A form of psychotherapy that was formed by a Germany psychiatrist,
FREDERICK S. (“FRITZ”) PERLS, MD, PhD (1893–1970) in 1952
He develops the interest for gestalt psychology after he served as a medic in world war I for
German army and his experiences with gassed frontline soldiers where he believes that individuals
must be understood in the context of their ongoing relationship with the environment.
Gestalt therapy is an existential, phenomenological, and process-based approach created on the
premise that individuals must be understood in the context of their ongoing relationship with the
Gestalt therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on your present challenges and needs
The initial goal is for clients to gain awareness of what they are experiencing and how they are
doing it. Through this awareness, change automatically occurs.
Sometimes its called “relational Gestalt therapy”
View of Human Nature
o The Gestalt theory of change posits that the more we work at becoming who or what
we are not, the more we remain the same.
o The therapists focus on creating the conditions that promote client growth rather than
relying on therapist-directed change
o According to the paradoxical theory of change, we change when we become aware of
what we are as opposed to trying to become what we are not
o Perls’s style of doing therapy involved two personal agendas: moving the client from
environmental support to self-support and reintegrating the disowned parts of one’s
o Therapy aims not at analysis or introspection but at awareness and contact with the
environment. The environment consists of both the external and internal worlds
o A basic assumption of Gestalt therapy is that individuals have the capacity to self-
regulate when they are aware of what is happening in and around them.
Therapist’s Functions And Roles
Perls, Hefferline, and Goodman (1951) stated that the therapist’s job is to;
Invite clients into an active partnership where they can learn about themselves by
adopting an experimental attitude towards life in which they try out new behaviors and
notice what happens
Gestalt therapists encourage clients to attend to their sensory awareness in the present
An important function of Gestalt therapists is paying attention to clients’ body
In addition to calling attention to clients’ nonverbal language, the Gestalt counselor
places emphasis on the relationship between language patterns and personality.
What Disorders Can Be Treated Using Gestalt Therapy?
Since its introduction, gestalt therapy has become a proven and effective therapeutic
approach in addressing and treating different mental health conditions. Some of these
• Depression. Since gestalt therapy focuses on self-awareness, it can help people with
depression become aware of possible stressful situations that trigger their depression
• Relationship difficulties.
• Self-esteem issues.
Some Principles of Gestalt Therapy (Theories )
Basic principles underlying the theory of Gestalt therapy are: holism, ﬁeld theory, the ﬁgure-
formation process, and organismic self-regulation.
Holism .Gestalt is a German word meaning a whole or completion, or a form that cannot be
separated into parts without losing its essence. All of nature is seen as a uniﬁed and coherent
whole, and the whole is different from the sum of its parts. Because Gestalt therapists are
interested in the whole person, they place no superior value on a particular aspect of the
Field Theory Gestalt therapy is based on ﬁeld theory, which is grounded on the principle
that the organism must be seen in its environment, or in its context, as part of the constantly
changing ﬁeld. Gestalt therapy rests on the principle that everything is relational, in ﬂux,
interrelated, and in process.
The Figure-formation Process Derived from the ﬁeld of visual perception by a group of
Gestalt psychologists, the ﬁgure-formation process describes how the individual organizes
experience from moment to moment
Organismic Self-regulation The ﬁgure-formation process is
intertwined with the principle of organismic self-regulation, a process by which
equilibrium is “disturbed” by the emergence of a need, a sensation, or an
interest. Organisms will do their best to regulate themselves, given their own
capabilities and the resources of their environment (Latner, 1986).
Gestalt Therapy Techniques
The different gestalt therapy techniques involve a series of experiments and exercises.
Therapy can be done individually or in a group setting. Exercises and experiments help
individuals increase their awareness and understanding of the here and now
Different techniques of gestalt therapy work differently for different individuals since
everyone's past experiences are unique. Here are examples of the different gestalt therapy
• Paradoxical change. The theory of paradoxical change focuses on the need for self-
acceptance. It helps individuals develop an improved sense of self-awareness. When an
individual makes peace with who they are as a person, it helps them live in the present.
This results in more positive feelings and mood.
