The Ultimate Guide to Gestalt Therapy: What Is It, And How Does It Work?


Ultimate Guide to Gestalt Therapy

The ancient Greeks were among the smartest and most influential people to ever live, giving us the foundations of modern science and philosophy. One of their greatest contributions was a maxim inscribed upon the Temple of Apollo in Delphi: Know thyself. Even thousands of years ago, the Greeks realized that the ability to truly understand oneself is a powerful human trait that can give us greater control over our lives. That’s why Gestalt therapy is so important. 

Gestalt therapy is a therapeutic technique that guides an individual to greater understanding about themselves, their emotions, and their behaviors. 

Read the full article to learn more, or use our table of contents to skip to the section most relevant to you!

Table of Contents
Who Was the Founder of Gestalt Therapy?
What Is Gestalt Therapy?
What Is the ‘Empty Chair Technique’ In Gestalt Therapy?
What Is A Gestalt Therapist?
Is Gestalt Therapy Right For You?
Case Study For Gestalt Therapy
Find A Pittsburgh Gestalt Therapist

Who Was the Founder of Gestalt Therapy? 

Gestalt therapy was started by psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and therapist Fritz Perls, who developed the practice with his wife, Laura, in the 1940s. Pulling the name from the German word for “whole” or “complete,” Gestalt therapy was developed under the belief that an individual should be understood as an entire person, filled with unique thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. 

This idea was so groundbreaking and influential, we still use it heavily in therapy offices today!

What Is Gestalt Therapy?

Gestalt therapy is a client-centered approach that helps the individual understand their feelings, experiences, and perspectives, with the therapist serving as their guide. Gestalt therapy is rooted in Gestalt psychology, which was developed in the early 20th century and explores the mind and human behavior as a whole.

A few elements make Gestalt therapy unique in comparison to other therapy techniques. Some of the most important factors of Gestalt therapy include:

  • Holistic Approach: As we mentioned earlier, Gestalt therapy takes into account the entire individual, including their mind, body, emotions, and behavior. Together, these elements create an entire, complex person. Through therapy, one can learn to understand each of these elements as parts of an essential whole.
  • The Present: Gestalt therapy focuses on the present moment. Instead of reflecting on past traumas, Gestalt therapy explores the emotions and thoughts within us in the present moment, while focusing on actions we can take today. With this starting point, Gestalt therapy emphasizes opportunities to improve one’s current life—instead of reacting to past experiences.
  • Self-Awareness: As part of focusing on the present, individuals acknowledge their current thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. By digging deep into these factors, one can begin to better understand themselves, allowing them to grow beyond their current situation. 
  • Personal Responsibility: Alongside an emphasis on the present and self-awareness, Gestalt therapy also encourages the individual to take personal responsibility for their past actions and future opportunities. By focusing on personal responsibility, the therapist helps the individual take greater control over their life.
  • Relationships: Through Gestalt therapy, the individual learns to examine the relationships in their life. In this analysis, they begin to examine the patterns within the ways they interact with others, and how those interactions influence their overall life. With a greater understanding of their relationships, they can make improvements in the future.  
  • Closure and Resolution: After gaining a deeper understanding of the self and one’s relationships, the individual also develops plans for the future, which will help them overcome past patterns. 

During Gestalt therapy, the therapist will help the client explore their current circumstances while reflecting on opportunities to change the present and future.

Facts About Gestalt Therapy

What Is the ‘Empty Chair Technique’ In Gestalt Therapy?

The empty chair technique in Gestalt therapy is a way of helping clients access and understand deep-seated emotions surrounding a specific topic, person, event, memory, or personality trait. 

During the empty chair technique, the client visualizes the problem in the chair, and speaks directly to it, allowing themselves to speak freely under the therapist’s guidance. 

In doing so, the client expresses their emotions while coming to a greater understanding of the root of those emotions, which eventually grants them greater control over those feelings and the way they respond to them.

The empty chair technique is a popular tactic in therapy and counseling as it allows the individual to quickly access and process emotions. 

What Is A Gestalt Therapist?

A Gestalt therapist specializes in the principles that make Gestalt therapy so effective. Some of the most important qualities of a Gestalt therapist include:

  • Creating a safe environment. A proper session requires the client to become vulnerable enough to patiently express their emotions, and a safe environment is critical for that. 
  • Encouraging Self-Awareness. Effective therapy revolves around understanding oneself. Self-awareness is a powerful skill one can learn over time, and the therapist can help increase one’s self-awareness over time.
  • Encouraging Exploration. Gestalt therapists use various techniques to facilitate exploration and self-discovery. These techniques can include experiments, role-playing (like the empty chair technique), and creative interventions tailored to the client’s needs. 
  • Encouraging Personal Responsibility. Therapists assist clients in taking personal responsibility for their choices and actions. This can lead to increased accountability and personal growth. 
  • Exploring Patterns and Relationships. Gestalt therapists help clients explore their patterns of behavior and their relationships with others. Understanding these dynamics can lead to healthier and more fulfilling connections.
  • Promoting Closure and Resolution. Unfinished business from the past can often hinder personal growth. Gestalt therapists assist clients in addressing and resolving unresolved issues, allowing them to move forward with their lives.
  • Honoring the Client’s Pace. Gestalt therapy respects the client’s individual pace of self-discovery and change. Therapists do not push clients to change but instead support them in their process.
  • Understanding the Drama Triangle. The drama triangle has three sides: victim, rescuer, and persecutor. A therapist can help an individual understand their place inside the drama triangles within their own life, which can help them take greater control and make better decisions. 

All of our Pittsburgh therapists incorporate Gestalt therapy in specific cases. Check out our Pittsburgh therapists to learn more! 

Is Gestalt Therapy Right For You? Understanding Who’s A Good Candidate for Gestalt Therapy

We find Gestalt therapy is useful for a wide variety of individuals, and the principles of Gestalt therapy can be used by anyone

Even the founder of My Wellness Center, Tomi Ward, uses Gestalt techniques for herself on a regular basis, as forcing yourself to slow down, take in your surroundings, and reflect on the present is a powerful way of preparing yourself for the day. 

Gestalt therapy is especially useful for people who:

  • Are frustrated by anxieties and other disruptive mental disorders
  • Are struggling with recent or upcoming life events
  • Have a support system that is no longer capable of helping them cope with their emotions or life challenges

Case Study for Gestalt Therapy

We have one client who unfortunately lost a number of loved ones in October. After so many deaths, they’ve found themselves turning numb, and they have not yet fully experienced the grief of so many losses—although they are experiencing nightmares while sleeping. 

Gestalt therapy is giving them a safe place to:

  • Experience and process their grief
  • Reflect on their lost loved ones
  • Prepare for the future
  • Identify strategies for dealing with nightmares

In time, they’ll be capable of moving forward having fully processed the loss of their loved ones. 

Find A Pittsburgh Gestalt Therapist

You can find Pittsburgh Gestalt therapy at My Wellness Center. Our experienced therapists are available to use the techniques within Gestalt therapy to help you take greater control of your life.Contact us to get started!