Gestalt therapy: are you able to take responsibility for everything that happens in your life?

Since the middle of the last century, Gestalt therapy has aroused genuine interest among both professionals and ordinary people. Courses and trainings dedicated to this area are always crowded. Every year a huge number of scientific papers and researches are written in this area. Experiments are being carried out. A lot of feedback is left.

Criticism and admiration, condemnation and approval - there is always a lot of talk around her. What is it and why does this branch of psychology cause such lively discussion?

Gestalt therapy in simple words

Gestalt therapy is a direction in psychology that helps the client realize and work through unlived feelings, their needs, unfinished situations, and also take responsibility for their own life.

Great importance in Gestalt therapy is given to awareness of one’s own needs (what do I want?) and mechanisms for breaking contact (what blocks the satisfaction of this need).

The reason for the breakdown in contact may be unfinished situations from the past, which still affect a person’s life.

How does this happen? All unlived grievances, suppressed joy, the inability to express anger settle inside a person and, not finding a way out, remain hostages inside a person.

Unlived feelings and states remain relevant for a person. Although these may be very long forgotten stories.

What this can lead to:

  1. A person may behave inappropriately to the situation.
  2. Can't get what he wants.
  3. He may choose himself as a partner or friend of the “wrong people.”

And a person can perform similar actions over and over again, not understanding where the roots of his problems come from.

Gestalt therapy helps to find such an event, realize your needs, live through old feelings and close the gestalt.

Patient reviews

The effectiveness of the method is evidenced by reviews of clients who have undergone Gestalt therapy. Here are some of them.

Anastasia, 28 years old

“I realized that during therapy it is important to work on your own. You can't expect a psychologist to solve all my problems. I couldn’t sit back in my chair and enjoy the peace; it was very scary and painful, not physically, of course. You have to scrape out from inside all the nasty things and tears that have accumulated there.

Gradually, answers appear that I couldn’t find before, something stops worrying me completely, and the torment will probably stop. It’s good that I learned to close gestalts myself, I understood what needed to be done.”

Igor, 37 years old

“Some kind of insight came, I realized that over the past years, I had simply been neglecting myself and my life, and was going down the drain. It turned out that you need to fight for yourself, who would have told you how earlier.

For so many years I lived with other people’s expectations in the hope of recognition and praise. Who himself, what I want, has long forgotten. My own emotions had long ago died down, and therefore there was no sensory experience.

It turned out that a man has the right to emotions, and in general only they can lead to understanding his needs and desires. Like this. This is fucked up, how I lived, about nothing.

It’s a lot of work, of course, the psychologist only guides, you have to think a lot, but when the realization comes, you understand what to do next. And living in the current moment is generally cool!”

Reviews from people of different ages and genders, but they have one thing in common: Gestalt therapy is the work of two people (client and doctor), and its result is the path to your true self.

Where is Gestalt therapy used?

This therapy is widely used both in group format and individually.

The most effective are the following directions of gestalt:

  • in working with children;
  • for consulting organizations;
  • with alexithymia (when a person has difficulty expressing his feelings and emotions);
  • treatment of psychosomatic diseases (diseases that are associated with psychological causes);
  • building professional and interpersonal relationships;
  • working with self-esteem and self-doubt;
  • living through psychological traumas and crises;
  • work with child-parent relationships;
  • separation from parents (the stage of a child’s growing up, which is expressed in emotional, financial and physical separation from parents);
  • and others.

In solving some issues, Gestalt therapy is used only in addition to other areas of psychotherapy. In such as:

  • working with dependencies;
  • work with couples;
  • working with family.

Advantages and disadvantages of Gestalt therapy

Despite the fact that Gestalt therapy is widely used, it has a number of disadvantages:

  • You won’t be able to master Gestalt on your own;
  • training in Gestalt therapy is quite long and expensive;
  • In order to get results from therapy, it will take time; 1-2 meetings will not solve your problems.

Advantages of Gestalt therapy:

  • the opportunity to solve from simple everyday psychological issues to awareness of deep traumas;
  • ready-made solutions and advice are not given, therapy is aimed at developing psychological skills that the client will be able to use himself over time (awareness, sensitivity);
  • close your old gestalts, which will inevitably drag a person into his past and influence the present;
  • you can regulate the degree of immersion in the process;
  • focused on the client himself, his personal characteristics, and not on techniques or methods;
  • It is not necessary to explore the same thing every time: the client can choose different requests to work on at each meeting that are most relevant to him.

