly being explored and broadened through several theoretical and practical approaches.

          Gestalt therapy addresses fundamental concerns in each individual since it is process oriented. Working with material that comes up in therapy can involve any element of the individual, including behavior, cognitions, beliefs, physical sensations, imagination, and dreams.

          The Gestalt approach is about the therapeutic, which is certainly not only “therapy” in the traditional sense.6

          Awareness is the key factor in the gestalt-based approach to therapy. Bringing a change and shift in client awareness levels is primary. Any further changes are their choices and responsibility.

          In general, gestalt methods have two possible limitations: It exclusively concentrates on the present and demands a high level of personal development and knowledge from the therapist.

          Alexandra Kraska
          Jenna Richer
          Medically Reviewed by Jenna Richer, LCSW