Pros and Cons of Gestalt Therapy: A Deeper Look Into its History, Development, and Uniqueness

By Jared Levenson - Reviewed on May 25, 2023
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Gestalt therapy is a holistic approach to various mental health problems that focuses on the individual’s present experiences, self-awareness, and personal responsibility.

But what about the downsides of Gestalt Therapy? Are you trying to decide if this type of therapy is right for you, either personally or professionally?

The Online Mental Health Reviews team is qualified to write about Gestalt therapy, mainly because we’ve been through years of therapy and understand how healing and mental health work, both personally and professionally.

Our extensive research, knowledge of therapeutic approaches, and dedication to providing accurate and empathetic mental health support information empower readers in making informed decisions about their well-being.

In this comprehensive listicle, we’ll explore the history and development of gestalt therapy, its uniqueness compared to other forms of therapy, and the pros and cons of this therapeutic approach.

Want to see reality more wholesomely? Then continue reading!

The Pros of Gestalt Therapy

  1. Enhanced Self-Awareness: Gestalt therapy can help individuals develop a greater understanding of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and experiential exercises. This increased self-awareness can lead to improved decision-making, healthier relationships, and a greater sense of personal fulfillment with the help of behavioral science.
  2. Effective for a Variety of Issues: Gestalt therapy is effective in addressing a wide range of mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression, relationship issues, and trauma-related disorders. Its holistic and experiential approach allows therapists to tailor treatment to each individual’s unique needs.
  3. Emphasis on the Here and Now: By focusing on the present moment, gestalt therapy can help individuals better understand and address their immediate concerns. This approach can be particularly beneficial for those struggling with anxiety or rumination, as it encourages a shift away from dwelling on past or future worries.
  4. Promotes Personal Growth: Gestalt therapy encourages individuals to take responsibility for their well-being and to actively engage in the process of personal growth. This approach can lead to increased self-confidence, improved coping skills, and a greater sense of empowerment.

The Cons of Gestalt Therapy

  1. Limited Focus on the Past: Some critics argue that Gestalt therapy’s focus on the present moment may not be sufficient for individuals who need to explore and resolve deep-seated issues from their past. However, proponents of gestalt therapy argue that by addressing present-moment experiences, clients can still gain insights into past patterns and make meaningful changes.
  2. Not Suitable for Everyone: Gestalt therapy may not be the best fit for every individual. Those with severe mental health concerns or cognitive impairments may require more structured or directive forms of therapy.
  3. Potential for Intensity: Gestalt therapy can be intense, as it often involves confronting difficult emotions and challenging ingrained patterns of behavior. While this intensity can be therapeutic for some, it may be overwhelming or uncomfortable for others.

What is the Disadvantage Of Gestalt Theory?

While Gestalt theory has made significant contributions to our understanding of perception, learning, and problem-solving, it is not without its disadvantages:

  1. Overemphasis on Holistic Processes: By focusing primarily on the holistic nature of perception and learning, Gestalt theory may overlook the importance of individual components and their specific roles in the overall process.
  2. Limited Applicability: Some critics contend that Gestalt theory is primarily applicable to visual perception and may not be as useful in addressing other cognitive processes, such as language acquisition or memory.
  3. Ambiguity in Terminology: Gestalt theory often employs abstract concepts and terminology, which can make it challenging to translate into concrete, practical applications.

Despite these drawbacks, Gestalt theory remains an influential perspective in psychology, offering valuable insights into human perception and learning.

By acknowledging its limitations and incorporating findings from other psychological approaches, we can continue to take gestalt techniques to enhance our understanding of human cognition and develop more effective strategies for learning and problem-solving.

What are the Advantages Of Gestalt Therapy?

Gestalt therapy offers several advantages as a therapeutic approach, providing unique benefits for those seeking mental health support:

  1. Present-Moment Focus: By concentrating on the here and now, Gestalt therapy helps individuals address their current concerns, reducing anxiety and rumination related to past or future events.
  2. Holistic Approach: Gestalt therapy recognizes the interconnectedness of physical, emotional, cognitive, and social well-being, allowing therapists to address the whole person rather than focusing solely on specific symptoms or issues.
  3. Enhanced Self-Awareness: This therapeutic approach fosters a greater understanding of one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, leading to improved decision-making, healthier relationships, and increased personal fulfillment. Sound familiar?
  4. Experiential Learning: Gestalt therapy is an active, hands-on form of therapy that encourages clients to engage in exercises and activities, promoting new insights, challenging old patterns, and developing healthier coping strategies.
  5. Personal Responsibility: By emphasizing personal responsibility, Gestalt therapy empowers clients to take control of their lives and make meaningful changes, fostering a sense of autonomy and self-efficacy.