Advantages and disadvantages

When studying Gestalt therapy in detail, it seems to be a holistic and harmonious system without flaws. It has many advantages:

  • flexible approach, helping any patient in any situation;
  • long-term and deep results;
  • work on different levels: from the meaning of human existence to the trash can that the husband cannot take out;
  • refers to humanistic directions, since it is focused on the individual and subordinates all available methods to it, and not vice versa.

However, there are a number of points due to which criticism does not weaken and only gains momentum year after year:

  • duration of treatment (from several months to several years);
  • working with the deep layers of personality is not possible for everyone;
  • lack of practical recommendations and direct advice from a psychotherapist - you have to make your own choice and take full responsibility for it;
  • lack of logic: there is pure observation of one’s own experiences and feelings without analysis;
  • There are few real professionals among Gestalt therapists;
  • there is an opinion that patients with Gestalt therapy cannot be people with limited IQ, which means that young children, the mentally retarded and old people suffering from dementia cannot count on its help.

Basically, Gestalt therapy is criticized because its theoretical theories, unlike other directions, are little confirmed by practical research and experiments. And the results of sessions, courses, group and individual lessons are not taken into account, since they are a sublimation of subjective experiences.

As for those who have been in the patient's chair, they criticize her for forcing her to take responsibility for what is happening and constantly work on herself without regard to others. Many people do not like the directness of the statements of psychotherapists, who often violate personal boundaries and provoke strong traumatic emotions.

Goals and objectives of Gestalt therapy

The main goal of Gestalt therapy is to return the client to creative adaptation to the environment, spontaneity, integrity of himself as an individual, to establish contact with himself and the world around him.

Objectives of Gestalt therapy:

  • increase the level of psychological literacy;
  • restore the client’s sensitivity to his own body, feelings, emotions, states;
  • develop the client’s level of awareness through self-analysis of their feelings and emotions in order to understand the root of the problem;
  • identify open gestalts, live through traumatic situations and assimilate the experience gained;
  • together with the client, change unhealthy behavior patterns to healthy ones;
  • return responsibility for your own life, the results of your behavior, your choices to the client himself.

Basic concepts of Gestalt therapy

Contact - in Gestalt therapy - is a process of energy exchange between a person and the environment, in which the necessary, useful things are received from the environment and the unnecessary are rejected.

Figure and background - the ratio of the most pressing dominant needs of the client and everything else that remains in the background and is the background. It is not uncommon for figure and ground to switch places when a person's core need changes.

The contact boundary is the place where the organism interacts with the environment. The boundary of contact in Gestalt therapy is a necessary condition for the contact itself. For example, such a boundary can be human skin, which separates the body from the environment, and through which exchange and contact with the environment occurs.

Connection with reality – a person’s good connection with reality helps to adequately assess the situation and, in accordance with this situation, choose appropriate solutions. Very often this connection is broken and it is necessary to restore it in therapy. This violation occurs due to unlived crises, traumatic situations that are repeated over and over again in a person’s life.

Awareness is a discovery that a person makes in relation to himself as an individual, his personal characteristics, relationships with other people, or the way he organizes his life. Awareness in Gestalt therapy helps the client understand more about himself and his life, and thus there is an opportunity to change something if it is not satisfactory.

Resistance is a process that prevents a person from realizing his needs or realizing them. For example, a student should be preparing for an important exam, but instead he watches TV, cleans his apartment, although he realizes that passing this exam with a good grade is important for him.

Integrity of personality - in Gestalt therapy it is generally accepted that the personality with all its inherent qualities is a holistic structure and the important task of the Gestalt therapist is to help assign rejected qualities to the client.

A phenomenon is a holistic individual experience. This is a kind of phenomenon that the therapist discovers in the client’s psyche or the client himself discovers through reflection.

A look into the history of Gestalt psychology

Until the 1940s, the world of psychotherapy was dominated by Freud's method. His German student, Fritz Perls, together with his wife, revised their views on his theory. They added new concepts and slightly changed the way they communicated with the person in the session.

Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality is the first published book on the subject, written by him with Paul Goodman. According to its concept and principles, psychotherapy was carried out in the clinic (more precisely, just in the apartment) of the Perls.

What was this psychotherapy like? Fritz came into conflict with clients and raised a strong storm of negative emotions in them. A little later, group therapy was introduced because he considered the individual format too outdated.

On the Internet you can find rare historical footage of his Gestalt sessions, after watching which (though only with Russian subtitles, and not with Russian translation) you will understand his method:

Over time, this practice spread throughout Europe. Only the attitude towards people at the session became more loyal (what is this?). Although some avid Gestalt therapists still remain adherents of the old school and can afford to heat up the atmosphere.

Do you remember the pictures that show either a vase or the faces of people looking at each other? Some of this becomes the main figure, and some, accordingly, becomes the background for it.

Edgar Rubin studied this phenomenon. I came to the conclusion that some situations in a person’s life become the main ones and more attention is paid to them. Everything else fades into the background.

Basic techniques and techniques in Gestalt therapy

Gestalt therapy is a dialogue model or is also called question therapy. The techniques and methods themselves are, of course, important, but in the process of therapy itself, the personality of the therapist himself is more important.

Mirroring - the therapist must return to the client the words, actions, facial expressions, posture, repeated actions, feelings, emotions that he noticed. Those. The therapist serves as a kind of mirror that reflects the client’s actions and words. This promotes better self-recognition and new discoveries. What the client hears from the outside sounds completely different and makes it possible to once again sharpen his consciousness: why am I doing this? How do I feel now? Am I feeling good now?

Empathy is the ability to understand the emotional state of another person, from positive to negative. Empathy is our understanding of another person through empathy and compassion. Gestalt therapy is a direction that often appeals to feelings and emotions. Empathy is a tool that helps the therapist teach the client to recognize and be aware of his own feelings and emotions.

Working with figure and ground. In Gestalt therapy, a figure is usually called the main current need of the client. There may be several such figures. Background is everything that remains in the background. These may be other, less important needs, feelings, conditions, crises, traumas, etc. It is important for a Gestalt therapist to be able to isolate a figure and study the background. The background largely determines which strategy the therapist will choose to work with.

“Shuttles” are return movements that allow you to establish connections between various figures (fantasies and reality, past and present, sleep and wakefulness). “Shuttles” help restore interruptions in contact and experience bodily and emotional experiences.

Support and frustration - frustration means from the Latin “destruction of plans”, “experience of failure”. In other words, it is overcoming barriers to achieving a goal. It is frustration that helps the client grow. And the psychologist in this process is a resource that supports the client. The task in Gestalt therapy is to maintain a balance between support and frustration.

How to warn?

The human psyche is a complex mechanism, the actions of which are not fully understood. Therefore, no person can be completely sure how exactly he will react in a given situation. This means that you cannot prepare yourself in any way for the emergence of an unfinished life scenario.

However, it is within your power to learn to manage your attitude towards how this or that situation develops. To do this, you need to study yourself, your reactions, and the inherent cognitive distortions that all people have. This will teach you to be more aware, which will help you avoid many unfinished scenarios.

Advice. It’s even better if you find a suitable psychologist who you can turn to if necessary, and quickly solve the problem without letting it get worse.

An unfinished gestalt can be a real problem. But it’s even worse if a person does not realize the true cause of his adversity. This may be a reason to consult a psychologist, especially if a person often feels depressed or dissatisfied and does not understand why this is happening. Of course, a specialist will not solve the problem for a person, but he will give him all the necessary tools for this.

Mechanisms of contact breakdown in Gestalt therapy

In order to find a failure in the need satisfaction, the mechanisms of interruption of contact in Gestalt therapy are explored. The main task of the therapist is to discover these mechanisms of contact breakdown and work together with the client to replace them with healthy ways of responding and meeting their needs.