• "Here" and "now". This technique enables individuals to appreciate past experiences
and how they influence their present thoughts and behavior. By being conscious of
internal factors that influence their present lives, individuals can learn to let go of the
past. This helps them focus on the here and now. The objective of this technique is to
help them live for the present and make positive changes going forward
• Empty chair technique. This technique helps individuals to open up and practice talking
with an empty chair. The goal of this technique is to visualize yourself opening up to a
particular person you needed to talk with. When you open up as if the person was sitting
there listening, the therapeutic experience of opening up sets the stage for healing.
• Exaggeration technique. This technique works by making an individual become aware of
underlying issues that could be linked to their present problem. The therapist may
request you to exaggerate a specific behavior or emotion. This helps in identifying and
addressing the root of the problem
• Dream Work
Dream work is an element of Gestalt therapy that involves re-enacting a client’s dreams
inside the therapy session.
• Experimentation Methods
It involves the use of different Gestalt techniques, activities, role-plays, and skills to
help clients notice, interrupt, and change their patterns. These experiments are used
creatively and are individualized to the needs and goals of each particular client.
• Role Plays & Re-enactments
Role plays and re-enactments are another common Gestalt therapy technique that
involves helping clients practice certain skills in the present moment during a session. Role
plays and re-enactments always involve constructing a “scenario” that the client (and
sometimes also the therapist) acts out in the therapy session
Gestalt Therapy Interventions
Experiments can be useful tools to help the client gain fuller awareness, experience
internal conﬂicts, resolve inconsistencies and dichotomies, and work through an
impasse that is preventing, completion of unﬁnished businesses
The Internal Dialogue Exercise
One goal of Gestalt therapy is to bring about integrated functioning and acceptance
of aspects of one’s personality that have been disowned and denied
Making The Rounds Making the rounds is a Gestalt exercise that involves asking a
person in a group to go up to others in the group and either speak to or do something
with each person.
The Reversal Exercise Certain symptoms and behaviors often represent reversals of
underlying or latent impulses. Thus, the therapist could ask a person who claims to
suffer from severe inhibitions and excessive timidity to play the role of an
The Rehearsal Exercise Oftentimes we get stuck rehearsing silently to ourselves so
that we will gain acceptance. When it comes to the performance, we experience
stage fright, or anxiety, because we fear that we will not play our role well
The Exaggeration Exercise One aim of Gestalt therapy is for clients to become more
Staying With The Feeling Most clients desire to escape from fearful stimuli and to
avoid unpleasant feelings. At key moments when clients refer to a feeling or a mood
that is unpleasant and from which they have a great desire to ﬂ ee, the therapist may
urge clients to stay with their feeling and encourage them to go deeper into the
feeling or behavior they wish to avoid
The Gestalt Approach To Dream Work In psychoanalysis dreams are interpreted,
intellectual insight is stressed, and free association is used to explore the unconscious
meanings of dreams. The Gestalt approach does not interpret and analyze dreams.
Instead, the intent is to bring dreams back to life and relive them as though they
were happening now. The dream is acted out in the present, and the dreamer
becomes a part of his or her dream
Therapeutic process of gestalt therapy
Genuineness and self-disclosure of therapist
Here and now orientation
Focus on body and somatic sensations
Active exploration or experiment
Enactment (e.g. “empty chair”)
Imaginary techniques and body work
Application to Group Counseling
Gestalt therapy is well suited for a group context. Gestalt therapy encourages direct
experience and actions as opposed to merely talking about conﬂicts, problems, and feelings.
If members have anxieties pertaining to some future event, they can enact these future
concerns in the present
NB: All of the techniques that were described earlier can be employed in a therapeutic
Benefits of Gestalt Therapy
Gestalt therapy is a comprehensive therapeutic method that gives long-lasting benefits to
an individual's mind, emotions, body, and spirit. Common benefits of gestalt therapy include
but are not limited to:
Ability to make peace with the past, and an improved sense of acceptance
Increased ability to deal and cope with stressful situations
Being more responsible, improved ability to own up for mistakes and behaviors without
Limitation Of Gestalt Therapy
The Gestalt approach does not place a premium on the role of the therapist as a
teacher. The emphasis is on facilitating the clients’ own process of self-discovery and
learning. This is experiential and self-directed learning process
It may not help with the psychological effects of hereditary behaviors
Ethical practice depends on adequate training and supervision of therapists, and the
most immediate limitation of Gestalt or any other therapy is the skill, training,
experience, and judgment of the therapist