Gestalt therapy is a form of psychotherapy that aims to understand the whole person. This type of therapy focuses on living in the present as part of a holistic approach to mental health.

Gestalt is a German word meaning form, whole, or pattern. A group of psychologists developed Gestalt therapy in Germany in the 1940s, and it soon became popular worldwide.

Gestalt theory suggests that the human mind perceives the world in patterns or systems. Gestalt therapy aims to understand the whole person. This therapy may help individuals with conditions that range from anxiety and stress to depression and addiction.

This article explores what Gestalt therapy is, who can benefit from it, and its effectiveness. It also discusses alternative treatments.

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Gestalt therapy can help treat a variety of mental health conditions. Some of these conditions may include the following:

It may also help with other conditions, such as insomnia.

A mental health professional may incorporate Gestalt therapy with other types of psychotherapy.

Anxiety

The authors of a 2019 study analyzed the use of Gestalt therapy for treating anxiety. They found that Gestalt therapy improved anxiety symptoms among participants.

The researchers used Gestalt therapy to encourage individuals to face the source of their anxiety or fear. They also used role play to help the study participants address their anxiety in a safe environment.

Insomnia

A newer form of Gestalt therapy uses Gestalt principles as part of sleep coaching. Research has shown that this technique can improve sleep quality.

Individuals in one study participated in a Gestalt therapy-based sleep coaching seminar for 2 days. This seminar focused on developing daily sleep routines and relaxation techniques. Participants reported improved sleep quality and reduced daytime drowsiness 6 months after the seminar.

Couple’s therapy

Gestalt therapy has also proved a helpful addition to couples therapy. In one study, a couple learned communication exercises based on Gestalt principles. This experience helped the couple improve their communication and support each other as they both worked through past traumatic experiences.

Gestalt therapy may help individuals with a wide range of conditions. People interested in learning whether it is right for them should consult a healthcare professional to find out more.

Human perception draws from sensory input. But Gestalt theory suggests that an individual’s perception is more than a collection of sensory experiences. This theory holds that people perceive the world in forms or patterns.

The five main principles of Gestalt theory expand on this idea.

Continuation

The continuation principle notes that humans organize what they see into whole objects rather than separate parts. For example, a person might mentally connect a series of points on a page with a line that makes a smooth path between them.

Figure-ground

According to the figure-ground principle, people tend to separate what they see into a foreground and a background. A figure or object could be a foreground and the ground a background.

This concept also suggests that people’s perceptions can vary depending on what they perceive as a figure and what they perceive as ground. Two people may observe the same visual field and yet not agree on what they see.

Similarity

The principle of similarity refers to the human inclination to group similar objects together. For example, audience members will group individuals based on their uniforms when watching a soccer match.

Closure

This principle suggests that people will add missing parts to incomplete figures. They may mentally add lines to a mostly complete circle. Or they may mentally hear the remainder of a favorite song after only catching the first few lines on the radio.

Proximity

This final principle asserts that people tend to group things together when they are in close proximity. In other words, people tend to interpret things that are close together as being related. According to Gestalt theory, this helps individuals better organize sensory information.

For example, letters close to one another form words, and people separate one word from another by using space.

The process of Gestalt therapy is highly individual. But the typical goal of this therapy is to enhance a person’s awareness of their whole self.

Therapists use Gestalt therapy to encourage individuals to increase their self-awareness of how they are in the present moment. This approach can help people rethink limiting perceptions and create a new perspective.

A few techniques that a Gestalt therapist may use during a session include:

  • role-playing stories or experiences
  • focusing on staying with feelings rather than avoiding them
  • exercises to integrate the mind and body
  • taking on opposing perspectives to better understand each of them

Gestalt therapy focuses on exploring beliefs and patterns that may limit an individual’s well-being. Becoming more aware of the full self and more present in the current moment may help a person dismantle certain belief systems and develop new ways of viewing the world.

Multiple studies have indicated that Gestalt therapy may be effective for various conditions. However, researchers note that there is a lack of clinical studies investigating the efficacy of Gestalt therapy, and further studies are necessary.

Future studies may reveal more conclusive findings about the effectiveness of Gestalt therapy.

Gestalt therapy may be helpful for many individuals, but there are other therapeutic approaches to consider.

One of the most popular forms of psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of therapy focuses on improving positive thought and behavior patterns. Therapists may use it to help treat conditions such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and addiction.

Dialectical behavior therapy is a type of CBT that may also help individuals dealing with a range of mental health conditions. This form of therapy may involve weekly sessions aiming to improve emotional regulation, mindfulness, distress tolerance, and interpersonal skills.

People who would like to learn more about therapy should speak with a healthcare professional. They may refer a person to a mental health specialist or recommend treatment options that best suit a person’s circumstances.

Gestalt therapy encourages individuals to focus on present obstacles while taking their whole selves into account.

A therapist may help someone examine their perspective to identify damaging thought patterns or self-limiting beliefs. Gestalt therapy focuses on creating new forms of perception.

People living with mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, may benefit from Gestalt therapy. However, there is limited research into the efficacy of Gestalt therapy, and other types of therapy may be more suitable for some people.

A healthcare professional can provide more information and determine whether Gestalt therapy is the best therapy for a person.