What Are Gestalt Therapy Techniques

By: Joy Youell

Updated November 10, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

Gestalt Therapy is an approach to mental wellness that helps people resolve past conflicts and become more present. When you move from beyond the past, you can find peace in the present and enrich your interactions in the world around you. Read on to learn about Gestalt Therapy and what Gestalt means and how it can help people address symptoms of mental health conditions.

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What Is Gestalt Therapy?

Gestalt Therapy (GT) centers around the present. Participants learn to tune into their inner selves, release the past, and engage with the present. Instead of worrying about the past or the future, GT focuses on the here and now.

Some forms of therapy are heavily invested in history. Approaches such as psychoanalysis and other disciplines rooted in Freudianism may focus on the way someone's past impacts their present state. People working with therapists who practice these methods will spend a lot of time discussing and analyzing things that happened in the past. In GT, however, the goal is for clients to become more self-aware.

A Brief History of Gestalt Therapy

Gestalt therapy was founded by Laura Perls, Paul Goodman, and Fritz Perls. They developed the process in the 1940s. Then, they released a book that outlined this approach to wellness in the 1950s. GT was the result of research into a variety of systems, including Eastern religions, physics of the world, and systems theory. As a result, this form of therapy is rather unique. Since its inception, it has become increasingly popular, spreading among multiple demographics across the globe. Now, it's an influential form of therapy.

The word gestalt is a German word that means "shape/form" or "whole." In other words, it focuses on the entirety of a person. The founders of GT believed that we must look at humans as a whole, not just in segmented parts. Therefore, the practice focuses on how the whole person feels at any given moment, so they can relieve internal issues or unresolved tension.

According to Gestalt Therapy, emotions can only be resolved if they are discussed in the present. The release of emotions, both internally and externally, is the primary way that participants heal with this type of therapy. Instead of focusing on achievement and meeting expectations, people learn to understand themselves and their desires. This can build confidence and alleviate stress, which ultimately leads to good mental health.

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Mental Health Conditions That May Benefit from Gestalt Therapy

GT can help people with a variety of mental health conditions. It is best to discuss the Gestalt technique with your therapist to see if it would be effective for you. The Gestalt approach is not for everyone, but it may be very effective for you to see a Gestalt therapist. Below are some of the mental health conditions that seeing a Gestalt therapist can be beneficial for.

Anxiety and Depression. GT may be a helpful approach for conquering feelings of anxiety and depression. When historical issues are resolved and released, peace can be found in the present. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can see great benefits from Gestalt Therapy. As stated by the American Psychological Association, GT helps the client focus on the here and now. Those with PTSD have difficulties focusing on the past and can experience horrible flashbacks, leading to an anxiety attack. Someone with PTSD will likely benefit from seeing a Gestalt therapist.

Self-Esteem. People with low self-esteem often lack confidence and find it difficult to acknowledge their self-worth. GT promotes acceptance, which can be a powerful tool to increase self-esteem. Sitting in the empty chair in a therapist’s office to get Gestalt therapy resources can improve your self-esteem greatly.

Relationship Troubles. GT is a good way for people to navigate relationship challenges. Together or individually, couples can heal their relationship by accepting and releasing the past.

Headaches. GT has been anecdotally reported to address physiological issues, such as pain or digestive concerns, that may be related to psychological conditions.

In addition, GT works well for people who want to improve their self-awareness. It can help identify personal issues or the root causes of various habits. The practice associated with GT may help establish new ways of thinking that genuinely enhance inner peace. Finally, GT is considered unconventional and may appeal to people who want alternative therapies. It can also be used in the context of art therapy.

Techniques of GT

GT uses a handful of techniques to promote interaction. Some of these tools include:

  1. Asking Questions. A therapist may ask the client questions, especially ones pertaining to the present. It's not uncommon to hear the therapist ask, "What's going on right now?" or "How do you feel about this issue right now?" Establishing the habit of tuning in and being conscious of the present moment is an integral aspect of GT.
  1. Role Playing. GT values empathy as a way to understand the interactions between people. When you role play and embody someone else, you may learn to feel more empathy toward them.
  1. Confrontation. Similar to role playing, this practice guides you to confront someone in a hypothetical scenario. GT values self-expression and doing internal work because they bear fruit in external relationships.
  2. Body Work. When it comes to Gestalt Therapy, your therapist may have you engage in body work. Your therapist may recommend you get physically active, dance, or do another form of movement in addition to their therapy sessions with you. This has been very effective in helping patients find balance and wholeness.

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  1. Dream Working. Dreams have long been an enigma in the psychological world, and every practice approaches them differently. GT believes that dreams can provide important information about one's internal life.

Note that all GT therapists have different approaches, and the practice may be customized for each participant. Depending on your needs, you may want to find some support groups, other forms of therapy resources, or other changes. Your therapist should work with you on these things, so you see the best results possible.

Other Gestalt Therapy Concepts

Gestalt Therapy utilizes the principles of wholeness and awareness to promote wellbeing. It is a client-centered form of therapy, which can be highly effective across multiple mental health issues. Additionally, Gestalt Therapy focuses on the concepts of wholeness and awareness so the client can feel more “complete” in their day-to-day life.


GT looks at the whole person. This type of therapy believes that unhappiness occurs when a person's mind and body are disconnected, so a goal of GT is unifying these disparate elements. Being whole allows people to become self-aware.


GT practitioners believe that awareness fails when we're preoccupied with the past or when we have low self-esteem. These concerns are addressed through observation and learning to tune in to the environment. As such, listening and concentration exercises are important elements of growing awareness. Overall, GT helps people conclude past business, so they can turn their gaze toward the present.

