Gestalt therapy exercises: individual and group work with a therapist

A selection of effective exercises based on the gestalt technique of Frederick Pearls. The exercises can be executed both independently and in a group guided by a professional therapist.

Many people, in order to cope with their problems, go to gestalt therapists. At the reception, they tend to describe their problems for a long time. In return, the patients expect to hear a similar long speech about the problem’s solution. However, working with a gestalt psychoanalyst should not be restricted to a conversation. Thus, the experts use a number of exercises that help a person or a group of patients to open up and to carry out self-analysis. Let us study the most popular gestalt exercises.

Exercises for independent work


If you feel anxiety, but you cannot immediately contact your personal psychologist, do not
be afraid to engage in dialogue with yourself. Ask yourself some very important questions
and answer them honestly. Are you destroying your real life with thoughts about the past or
the future? Are you exaggerating the problem’s scale and delaying its solution? Afterwards,
it is necessary to understand what can be done just now, in order to calm down and take at
least a very small step towards the problem’s solution. Focus on your senses: report back
to yourself, starting with the words “Now I realize that …”; then analyze the condition of your
body and make the same report. If you were inattentive during the analysis or if you are still
nervous, repeat the exercise.

The following exercise can be done alone or in a pair. However, patients say that the first
option is more efficient. Sit down in a comfortable armchair or on a chair in front of a large
mirror. Looking into the eyes of your own reflection, speak about attractive features of your
personality. Use the following phrases: “I am grateful to you for …”, “I like that you …”, “I am
excited when you …” or “I hope that …”.

In order to clear the mind, you should do the exercise “distorting mirror.” Imagine that the
events are happening in reverse order and the objects are performing diametrically opposite
functions. For example, it is necessary to read books from the last page, airplanes move
under the ground, and so on. Such schizophrenic subtleties of the human imagination will
lead to an important conclusion for the patient. The generally accepted standards are no
less conditional than what has just been invented.

In order to make a clear boundary between yourself and the outer world, do the exercise
“The border”. First, you should focus only on external events: smells, sounds, and visual
objects. Then, you should create your own contrast and absorb in your own thoughts,
physical sensations, emotions and inner experiences. It is necessary to focus on your
impressions and to understand the difference between your feelings experienced during the
first part of the exercise and during the second one.

The exercise “Here and now” must be done in the presence of a second person (he may
not be a gestalt therapist, but you must have a trusting relationship). You need to build a
monologue with the phrases “now”, “at the moment” and so on. Describe the feelings you
experience. When you finish, it is necessary to think about everything that has been told
during the stream of consciousness. It will help not only to restore the internal balance, but
also to get advice from a person you value.

If you understand that your comfort zone is damaging your life, try to solve this problem.
Surprisingly, you can cope with this situation on your own. Gestalt-task “Reversion” helps to break the well-established comfort zone. Moreover, you will be able to try yourself in a new
role. First, determine your dominant pattern of behavior (for example, you are flirtatious and
prudish). Then, during the next hour try to demonstrate completely opposite behavior (in
this case, you should try being reserved and restrained).

Exercises for a group guided by a Gestalt therapist

If a group has just been formed, it is necessary to make sure that the participants know
each other. To do this, perform the task “Greeting”. Group members line up in two ranks
opposite each other and move towards each other, step by step. With each step, they must
come up with a new non-verbal greeting for the opponent. This exercise allows to get rid of
the tension and to study behavior models of the participants.

Then, do the exercise “The palms’ meeting”. It is necessary to break the participants into
pairs. Each player must close the eyes. While the people’s eyes are closed, their palms
should carry out a series of actions. The palms should meet, show sympathy, dance
together, fight, and then apologize for bad behavior. At the end, there is a farewell. In
average, it takes six minutes to complete this task. Afterwards, participants should discuss
their impressions.

The work on self-acceptance and self-esteem should include an exercise called “Changing
Symptoms”. The first participant must reveal to his partner or therapist his own drawback.
For example, criticality can be named. The second participant should regard this feature in
a positive way (striving for perfection or the ability to think analytically). This exercise allows
people to find something good in drawbacks.

The exercise “Opposite associations” has a similar effect. The first person should name the
word with a negative meaning, for example, the word “dirt” is often used. The partner’s task
is to choose an adjective, participle or any other epithet that gives a positive meaning to this
word. For example, the epithet “medical” is suitable for the word “dirt”. This exercise allows
to take the first steps towards a positive type of thinking.

The exercise “Africa” ​​looks childish, but it teaches to interact with other people and to
understand their thoughts. It is necessary to imagine that each participant is a living
creature from Africa: one man is a giraffe, another man is a baobab and so on. Then, the
participants must spontaneously form a system. Without speaking or making any sounds,
everybody should occupy his own place in the system, while portraying a chosen plant or
animal. Maximally, the exercise can take 5 – 7 minutes.

If you work in a group where the participants trust each other, try the exercise “Battle of the
Opposites”. One of the participants must speak about his dilemma. Each member of the
group takes a certain side in a given conflict of opinions. Gestalt therapist acts as the
moderator, and the discussion begins. This exercise helps the one who initiated the topic to
hear radically different views on the problem.

In the exercise “Hot chair”, the participants sit down in a circle around the free chair.
Everyone has the right to sit in the middle on a voluntary basis. The one who is in the
middle starts talking about his problems. Other participants ask him some questions, and he
should honestly answer them. Anyone who finds himself in a hot chair should feel the heat.
The exercise helps you to understand that other people are interested in your problems, so
you start feeling confidence in your abilities.

During the exercise “The Missing Person”, the participants close their eyes. Then, each
participant should recall somebody who radically changed his life and personality during the
process of growing up. As a result, the patient should understand how, for example, theelder brother, with whom communication was interrupted, could affect the current situation.
Be sure to pronounce all your judgments aloud. This exercise teaches people to be frank
and teaches to accept important people’s actions.

Offer the participants to spend three minutes in silence with their eyes closed. Afterwards,
everybody should describe his feelings. Then discuss what life would be if you had
remained sitting in silence, without the ability to see the outer world, without the ability to
influence this word. The topic may be painful for some people, so the therapist should think
a little before using this exercise.

At the end of the group work, it is necessary to carry out the exercise “Three wishes”. Each
participant (if desired, the gestalt therapist can join, usually his participation increases the
level of trust) should name three wishes that can actually come to life now. When everyone
names his wishes, participants should recall three more wishes, which they have refused.
Then, they should explain why they preferred the first three wishes. This is the main aim of
this exercise: participants of the therapeutic course need to understand why they are giving
up their wishes. All above-mentioned techniques also have a hidden meaning. That is why it
is interesting to execute, to develop and to correct these exercises.

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