Gestalt therapy: definition , exercises, Techniques and effectiveness

Gestalt therapy is one of three the most popular branches of psychology in the modern world. After all, this approach provides a basis for any work with the inner world: thanks to the gestalt, it is possible deal with children’s fears or step over conflicts with the team. Let us see what gestalt therapy is, when it appeared and is it as effective as is commonly believed?

What is gestalt therapy?

This is one of the popular humanistic psychological techniques that helps the patient to analyze, accept and realize everything that was not expressed or completed. Gestalt therapy helps to get rid of internal psychological barriers, painful memories, harmonizes the personality and helps to find agreement with the internal Self. This psychological approach is based on theoretical knowledge of human psychology, elements of psychoanalysis, bioenergy and psychodrama. Through working with a gestalt therapist, a person begins to see his personality not as a separate set of character traits, but as a whole. A whole that can be controlled.

The process of self-acceptance and formation of control over your emotions and your “I” becomes possible due to the principle of awareness. Awareness is the observation of a person at a particular moment and the naming of all sensations, thoughts and feelings. Awareness gives a person a deeper and stronger connection with life, and it can also contribute to the healing of old psychological trauma. This skill can be acquired after working with a psychologist. It is a psychotherapeutic skill that can prevent appearance of negative conditions. It is obvious that it is easier to deal with unpleasant life situations and pressure from outside or from within. There are several popular techniques:

  • Maximum benefit can be received from group therapy. It allows you to rethink your own social contacts, helps to master new forms of communication and helps to find compromises (employees from one team often use this technique);
  • Family gestalt therapy helps to restore a trusting relationship among relatives or spouses. A feature of this therapy is a systemic long-term approach;
  • Body-oriented gestalt therapy frees from complexes and psychological barriers, helps to overcome emotional barriers through exercise. The result is strengthening of the patient’s physical health;
  • Futuro practice is an opportunity to design your own future, to simulate the solution of problems of choice (this is relevant for both adolescents and adults). It will help in case of difficulties with self-determination.

The founder

Basic ideas of this psychological field originated in the 1950s, the authorship was held by the prominent German psychiatrist Frederick (Fritz) Pearls, his wife, founder of the New York Gestalt Institute Laura Pearls, and their colleague Paul Goodman. Frederic Pearls was largely inspired by the work of Sigmund Freud on psychoanalysis, but he successfully supplemented Freud’s ideas with his own conclusions. However, the rapid development of their own theses (based on the teachings of Freud, psychodrama and existential psychology) led to formation of an independent scientific direction. It was expressed in the work “Gestalt therapy: excitement and growth in the human person”, which was published in 1951.

A year later, the development of gestalt therapy took a new turn: with his colleagues, Pearls opened the New York Gestalt Institute. Soon, its branches were opened throughout the United States, and the ideas of the first Gestalt therapists gained popularity among the people of America. The death of Pearls did not stop the development of gestalt therapy: this practice became widespread in Europe.

Russian scientists became interested in Gestalt psychology less than 40 years ago. It all began in the capital, when the specialists of the Hamburg Institute of Frederick Pearls, Sigrid Pappe and Wilfried Schleu, despite the difficult political situation in the country, organised the training of young Gestalt psychologists. Afterwards, the rapid development of this branch of psychology led to the formation of many schools. Formation of several schools has also affected Russia: now in Moscow there are three internationally recognized centers, and their positions differ insignificantly. You can find gestalt therapists in St. Petersburg, Krasnoyarsk, Novosibirsk and other major cities of Russia.


Gestalt therapy is a term derived from the German word “Gestalt” that is translated as “the whole
image”, “figure” or “form”. This term is used while speaking about the combination of body-oriented
therapy, traditional psychoanalysis, and Gestalt psychology. They constitute the same whole image of a
particular situation, the structure of contact between a person and his environment in the interval
between the occurrence of a particular need and its satisfaction.


Work with human feelings is considered paramount. The main task of a practicing gestalt therapist is to create emotional and comfortable conditions when working with a patient .Supporters of this therapy have the following motto: “The client needs the therapist’s stability.” In every first case, a person needs to be sure that the therapist remains in emotional contact with him. At the same time, the patient should not lose connection with the real world.

If the patient loses control over his emotions, it is possible to use the technique of Alexander Lowen (we advise you to read his work). You need to relax, sit in an armchair or a chair with a soft upholstery. Then you should put your legs tightly to the floor and feel the pressure on the buttocks and feet. The patient presses his back to the back of the furniture and breathes calmly. Such an exercise allows a person to feel the connection with the real environment.


On the Internet, you can find a lot of positive feedback about gestalt therapy. This is not surprising, because in recent years, more and more users of the Internet have used the help of gestalt therapists. However, let us try to rely on real scientific research. In Russia, the analysis of the effectiveness of such psychological practice was not conducted. In addition, Western works show contradictory results.

  • Research “The benefits of psychotherapy” (1980) and “An analysis of psychotherapy versus placebo” (1983) indicated that the effect of Gestalt therapy is close to the principle of Placebo effect;
  • A German psychotherapist and scientist Klaus Grave wrote in the twentieth century that there is little research on gestalt therapy. But also Grave stated that this therapy “acts on a wide range of psychological parameters”;
  • The authors of “Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training” (2004) supposed that only some gestalt therapy techniques are effective;
  • The work “Research on experiential psychotherapies” (2004) studied several varieties of humanistic therapies, including gestalt therapy. Information about the effectiveness of this technique is encouraging, because its efficiency is high.

Thus, the effeciency of working with a gestalt therapist is not guaranteed. However, since every certified therapist has a psychological background by default, talking to him will definitely be useful. The task of gestalt therapy is not only to look for the reasons of old psychological trauma and new problem situations. This kind of psychology also satisfies a person’s need for understanding himself. In addition, the technique creates a personal tool for successful interaction of the patient with the environment, people and nature in the future.

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