These advantages make Gestalt therapy a valuable option for individuals seeking to improve their mental health, enhance self-awareness, and develop more effective coping strategies.

Concerns and Limitations of Gestalt Therapy

While it can be an effective form of treatment, there are some concerns and limitations associated with Gestalt therapy.

  • One concern is that the intense emotions evoked during Gestalt therapy may not be suitable for all clients.
  • Additionally, because Gestalt therapy focuses on the present moment rather than delving into past experiences, it may not be as effective for those who need to explore painful memories from their past to better understand their current situation.
  • Finally, Gestalt therapy relies heavily on the relationship between the therapist and client, so if this relationship is not strong or supportive enough, it can limit the effectiveness of the treatment.

Is Gestalt Therapy Evidence-Based?

Gestalt therapy is a psychotherapy that’s effective for treating anxiety disorders, depression, and PTSD.

  • Recent meta-analysis studies1 found that it improved anxiety and social anxiety disorder, and reduced symptoms of depression in participants.
  • It was also found to be more effective than CBT in reducing symptoms of PTSD in veterans and associated with reduced PTSD symptom severity in participants.
  • According to another case study2, Gestalt may help explain unexplainable medical symptoms.

Who is Gestalt Therapy Not Good For?

While Gestalt therapy can be beneficial for many individuals, there are certain cases where it may not be the most suitable option:

  1. Severe Mental Health Disorders: Those with severe mental health conditions, such as psychosis or severe personality disorders, may require more structured and specialized therapeutic approaches.
  2. Cognitive Impairments: Individuals with cognitive impairments, such as dementia or intellectual disabilities, may struggle to engage with the experiential and introspective aspects of Gestalt therapy.
  3. Difficulty with Emotional Intensity: Gestalt therapy can be emotionally intense, involving confrontation of deep-rooted emotions and patterns. Those who find it challenging to cope with strong emotions may become overwhelmed by this type of therapy.
  4. Preference for Directive Therapy: Some clients prefer a more directive approach in therapy, where the therapist provides clear guidance and structure. Gestalt therapy tends to be less directive, focusing on self-exploration and personal responsibility.

Gestalt Definition

#1 Gestalt Therapy Training Online: Why Gestalt Therapy is the best therapy

Gestalt is a German word that means “form” or “shape”. In psychology, it refers to the idea that the whole of something is greater than the sum of its parts (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/gestalt-therapy).

This concept is often used to describe how people perceive and organize objects in their environment. Gestalt theory suggests that when we look at an object, we don’t just see individual components but rather a unified whole.

For example, when looking at a painting, we don’t just see individual brush strokes but rather a complete picture.

Similarly, when listening to music, we don’t just hear individual notes but rather a melody. Gestalt theory can also be applied to understanding how people think and behave in social situations. By recognizing patterns and trends in behavior, we can better understand why people act the way they do.

What is Gestalt Theory and the Typical Problems of Learning?

Gestalt theory, founded in the early 20th century by German psychologists Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, and Kurt Koffka, is a psychological framework that emphasizes the importance of understanding the whole rather than its parts.

This theory posits that human perception and learning are based on the organization of experiences into meaningful patterns or “gestalts.” When it comes to learning, Gestalt theory highlights several key concepts and typical problems:

  1. Figure-Ground Perception: Difficulty in distinguishing relevant information (figure) from irrelevant background information (ground) can hinder effective learning.
  2. Proximity: Learners may struggle to identify relationships between elements that are not physically close together, leading to misunderstandings or missed connections.
  3. Similarity: Confusion may arise when learners perceive unrelated elements as similar due to shared characteristics, causing them to overlook important distinctions.
  4. Closure: The tendency to seek closure or completion can lead learners to prematurely draw conclusions or fill in gaps with incorrect information.
  5. Continuity: Learners may experience difficulty in identifying breaks or changes in patterns, which can result in misinterpretations or misconceptions.

By understanding these common learning challenges through the lens of Gestalt theory, educators and learners alike can develop strategies to overcome them, fostering more effective and meaningful learning experiences.