  1. Confluence is the merging of a person with his own feelings, thoughts, desires or with another person. In confluence, the client often uses the pronoun “we” instead of “I.” Frequent mention of group, family. It may be difficult to recognize your own feelings and desires.
  2. Introjection is someone else’s experience, which a person accepts on faith, without reflection or criticism. During introjection, the client often uses “shoulds”: must, must, should, I have no right. Or maybe the use of such words: always, never.
  3. Projection – attributing one’s own feelings, thoughts to another person or object. The client makes very few “I” statements in his speech. The client can explain the behavior of other people, as well as the feelings and thoughts of other people towards themselves.
  4. Retroflection - actions, words that are addressed to another, a person directs towards himself. Very often these are psychosomatic diseases. Repetitive or incomplete actions of the client (stroking, hair twisting, ring rotation).
  5. Deflection is a way of avoiding contact by leaving the “here and now” situation. This could be jokes, conversations about the weather, politics.
  6. Proflection is when I do to a person what I would like to receive from him for myself. For example, a wife would like to receive care and attention from her husband in the form of a cup of coffee in the morning, but instead of asking for this, she brings her husband a cup of coffee in bed every morning.
  7. Egotism is control over the last stage of the contact cycle, which does not allow one to fully recognize one’s achievements and results. Egotism is most often characteristic of narcissistic individuals. This is the fear of loss of control, as well as the fear of intimacy, of something new and unusual.

It is important to note that the mechanisms of contact breakdown in Gestalt therapy are of an unconscious nature and were once a creative adaptation for a person. Mechanisms for interrupting contact protect a person from unpleasant and painful awareness and experiences.



Many people believe that Gestalt therapy for children does not exist. Even the supporters of this movement themselves regard childhood as a period of a person’s life, which symbolizes pre-contact, that is, the very beginning of the cycle.

What is there to work with if the transition to other phases has not yet occurred due to age? The child is just learning to set boundaries between his own needs and the external environment. When he consciously learns to solve problems using various tools from the outside, then he becomes the object of Gestalt therapy. However, this is only one point of view.

In fact, children's Gestalt therapy is now actively developing and being implemented in practice even in kindergartens and schools. Its main idea is to help the child fully complete the pre-contact stage and teach him to move to the next phases fearlessly and without mental loss.

What instructions do therapists give to children, starting from a very early age:

  • don’t dwell on the past, live in the present;
  • work only with what exists in reality, and not in dreams;
  • fantasize less;
  • indulge less in unnecessary analyzes and reflections - observe more;
  • express your feelings openly;
  • accept pain and disappointment as equal to happiness and satisfaction;
  • do not focus on others.

Not all adults can assimilate such postulates and live in accordance with them. However, the child’s psyche is a blank sheet of paper on which all these commandments fit perfectly into a single picture.

There is a pitfall here - not to raise a child to be an egoist who says what he wants and acts only with an eye on himself. If the sessions were conducted by a professional, this is excluded, since at the same time the moral and ethical standards of society that must be observed are explained to the little patient.

Techniques for working with children in Gestalt therapy differ little from those used in other areas. These are games, fairy tales, drawings, sculptural methods, development of sensory experience, etc.


In principle, child therapy is already, to some extent, family therapy, since sessions with the child are conducted in the presence of the parent. This is called “working in threes.” The same type of activity is practiced when husband and wife come to the reception.

When working with spouses, 4 lenses are used, allowing all three (husband, wife and psychologist) to see the couple’s problems. Once they appear under magnification, they will be easier to resolve.

Lens one

Allows you to see the strengths and weaknesses of marriage (relationships in a couple). Moreover, both participants in the session talk about this - the opinions of both are taken into account.

Lens two

Allows you to see how spouses communicate with each other. The question is asked not why you hate or irritate each other, but in what tone you speak to each other, whether you hug, touch each other, whether there is visual contact.

Lens three

Allows you to see polar curvatures in a pair against the background of the first two lenses. The husband sees more positive sides in his wife, looks into her eyes, tries to hug her. The wife names only the negative aspects of the marriage, distances herself from her husband, and avoids any contact with him.

Lens four

Allows you to see the absence or presence of a fusion of two people into one. Even if all other lenses have shown that the wife brings an imbalance into the relationship, but at the same time she sees a family in the future only with her current husband and does not even think about divorce, the work to restore a happy marriage continues.

