Gestalt Therapy; What is it?

Gestalt Therapy; What is it?

Gestalt Therapy is one of the primary forms of a humanistic approach, developed by Fritz Perls in the 1940s. Therapists who utilize Gestalt Therapy assist us in focusing on the present moment and our direct experience. Moreover, this approach further helps us understand what is happening in our lives and how we feel in the moment. Gestalt Therapy emphasizes developing our self-awareness by understanding our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours to promote personal growth. The approach also aims to enhance our ability to make meaningful contact with others.

The term ‘Gestalt’ refers to the whole, whereby we are not just a collection of separate parts but an interconnected system whereby our emotions, thoughts, and behaviours are interrelated and influence each other. Therapists who practice this approach believe that greater overall well-being and authenticity can be achieved when we completely experience and integrate all aspects of ourselves. The key principle of this approach is the concept of "here and now". This is because Gestalt Therapy emphasizes focusing on the present-moment experience rather than dwelling on the past.

Gestalt Principles

Gestalt Therapy Techniques

During therapy, we are able to explore our experiences openly and honestly with our therapist. Our therapist will create a supportive and safe space for us to open up and explore our feelings. There are several techniques that are often utilized in Gestalt Therapy:

1.0 Empty Chair

This technique will require an empty chair. The empty chair represents either a person or an aspect of oneself such as child-self, teenage self and many more. We will then engage in a dialogue or role-play by expressing our emotions, thoughts and conflicts. This will help us in exploring our unresolved past conflicts, feelings, and emotions.

2.0 Two Chairs

Similar to an empty chair, this technique involves using two chairs representing conflicting parts or different perspectives of oneself. We have to move between the two chairs, expressing our differences in emotions felt or viewpoints with each chair's position. This technique allows us to self-reflect and integrate our conflicting parts.

3.0 Exaggeration and Reversal

These techniques involve exaggerating or amplifying certain emotions, thoughts, or behaviours to enhance our insights and awareness. Through exaggeration, we are able to be more aware of our patterns, whereas reversal involves a temporary adaptation of the opposite attitude or behaviour to explore new possibilities and perspectives.

4.0 Role-Playing

Similar to an empty chair and two-chair techniques, role-playing engages us in conversations with significant persons in our lives to express unspoken feelings, resolve conflicts, and gain new perspectives. It also assists us in exploring one's interpersonal dynamics, enhancing communication skills, and experimenting with new behaviours.

5.0 Dream Works

In Gestalt Therapy, dreams can be a valuable source of insight. We are encouraged to share, explore, and interpret our dreams by paying close attention to the symbols, emotions, and themes that our dream represents. A trained therapist would further assist us in exploring the dream's meanings, uncovering the underlying conflicts, and integrating the dream into our present life experiences to promote self-understanding and self-awareness.

6.0 Awareness Exercises

Awareness exercises in Gestalt Therapy assist us to connect with our present experiences and deepen our understanding of ourselves. These exercises include exploring sensory perceptions, practising mindfulness, focusing on bodily sensations, etc. Furthermore, body awareness techniques such as body scans are often utilized in Gestalt Therapy to help us connect with our bodies, identify bodily tensions and emotions, and gain insights into mind-body connection by closely paying attention to our physical sensations.

Benefits of Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt therapy offers several benefits for one who is seeking personal growth, self-awareness, and improved overall well-being. These benefits can lead to greater fulfilment, authenticity, and enhanced interpersonal and personal life. Below are several benefits of Gestalt Therapy.

1.0 Increased Self-Awareness

Through the exploration of emotions, thoughts, behaviours, and bodily sensations in the present moment in Gestalt Therapy with a trained therapist, we are able to develop a deeper understanding towards ourselves. This increased understanding leads towards strong self-awareness, which allows us to make more conscious choices and empowers us to make more positive changes in our lives.

2.0 Integration and Wholeness

Gestalt Therapy encourages us to integrate various parts of ourselves. We are able to work towards a greater sense of wholeness by recognizing and embracing different aspects of ourselves. This allows us to connect with our authentic selves by exploring our emotions, thoughts, and behaviours with a trained therapist. Integration and embracing our deepest emotions and thoughts promote greater self-acceptance and personal growth.

3.0 Resolution of Unfinished Business

Through Gestalt Therapy, we are able to address our unresolved past emotions and conflicts, often termed “unfinished business”. With the assistance of a therapist, we can gradually revisit and process our unresolved issues in the past, which helps us to release our emotional burdens, seek closure, and embark on our healing journey, moving forward with freedom from past burdens and better clarity.

4.0 Personal Responsibility and Empowerment

We are encouraged to recognize our choices and our decisions' impact on ourselves and others in Gestalt Therapy, which fosters a sense of responsibility and empowerment. Gestalt Therapy encourages us to take charge of our lives, and the shift in perception allows us to make more conscious actions and actively work toward positive changes in our lives.

5.0 Enhanced Coping Skills

With a trained therapist's assistant, we are able to explore and utilize practical coping skills in Gestalt Therapy to navigate life challenges. We learn to acknowledge and understand our personal coping mechanisms that work efficiently for us, explore alternative responses to conflicts, and gradually develop healthier techniques to manage our emotions, conflict, and stress. These enhanced coping skills further aid us in building emotional resilience and promote overall well-being.

6.0 Emphasis on the Present Moment

Gestalt Therapy also focuses on the "here and now", which encourages us to be fully present in the moment to experience life more whole, engage with our immediate experiences, and gradually release our past pain and future worries. This mindfulness-oriented approach in Gestalt Therapy further facilitates us to experience a sense of aliveness and connection to the present.


In short, Gestalt Therapy promotes a holistic awareness, where it encourages us to embrace ourselves and our experiences, although they may be unpleasant. It assists all of us in taking responsibility for our own growth and well-being by exploring internal conflicts and focusing on the present, further developing our self-acceptance and sense of wholeness and improving our interpersonal skills.

Another interesting approach in therapy will be Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), you can read more about it here.

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