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What Is Gestalt Therapy?

What Is Gestalt Therapy?

While traditional therapies can produce great results, they don’t work so well for everyone. So, if you’re hoping to work your way into the world of counseling and psychotherapy, consider gestalt therapy. It is a slightly less mainstream approach to therapy that is as legitimate as other cognitive therapies. That’s why so many revered professional counselors practice it. 

The goals of gestalt therapy will vary considerably depending on the needs of each patient. Generally speaking, though, it is useful in the treatment of everything from personality disorders such as bipolar disorders to eating disorders, and everything in between. Similar therapeutic techniques will be employed in different ways to treat each different issue. 

For those asking themselves “what is gestalt therapy?” and whether they’d be well-suited to a career in the field, read on. Below you’ll find everything you need to know about gestalt therapy explained. 

Gestalt therapy definition 


Simply put, gestalt therapy is a type of therapy that is focused intimately on each patient, their environment, and the context that surrounds their problems. So, unlike systemic therapy or art therapy, it is very much person-centered therapy. Gestalt therapy may, however, be used in tandem with these other approaches to enhance results. 

Practitioners are trained to take a holistic approach to their patient’s mental health conditions. To that end, there are some similarities between it and integrated psychotherapy and even cognitive behavioral therapy. However, a key difference lies in the fact that, in gestalt therapy, patients are expected to understand and take responsibility for the context that surrounds their problems.

As such, past experiences and destructive patterns of behavior are dealt with rather than simply discussed. The results can be life-changing. Through various gestalt therapy techniques, clients often come away from their therapy sessions with genuine self-awareness and a capacity to create happiness from within. 

Is gestalt therapy humanistic or existential?

Gestalt therapy is considered humanistic therapy because it is centered on a person’s life and the challenges they currently face. Existential therapy, on the other hand, is focused more on things like free will and self-determination. So, even though some gestalt therapy techniques and procedures are similar to those used in existential therapy, they are two distinct practices. 

When was gestalt therapy founded?

The development of gestalt therapy began in the 1940s. It was pioneered by Fritz Perls and his wife Laura Perls, both of who were trained in psychoanalysis and gestalt psychology. Dissatisfied as they were with mainstream types of therapy, they conducted exercises and experiments. They aimed to (and succeeded in) turning gestalt theory into a respected therapeutic practice. 

In the 1960s, Fritz opened several gestalt institutes in the United States to accommodate the training of gestalt therapists. In the meantime, the practice had gained traction. Thanks to the likes of Kurt Goldstein, Martin Buber’s, and later Paul Goodman, the practice as we know it today had started to take shape. 

What are the benefits of gestalt therapy? 

There are so many benefits of gestalt therapy for clients suffering from a wide variety of disorders and difficulties. These may include, but are by no means limited to, the following:

One reason why it is so effective is that gestalt therapy helps people to focus on the here and now. This helps them to avoid falling back into past patterns of behavior and proves that different ways of doing things are possible. It also encourages people to take ownership of their problems and the underlying causes. As such, they understand the issues are theirs to fix. 

So, when you ask “what is gestalt therapy?”, just know that it can be many things to different people. It all depends on what the patient needs and the goals set by both client and therapist. 

Why is gestalt therapy effective?


The effectiveness of gestalt therapy generally comes down to the relationship between therapist and client. You see, gestalt therapy is a collaborative effort. In contrast to some other types of therapy, the practitioner isn’t focused solely on behavior analysis and forcing change. 

That’s why gestalt therapy techniques for anger management, anxiety, and other varied issues are often so positive. By encouraging a person to become more self-aware and attuned to their circumstances, it allows for a natural healing process. That’s why techniques from gestalt therapy for non-gestalt practitioners are so commonly used. 

Gestalt therapy techniques

The techniques gestalt therapists use in a therapy session are very innovative. This form of therapy is unique in the way it pushes patients to confront themselves in the present tense. While this may take the form of a conversation with a therapist, it may also include a conversation with oneself. 

When studying this form of therapy, you may spot similarities with other counseling theories, for example, positive psychology and acceptance and commitment therapy. However, despite similar outlooks on personal development, gestalt therapy is entirely its own discipline. Here are some gestalt therapy techniques examples that prove it. 

1. Awareness

Awareness both of self and surrounding situations is central to gestalt therapy. This sort of awareness allows patients to view what they’re going through from a position of understanding. The idea is that, if a person understands and begins to process their problems, positive change will occur without force. This theory of change is known as the paradoxical theory of change

One particularly useful technique in gestalt therapy helps to bring about this sort of self-awareness in a literal way. Called the empty chair technique, the patient is asked to face an empty chair and imagine they are in conversation with another part of themselves. It is a very revealing exercise that helps people to better connect with their own emotional experiences. 

2. Context 

The role context plays in gestalt therapy is similarly significant. Based on something called field theory, the idea is that everything an individual experience happens in context. But, crucially, this emphasis on context does not take away from the focus on the self. Rather, it encourages a greater sense of personal responsibility. 

The therapeutic relationship is particularly important here. It is up to a practitioner to show their client that context matters. Some gestalt therapy techniques that might be used to do so include identifying how a patient is feeling in the moment and using purposeful language to take ownership of those emotions. 

3. Wholeness 

Ultimately, gestalt therapy is a humanist therapy that aims to bring a person back to themselves. To do so effectively, though, a patient must first recognize that they are made up of different parts. Until then, they cannot truly be whole. 

Several gestalt therapy exercises are used to achieve this sense of wholeness. Chief among them is the so-called topdog underdog exercise. During the exercise, the patient is asked to speak both as the more dominant part of their personality, known as the topdog, and as their submissive side or underdog. 

This interaction is not meant to be a confrontation. Rather, it is a mediation between the parts of a person that tend to drive them towards different ends. 

Where can I study gestalt therapy online? 

If you want to learn gestalt therapy techniques and principles, consider studying an online therapy course. Our Courses for Success Gestalt Therapy Online Certificate Course is a great option. Not only will it teach you how to use gestalt therapy techniques, but it will also explain the science behind them. 

It’s the perfect course for anyone hoping to go on to train as a professional counselor or join a counseling association. And, if you want to broaden your skillset before embarking on your new career path, there are more courses on offer. We also offer arts therapyfamily therapy, and child and school counseling courses, and many more. 

Why Courses for Success? 

Courses for Success offers over 10,000 online courses, all of which aim to help you in your personal development and career progression. Not only that, but you can also study them anywhere and at any time, and take them at your own pace, too.

You don’t need career diplomas or specific experience to get started. With every course we offer created to be as accessible as possible, you can be sure that all of them, from our coding courses and trading courses to design courses and developer courses, will help to boost your prospects, no matter who you are.

Beyond just the education itself, students will be issued with a certificate online after successful completion of each of the learning courses they do. Our gestalt therapy courses are no exception. Our online gestalt therapy certificates are recognized by industry leaders. You could really make a name for yourself by signing up for a Courses for Success short course.

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