Effectiveness of Gestalt Therapy

When it comes to various therapeutic approaches, some have a more rigid scientific view, and others are more sensual or mystical. GT is a more psychological and emotional practice that has been effective for many clients. Mindfulness and self-actualization are sound principles of mental health.

That said, GT can be highly subjective and should be considered carefully if a GT practitioner ever offers medical advice or recommends drug therapies. GT is primarily a form of mental health counseling offered through an in-person or online counselor and is not a medical practice. Overall, it can be wonderfully effective in alleviating stress and teaching participants how to live contentedly in the present.

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If you experience mental distress, anxiety, or another condition, BetterHelp's qualified and professional counselors can guide you to a better state of mind using an approach like Gestalt Therapy. You can meet with a counselor at a time that’s most convenient for you and in the comfort of your home, using a tablet, phone, or laptop. Reach out to learn about our matching process and start online therapy today. Read the reviews below to learn more about BetterHelp counselors.

Counselor Reviews

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"Tara is an amazing counselor. I feel like she helped me solve my personal issues in a timely and efficient manner and helped me learn how to tackle the problem head on which is not something I had before. I would strongly recommend her to anyone looking into therapy for personal growth goals."

In Conclusion

There are many ways to work with a therapist. You can find practitioners of Gestalt Therapy and other modalities on BetterHelp. If you're feeling depressed, anxious, or generally need support, talking to a therapist can help you get things back on track. You can move forward to a truly fulfilling life-all you need are the right tools. Take the first step.

Frequently Asked Questions About Gestalt Therapy Techniques

What is the main goal of Gestalt Therapy?

The goal of Gestalt Therapy is to overcome how you feel about the past and future. You want to focus on the present and experience the current moment. Additionally, you will want to focus on your current feelings about the past and take responsibility for them. You should be able to take how you are feeling now and manage those feelings. Furthermore, the goal is to alleviate any unresolved emotions, heartache, anxiety, or stress about a past situation.

How does Gestalt Therapy work?

Gestalt Therapy is a client-centered form of therapy in which the client focuses on the now. The therapist will direct you to think about your current feelings, rather than the past. This is to refocus the mind to be on the present moment, so you don’t harp on past incidents. These incidents are usually what triggers stress, anxiety, or depression. So, focusing on the present can be seen as very effective when trying to heal mentally.

What are the key concepts of Gestalt Therapy?

According to the Gestalt Theory website, the key concepts are phenomenological exploration (awareness and insight), field theory perspective (the event needed to happen to affect the future), existentialism (acknowledgment of how the world works), and dialogue (perspectives of relationships). Overall, the main gist of Gestalt Therapy is the focus on gaining a deeper understanding of situations. It is to gain insight into why things happen and how to approach the experiences.

When would you use Gestalt Therapy?

You can use Gestalt Therapy for a wide variety of reasons. Any uncomfortable feelings toward the past or present is a great reason to see a Gestalt therapist. Also, if you just want to feel more whole or aware, it is an excellent form of client-centered therapy.

Who is Gestalt Therapy effective for?

If you have an anxiety disorder, depression, or relationship issues, Gestalt Therapy can be very effective. Additionally, it is effective for resolving stress, headaches, and even trauma. No matter what you are dealing with, you may benefit from attending Gestalt Therapy.

What techniques do Gestalt therapists use?

Some Gestalt Therapy techniques are role-playing in which your therapist will help you reenact scenes or past experiences. Then, you will focus on how you are feeling in the present. Another, which is likely the most commonly known, is the empty chair technique. This is where the client speaks to the person they have a grievance toward. Third, is the exaggeration technique, which is where the therapist encourages their client to exaggerate their physical behaviors such as playing with their hair or tapping their fingers. This is to increase the self-awareness of the client.

What are Gestalt exercises?

Some Gestalt Therapy exercises are self-awareness methods, so you get more in touch with your emotions. When you are more aware of your reactions and coping mechanisms, you are likely to heal more effectively. Another exercise is the empty chair technique, also known as the void chair. Additionally, many therapists prefer to do role-play with their clients, so the client can heal from the previous situation. This is to encourage healing and process their emotions.

What is the Gestalt empty chair technique?

The empty chair technique, as mentioned above, is a technique in which you have a conversation with an empty chair. You pretend to converse with someone who has caused you stress, pain, or anxiety. This is to air out how you feel toward them, all without doing so in reality. This is a very effective method as you are likely to feel better once you explain your pain and emotions.

What is Gestalt explained simply?

Gestalt Therapy, explained simply, is a therapy method in which a therapist leads a client to feel more whole and complete. It is to bring all of the pieces together from pain, the past situation, the future, and the emotions felt by the client. The goal is for the client to feel whole in the present moment, rather than focusing on the past or future.

What is the basic goal of Gestalt Therapy?

The basic goal of Gestalt Therapy is to heal from the past of anxiety about the future. When you wrap up Gestalt Therapy, you should feel comfortable living in the present and feel a wholeness about your life. If you do struggle with anxiety or depression, the hope is that you can heal from those feelings and are able to cope with the negative emotions.

What is the difference between Gestalt Therapy and Existential Therapy?

Gestalt Therapy is a type of Existential Therapy, but there are some differences. GT typically focuses on feeling whole, while existential therapy focuses on being authentic. Existential therapists tend to believe the meaning of life is coming to terms that it will end, so you must live in the present. Gestalt therapy focuses on being in the present and not focusing on the past or future.

Is Gestalt Therapy evidence based?

Gestalt Therapy is evidence based. There have been hundreds of studies over Gestalt Therapy, and it is an effective form of therapy. However, for some mental health conditions, such as generalized anxiety, other therapy methods are proven to be more effective, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). To see if you would have success with GT, see a counselor, and discuss your symptoms. They will be able to tell you if GT will be effective for your specific situation.

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