The History and Development of Gestalt Therapy

  1. The Origins: Gestalt therapy originated in the 1940s when Fritz Perls, a German psychoanalyst, and his wife Laura Perls, a psychologist, collaborated with Paul Goodman, a social critic, and writer, to develop a new approach to psychotherapy. Their work was influenced by the Gestalt psychology movement, which emphasized the importance of understanding the whole person rather than focusing on individual components or symptoms.
  2. The Foundational Principles: At the core of gestalt therapy are several key principles, including the focus on the present moment, awareness of one’s own experiences, and personal responsibility for one’s choices and actions. The goal of gestalt therapy is to help individuals become more self-aware, enabling them to make healthier choices, resolve internal conflicts, and improve their relationships with others.
  3. The Evolution: Over the years, gestalt therapy has evolved and expanded in response to new research and developments in the field of psychology. Today, it is considered a humanistic, experiential, and relational approach to psychotherapy, incorporating elements of mindfulness, body awareness, and creative expression.

How Gestalt Therapy is Different and Unique

  1. Present-Moment Focus: Unlike other forms of therapy that may delve into an individual’s past or future concerns, gestalt therapy emphasizes the importance of the present moment. This approach encourages individuals to become more aware of their current feelings, thoughts, and sensations, allowing them to better understand and address their immediate needs.
  2. Holistic Approach: Gestalt therapy takes a holistic approach to mental health, considering the interconnectedness of an individual’s physical, emotional, cognitive, and social well-being. This perspective allows therapists to address the whole person rather than focusing solely on specific symptoms or issues.
  3. Experiential Learning: Gestalt therapy is an experiential form of therapy, meaning that it encourages individuals to actively engage in therapeutic exercises and activities. Through these experiences, clients can gain new insights, challenge old patterns, and develop healthier coping strategies.
  4. Emphasis on Personal Responsibility: One of the key tenets of Gestalt therapy is the belief that individuals are responsible for their own choices and actions. This focus on personal responsibility empowers clients to take control of their lives and make meaningful changes.

What is the Main Goal of Gestalt Therapy?

The main goal of Gestalt therapy is to help individuals become more aware of their feelings and behaviors in the present moment, as well as how they interact with their environment. This increased awareness can lead to greater self-acceptance and understanding, allowing for more effective problem-solving and improved relationships.

What are the 4 Pillars of Gestalt Therapy?

Gestalt therapy is based on four main pillars, according to Positive Psychology: Gestalt, Health, Awareness, and Responsibility.

  1. Gestalt is a German word referring to the idea of “whole”, and Gestalt therapy is based on Gestalt psychology which argues that people perceive patterns or configurations rather than individual components.
  2. Health in gestalt therapy is achieved by the ability to pay attention flexibly to the figure (the object of focus) that is most important at the time.
  3. Awareness in gestalt therapy is key, as it allows for satisfactory completion of perceived patterns/configurations, as well as governs how one interacts with figures/grounds.
  4. Responsibility in Gestalt therapy requires being aware of what’s happening as well as owning up to feelings and impulses in order to take ownership of oneself.

These four pillars form the foundation of Gestalt therapy and are essential for successful treatment.

What is the Difference Between CBT and Gestalt Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Gestalt Therapy are two distinct forms of psychotherapy.

  1. CBT is a structured, goal-oriented approach that focuses on changing thoughts and behaviors to achieve desired outcomes. It is based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all interconnected and can be changed through both cognitive therapy and restructuring.
  2. On the other hand, Gestalt Therapy is a more free-flowing approach that focuses on the present moment and encourages clients to explore their feelings without judgment. It emphasizes self-awareness and encourages clients to take responsibility for their actions.

In short, CBT focuses on changing thought patterns while Gestalt Therapy focuses on exploring emotions and understanding one’s behavior in the present moment.

List of Techniques Used in Gestalt Therapy

Various techniques used in the Gestalt therapy session are the empty chair technique, exaggeration exercise, dreamwork, hot seat technique, theory of paradoxical change, focus on the here and now, and even sculpting.

  • The empty chair technique involves talking to an imaginary person or object.
  • The exaggeration exercise exaggerates body language to be more aware of expressing emotion.
  • Dreamwork explores dreams for deeper understanding.
  • The hot seat technique involves sitting in a chair while others ask questions about life experiences.
  • The theory of paradoxical change states that change occurs when individuals accept who they are instead of trying to change themselves.
  • Focus on the here and now encourages mindfulness of the current situation.
  • Lastly, the healing process of sculpting allows the expression of emotions without words by creating sculptures out of clay or other materials.

Best Online Udemy Course for Gestalt Certification

Discover the transformative power of Gestalt Psychotherapy with this highly-rated Udemy course, designed to help you become a skilled psychotherapist or counselor.