Family Gestalt therapy is effective, but it has one significant drawback. It suggests progress is too slow. Sessions can last for several months, and not all couples have the time to work on their relationship.

Working with resistance in Gestalt therapy

The therapy process is very complex and time-consuming. It absorbs a lot of the Gestalt therapist’s knowledge, as well as the ability to share this knowledge at the right moment and competently organize the therapy process itself.

An important place in this work is occupied by working with resistance. It is impossible to completely remove resistance, but it is important to be aware of it.

What is the resistance associated with? Resistance is most often associated with fear of change. Any changes, even positive ones, can cause fear.

Resistance is influenced by external factors:

  1. Lack of free time;
  2. Intense, complex and responsible work.
  3. Complex, intricate personal relationships that require a lot of effort, energy, and time;
  4. Sabotage from loved ones (Why do you need this? I somehow managed it myself?)

Internal factors can contribute to resistance:

  1. Low self-esteem;
  2. Lack of self-confidence;
  3. Complex internal psychological state.

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Returning to the story with the Dalmatian, your psyche compared individual spots and formed the image of a dog from them. But why, once you see this dog, can’t you share it back?

Because one of the basic formations of gestalt is the desire for completion. So, for example, the waiter perfectly remembers the visitor’s order while fulfilling it. But he immediately forgets what he brought him, as soon as the plate touches the table. Having completed the order, the waiter closed the gestalt. And before that, he helped him focus on the order.

What is the role of a Gestalt therapist?

  1. Responsible for the confidentiality of the information provided by the client.
  2. Builds trusting, safe relationships so that you can open up and immerse yourself in work.
  3. Responsible for organizing the therapy process and for the process itself. If the client does not want to use the acquired knowledge and skills in his life, then the therapist is not responsible for this.
  4. Observes the body, posture, gestures, facial expressions, feelings, emotions, words of the client and his own, analyzes this and plans further work.
  5. Support and accompaniment of the client on the path of self-discovery.
  6. Identifying phenomena and returning them to the client

Conducting Gestalt therapy

Gestalt therapy has proven itself well both in personal therapy and in group work.

The group has its advantages and limitations. Group work is very different from individual work. It’s worth listening carefully to yourself to understand which format is closer to you?

Most often, the most effective work is both in personal therapy and in a group. But not always and not everyone should combine such work. Sometimes it will be most productive to do only individual work.

Advantages of individual work:

  • Working one-on-one with a Gestalt therapist makes it much easier to open up and process deep-seated traumas without fear of judgment or rejection. Especially if the person’s personal history already includes the trauma of rejection or broken trust;
  • they will work only with your story, with your requests and only at the pace that is convenient for you;
  • the work is focused exclusively on you. And if some techniques or methods did not work during the work, the therapist can easily change them and will not use them in the future. In a group format, it is not possible to adapt so quickly to each participant.

How does an open gestalt arise?

There are many social phenomena that lead to the emergence of incomplete gestalts. Most of them are associated with outdated traditions, norms and religious dogmas.

An example of how parental influence can lead to serious problems in a person’s adult life has already been described above. But this is only one of the common situations in which an unclosed gestalt arises.

In general, the mechanism of disturbance in the perception of the world is as follows. A person learns some information that he is afraid to challenge or considers to be the only true one. For example, those around him tell him that talking to strangers is impolite and even dangerous. This information remains in his subconscious, preventing him from building social connections. Over the years, the problem worsens, making a person’s life more and more difficult.

In order for incorrect information leading to a violation of the objective perception of the world to be refuted in a timely manner, you need to analyze your actions and the reasons for your behavior. But it’s not always possible to do this on your own. In this case, you need to contact a Gestalt therapist.

Gestalt therapy exercise

Gestalt therapy is famous for its experiments, which are often born during the work itself. There can be a large number of them.

"Empty Chair"

This exercise is used in Gestalt therapy to work on relationships with family, friends, colleagues, as well as different parts of the person himself (bad-good, good-evil, beautiful-ugly).

The therapist invites the client to imagine a person or quality of himself in an empty chair and express his feelings and thoughts about this part or imaginary person. Next, there is a dialogue between the client and an imaginary person or part that is not accepted.

