Gestalt therapy focuses on your present life and needs to help you become more self-aware and accountable.

Gestalt therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on your present challenges and needs.

The purpose of gestalt therapy is to enhance:

  • self-awareness
  • personal responsibility
  • personal growth and freedom
  • understanding of current feelings and challenges

Gestalt therapy may help with the management of a variety of psychological and physical conditions, as well as everyday challenges.

Gestalt is a German word that describes seeing something in its whole integrated form, rather than being made up of individual components. In essence, the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

In the context of psychology, the gestalt concept refers to looking at the human mind and behavior as a unified whole.

Key concepts of Gestalt therapy

Gestalt therapy is a humanistic, person-centered, and holistic therapeutic approach based on the general gestalt theory and psychological concept.

It’s based on phenomenology, the study of experience, and it focuses on taking the whole individual’s experiences and functioning in the here and now instead of focusing on the past or future.

This present-time approach allows us to take responsibility and be more self-aware.

Some other important concepts in gestalt therapy include:

  • Client-therapist relationship. Gestalt therapy is grounded on the relationship between you and your therapist, as you work together in the creation of your therapeutic process.
  • Embodiment. This involves bringing awareness to your body,
  • Field sensitive practice. This concept considers a person not only in the context of their present but also of their past environments.
  • Phenomenological practice. This is done through validating your experience and exploring the situations you bring to therapy.

Gestalt psychology is made of several principles that are applied to therapy. According to the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland, the principles of gestalt psychology are:

  • Similarity: grouping similar items together
  • Closure: adding to something that’s missing
  • Proximity: viewing objects that are near each other as a group
  • Figure and ground: viewing one part of an event as the figure/foreground and another part as the ground/background.
  • Continuation: connecting points by straight or curving lines to follow the smoothest path.

Gestalt therapy techniques are creative, active, and largely client-driven. They can be done in private or group settings.

Different therapists may use different techniques, and your therapist is likely try out a few to see which works for you.

Some common techniques of gestalt therapy include:

Empty chair

The empty chair exercise is an experimental, role-play method that aims to allow you to open up, and share your emotions and thoughts. It’s thought to be particularly useful for resolving marital conflict, or other unfinished business.

You’ll have an imaginary conversation with another person or parts of yourself, such as a trait or habit.

To do this, you’ll sit opposite an empty chair and be asked to imagine that the person who you want to talk to is sitting there. Later, you may switch seats and put yourself in the perspective of the other person, so you can continue the conversation.

Exaggeration of body language

The therapist will encourage you to exaggerate an action or behavior you may be performing during the therapy session.

Some behaviors may include:

  • clenched fists
  • frowning
  • tapping your feet on the ground
  • your tone of voice

The exaggeration approach is designed to make you more self-aware of the action or behavior, allowing you to think about the emotions or underlying issues associated with it.


Dreamwork is used to uncover experiences or emotions that you’ve repressed or haven’t been able to accept. It draws on the idea that we send ourselves existential messages with information about our lives, in the form of dreams.

Dreamwork helps retrieve these messages from the past and bring them into the present. You’ll tell or write down the dream in first-person, and then reenact conversations or conflicts from it.

This gives you the chance to think about how it makes you feel and discuss these feelings with the therapist.

Hot seat technique

The hot seat technique is often used in group settings. It can help you learn how to solve problems, deal with difficult emotions, and become more self-aware.

You’ll be seated in a chair beside your therapist. Here, you can relieve stressful experiences and emotions of guilt, resentment, and discomfort. To help with this, your therapist will prompt you with direct and probing questions.

Gestalt therapy has several psychological and physical therapeutic applications. But not all are backed by scientific evidence.

Gestalt therapy is used to address psychological conditions, such as:

Gestalt therapy is used to treat physical conditions, such as:

Although gestalt therapy is relatively uncommon, it’s based on research, and can be an effective way to treat and manage several conditions.

One 2013 case study looked at the use of gestalt therapy for a person with borderline personality disorder (BPD). The person experienced improved functioning, fewer communication problems, improved personal relationships, and trust.

A small 2012 study on people with chronic lower back pain and moderate depression found that gestalt therapy, when combined with another type of therapy, reduced their stress and helped them learn how to manage their back pain.

A study from 2013 showed that 12 sessions of gestalt therapy increased the self-efficacy of divorced women compared with a control group. Higher self-efficacy improved their beliefs about their ability to cope in certain situations.

Another study from 2017 looked at how effective gestalt therapy is for treating depressed women, compared with drug therapy. It found that nine sessions of gestalt therapy had a greater impact on improving their depression.

Gestalt therapy has been met with some criticism and challenges. Like most therapeutic approaches, it may not be appropriate for everyone.

This type of therapy can be confronting and spontaneous. It may bring on intense reactions and emotions. This could potentially make it less suitable for people who have difficulties with impulse control.

Currently, the majority of evidence supporting gestalt therapy is anecdotal. Further research in the form of randomized control trials is needed to determine how effective gestalt therapy and specific techniques are.

For some people, looking into the past can be beneficial. But this isn’t a focus of gestalt therapy.

There’s also criticism of humanistic therapies in general. Some experts suggest humanistic therapies are less effective than cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety. This is possibly because they’re not structured enough. So, it may be recommended as a second-line option.

Gestalt therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on your present life and needs, rather than looking into the past. Its goal is to help increase self-awareness and personal responsibility.

Research supports the use of gestalt therapy to treat several mental and physical health conditions. But the majority of this research is anecdotal, and more research in the form of control trials is needed.

If you want to learn more about gestalt therapy and find a therapist that practices this type of intervention, there are resources that can help:

  • It’s Complicated. It’s Complicated is a website where you can view accredited therapists trained in gestalt therapy. Many offer online sessions, which means you could work with them from around the world.
  • Gestalt Associates for Psychotherapy. This institute helps to match you with a suitable gestalt therapist. They offer affordable gestalt therapy for individuals and couples.
  • Inclusive Therapists. This is another way to find therapists who use Gestalt therapy. Inclusive Therapists advocate for inclusivity in therapy and aim to help marginalized people find a therapist.

As with any other type of therapy, gestalt therapy may not be for everyone. If you’re wondering whether gestalt therapy could help, consider speaking with your doctor to determine whether it could be a good option for you.

If you’re looking for a therapist but aren’t sure where to start, check out Psych Central’s guide to finding mental health support.