Whether you’re looking to open your own practice, work from home, or simply expand your knowledge of psychology and therapy, this comprehensive course will equip you with the essential tools and techniques required for success.

  • Learn how to effectively use the Gestalt approach in your therapy work, apply it to your own personal growth, and master the famous ‘Empty Chair Technique.’
  • Additionally, gain valuable insights into applying the Gestalt approach in both couple and group therapy settings.

Rated 4.6 out of 5 stars by over 1,388 students, this course offers 4 hours of on-demand video content, an informative article, and convenient access on mobile and TV. Upon completion, you’ll receive an accredited certificate, validating your newfound expertise in Gestalt Therapy.

List of Gestalt Resources

Many resources are available to help people learn more about how Gestalt therapy works and how it can be used to improve their lives. Below is a list of some of the most helpful Gestalt resources:

  1. The International Association for Gestalt Therapy (IAGT) – This organization provides information, education, and support for practitioners, students, and researchers in the field of Gestalt therapy.
  2. The Gestalt Therapy Network – This website offers a variety of resources including articles, books, videos, podcasts, and more related to Gestalt therapy.
  3. The GR: A Professional Refereed Journal – This journal focuses on theory and practice in the worldwide Gestalt community through academic research and publication.
  4. Speechy Musings – This blog offers helpful resources for echolalia, gestalt language processing, natural language acquisition, and scripting so that communication can be honored.
  5. And Next Comes L – This website provides resources such as book suggestions and articles to help understand gestalt language processing and echolalia.
  6. Teachers Pay Teachers – This marketplace offers gestalt teaching resources created by millions of teachers for original educational purposes.
  7. Meaningful Speech – This website provides research and resources related to gestalt language processing as well as other speech-language topics such as articulation disorders or stuttering therapy techniques.
  8. The Gestalt Psychotherapy Research Database – This database includes references to published research about gestalt psychotherapy as well as other useful resources for researchers in this field of study.

Best Online Therapy Platform to Find A Gestalt Therapist

With online therapy, it’s easier to fit sessions into your busy plan because you don’t have to commute. This means you can put your mental health first.

But what if you’re looking specifically for a highly qualified Gestalt clinician? Online treatment through Talkspace is a great way to find a Gestalt therapist.

  • Talkspace stands out among online therapy platforms because it is covered by insurance for 40 million Americans and lets you choose your therapist based on the type of treatment they use.
  • This makes sure that you can find a therapist who is an expert in the Gestalt method and can help you in a way that fits your needs.

At Online Mental Health Reviews, we’ve used the Talkspace service ourselves and can say that it’s good. Our experience with Talkspace shows that their dedication to offering complete mental health care gives readers the power to find the right online product, tool, course, or therapist to help them with their problems.

If you choose Talkspace, you can be sure you’re using a reliable platform that cares about your well-being and gives you the specialized help you need to get through life’s obstacles.

Gestalt Therapy Pros and Cons Conclusion

In conclusion, gestalt therapy is a unique and holistic approach to mental health counseling and treatment that offers many benefits, including enhanced self-awareness, personal growth, and effectiveness for a variety of issues.

However, it may not be the best fit for everyone, and its focus on the present moment may not be sufficient for those who need to delve deeper into their past or their current relationships.

We invite you to leave a comment with any questions you may have about Gestalt therapy pros and cons, or share your suggestions on which mental health service, app, or course the Online Mental Health Reviews team should explore and review next. We appreciate your input and look forward to hearing from you!

Sources

  1. Raffagnino, R. (2019) Gestalt Therapy Effectiveness: A Systematic Review of Empirical Evidence. Open Journal of Social Sciences7, 66-83. doi: 10.4236/jss.2019.76005.
  2. Roubal J, Hytych R, Čevelíček M, Řiháček T. Personal therapeutic approach in Gestalt therapists working with clients suffering from medically unexplained psychosomatic symptoms. Res Psychother. 2021 Dec 20;24(3):535. doi: 10.4081/ripppo.2021.535. PMID: 35047424; PMCID: PMC8715264.

If You Are In Crisis

In Case of Emergency If you find yourself in a crisis, waiting for an online therapy session may not be safe. In situations where you need immediate assistance, call 911, especially if there are plans to harm yourself or others. If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, dial the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 for 24/7 support.

Alternatively, you can reach out to the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This free and confidential helpline is available 24/7, 365 days a year, providing assistance and information on treatment options for individuals struggling with mental health or substance abuse disorders.

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