"Working with Dreams"

Dreams carry an inexhaustible source of information about a person, his experience, and condition.

The Gestalt therapist suggests telling the client your dream. Then voice the dialogue between different elements of the dream in the present tense in the first person.

"Hot Chair"

This exercise is suitable for group work and is especially useful for introducing all group members. One of the participants sits on a chair in the center, and the others make associations about the person who sits in the center. These could be qualities, feelings, cartoon or movie characters. Then another participant sits on this chair and so on in a circle.

"Working with the body"

Much attention in Gestalt therapy is given to the body. If the client experiences some kind of involuntary, repetitive action (tapping on the table, clenched fists, stroking himself on the head), then the therapist asks him to concentrate and analyze this movement. Answer the question: how is this action related to his life now?

"Here and now"

The therapist invites the client to focus on feelings, sensations in the body right “here and now” and explore how the client feels while in this room, during the consultation as a whole.

"Working at the contact boundary"

Gestalt therapy helps explore relationships not only outside the office and elsewhere, but also the relationship between the client and the therapist. How does it help? This method allows you to detect those very unclosed gestalts, mistakes, “failures” in building relationships with other people.

Alienation and identification

Both phenomena are characteristic of borders, where they arise. Identification implies classification into “one’s own” and “alien’’, where “one’s own” is understood as what is close and dear in any circumstances. Positive relationships - love, partnership, friendship - do not go beyond internal boundaries. The category of “strangers” includes negative relationships that are rejected by a person. Violation of boundaries provokes numerous problems that a person overcomes.

Gestalt therapy training

To become a specialist who can call himself a Gestalt therapist and master the methods of Gestalt therapy, a number of conditions must be met.

Gestalt therapy training occurs in 3 stages:

1st stage , which lasts on average up to 1 year. People who do not necessarily have a psychological background can take part in the training. Anyone can come to the 1st stage after passing the interview.

The 1st stage is therapeutic in nature. This means that they will work with you as a client, you can come and talk about your problems and work in a group or individual format to resolve your issues. At the end of completion, a certificate is issued.

2nd stage , which takes on average 4-5 years. Training usually takes place once a month on weekends.

To become a Gestalt therapist, you must fulfill a number of conditions:

  • mandatory personal therapy. Those. visiting a psychologist who already has a confirmed education as a Gestalt therapist;
  • participation in scientific and practical conferences. Held every year. They usually last 2-3 days. Include master classes, case studies, lectures.
  • participation in intensive courses. This event lasts 9 days intermittently. It represents intensive work on oneself, which equates to 2-6 months of individual work.
  • work in “troikas”. Practicing practical skills. Every 5th meeting is held under the guidance of a more experienced Gestalt therapist in order to correct the work and point out errors and shortcomings.
  • Psychological education or medical or pedagogical education is required.

The 3rd stage lasts 2 years. After passing this stage, the specialist can lead gestalt groups and advise practicing psychologists within the framework of this approach.

How to complete?

People often voluntarily or involuntarily create an open gestalt for themselves. This problem can and should be dealt with if you want to make your life more comfortable. This is quite difficult, especially if the gestalt remains open for many years, and the person regularly unsuccessfully recreates an unpleasant situation, layering a new negative on top of the old one.

Important! If you want to solve a psychological problem effectively and as quickly as possible, contact a psychologist.

A specialist will guide you in the right direction, which will help you avoid new problems and solve old ones.

If you find yourself with an unfinished script and want to figure it out yourself, you can use several methods, which will be described below. They will talk about gestalts in relationships, but the same tips can be transferred to any unfinished scenario:

  1. Change the gestalt. If you've been dumped by a tall, blond man and you're unknowingly looking for a replacement, break that pattern and start a new relationship with a completely different type of man.
  2. Analyze your problem in more detail. Try to find on your own the reason why you constantly return to similar relationships. Find your true motives and desires. Reevaluate unsuccessful relationships and try to choose a partner based on other criteria in the future.
  3. Accept the situation as it is. Sometimes our expectations are too high, and not all people can meet them. This is what leads to disappointment. Allow those around you and your partners to be imperfect. Accept that imperfection and that the relationship didn't end the way you expected. But keep in mind that this solution to the problem will require a lot of effort and time.
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