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what is gestalt therapy

What is Gestalt Treatment?: Everything You Need to Know

Are you, or someone you know, struggling with an addiction? In a 2017 survey, 19.7 million American adults over the age of 11 struggled with a form of substance abuse disorder. Tens of millions of Americans suffer from mental illness each year.

Estimates show that only half of those with a mental disorder get treatment. Consequences of mental illness can include disability, incarceration, and even suicide.

Is it time for you to get help? There are many different styles and approaches for treatment. You need to find the one that best fits your needs.

One approach, called gestalt treatment, has proven helpful for people battling mental and emotional issues. You may ask, “what is gestalt treatment?” Continue reading to answer this question.

What is Gestalt Treatment?

Gestalt treatment,  a method of experiential psychotherapy, focuses on gaining personal insights into relationships with other people. It concentrates on the here and now.

Frederick and Laura Perls developed gestalt treatment in the 1940s. This approach increases the psychologist and the patient’s awareness of perceptions, feelings, and actions. It helps to differentiate these emotional responses from preexisting attitudes and beliefs.

Gestalt comes from the German word that means shape or form.  It refers to the character or spirit of something.

Gestalt Treatment Techniques

This treatment can occur in individual or group settings.

Role-playing in a setting of unconditional acceptance, help clients meet treatment goals. The psychologist and the client work together to identify feelings and events happening now. The treatment plan is then formulated to reach desired results.


The exercises aim to stimulate actions, emotions, or other goals established for the individual’s treatment. After completing the exercise, discussion about the experience follows to increase awareness.

Examples of awareness exercises include:

Here-and-Now: Describe what you are aware of each moment. You can begin each sentence with phrases such as “right now” or “at this time”.

Then repeat the exercise, using your senses this time. Describe what is happening and what you’re feeling. Think about your actuality and whether you can actually feel it?

Remembering: Choose a memory that is not too old or difficult. Close your eyes.

What do you see? The door? Is someone opening it? Is there furniture? Other people?

Do not try and figure out what is in your mind. Let your thoughts be there. Stay in this place and see what is there from the perspective of an observer.


Experiments occur more organically as the therapeutic process and relationship develops. This represents a fundamental component of gestalt treatment.

Participation in these experiments helps the person understand different views of a conflict, experience, or mental health issue.

Empty Chair Technique

This represents the ultimate gestalt treatment exercise.  The client sits across from an empty chair. They imagine that someone, such as a relative, significant other, or boss, or even part of themselves, is sitting in the chair.

This helps the person have a conversation or dialogue with the individual in the empty chair. This technique helps people become aware of the whole situation, or some forgotten piece of their own self.

Exaggeration Exercise

This exercise helps clients be more aware of the emotion attached to their behavior and reconnect with parts of themselves they may be ignoring or denying.

Benefits of Gestalt Treatment

The key benefit of gestalt treatment is that it keeps the client focused on the present. They become more aware of their mental and emotional processes. With guidance and activities led by the psychologist, the individual learns that these mental and emotional processes drive decisions, actions, and behaviors.

The person can become more skilled at monitoring their thoughts and actions in real time. They have a more concrete understanding of what they are thinking and doing.

Gestalt treatment provides a greater sense of freedom, self-control, and peace. Their behavior changes from reactive to more conscious, thoughtful actions. This can create amazing results in addictive, compulsive, and abusive behaviors.

Conditions Treated with Gestalt Treatment

Gestalt treatment has proven useful when incorporated into treatment programs for teens and adults. Many different disorders are being treated with this approach including:

  • Substance abuse
  • Addiction
  • Behavior disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Grief/loss
  • Trauma
  • Sex addiction
  • Compulsive gambling
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression

Other disorders may benefit from gestalt treatment. The client and psychologist must first develop a therapeutic relationship and agree upon desired treatment outcomes.

How Long Does It Take for Gestalt Treatment to Work?

Gestalt treatment may require a short-term or long-term treatment plan. The client’s individual requirements impact the length of treatment. The psychologist must determine the severity and complexity of the disorder or problem.

There have been occasions when gestalt treatment was a form of crisis intervention. It focused on helping those affected by an acute traumatic event.

How to Determine if Your Psychologist is Certified in Gestalt Treatment

Candidates for certification must pass a series of examinations to verify their theoretical and clinical knowledge. Certification takes approximately 4 years to complete.

The individual must also take part in 50 hours of individual gestalt treatment. They must also complete at least 75 hours of supervision. This means that the candidate conducts gestalt treatment sessions under the supervision of an experienced psychologist.

Before beginning the certification process, the individual must prove a mastery of basic theory.

Psychologist receive certification is after:

  • Completion of the 220-hour course
  • Completion of the written exam
  • Completion of the clinical exam requiring the candidate to demonstrate their gestalt treatment technique

Before beginning gestalt treatment, you may wish to ask if your practitioner has certification in gestalt treatment.

Would You Like to Learn More About Mental Health?

Now that you have the answer to the question, “what is gestalt treatment?”, we invite you to learn about more treatment techniques. Mental disorders impact many people’s lives.

If you are ready to start making changes, talk to people close to you and ask for support. Explore our site further and watch some videos today about increasing your mental health. Make sure to check out the other types of treatments we offer as well!

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