What is Gestalt Psychology and Gestalt Therapy?

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Gestalt psychology is a school of thinking that examines the entire spectrum of human cognition and behaviour. It implies that structures have unique qualities that set them apart from the sum of their elements when seen as a whole. Gestalt psychology says that we do not merely concentrate on every minor detail while attempting to make sense of the world around us. Instead, we tend to think of things as parts of larger, more intricate systems.While each letterform is an independent individual unit, the greater meaning of the text depends on the arrangement of the letters into a particular configuration. For example, when reading a text, a person perceives each word and sentence with meaning rather than seeing individual letters. Holism, or the idea that the whole is larger than the sum of its parts, is a fundamental principle of Gestalt psychology.

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Founder of Gestalt psychology

Gestalt psychology emerged from Max Wertheimer’s work in part as a reaction to Wilhelm Wundt’s structuralism. Gestalt psychologists sought to examine the entirety of the mind and behaviour, as opposed to structuralism’s concern with dissecting psychological issues into their finest components. Following the idea of holism, Wertheimer and his adherents recognised situations in which perception was predicated on viewing objects integrated as whole rather than as discrete parts.

Gestalt psychology was developed under the influence of several philosophers, including Immanuel Kant, Ernst Mach, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
After noticing what he named the “phi phenomenon” while examining the alternating lights on a railroad signal, Wertheimer went on to create Gestalt psychology. An optical illusion known as the phi phenomenon causes two stationary objects to appear to move when they appear and vanish quickly one after the other. In other words, we detect movement even when none exists.

  • Wertheimer concluded that humans see things by perceiving the full perception, not by comprehending specific portions, based on his studies of the phi phenomenon. Flickering light at a railway station gives us the impression that one light is moving fast between two spots. In fact, there are just two lights that are quickly flickering while remaining stationary. The development of Gestalt psychology is usually linked to Wertheimer’s discoveries of the phi phenomenon, and he went on to popularise the fundamental ideas of the discipline. This school of psychology was influenced by other psychologists as well.
  • Wolfgang Köhler: Köhler argued that organic phenomena are instances of holism at work and related Gestalt psychology to the scientific sciences. He also investigated chimpanzees’ capacities for problem-solving and explored hearing.
  • Kurt Koffka: Koffka is regarded as one of the pioneers of the field together with Wertheimer and Köhler. To support his claim that newborns first grasp things holistically before learning to separate them into parts, he used the Gestalt notion in child psychology. Koffka was instrumental in introducing Gestalt concepts to the US.

What are the principles of gestalt psychology?

The guiding principles are because people naturally seek order amid disarray; this process takes place in the brain rather than in sensory organs like the eye. Wertheimer asserts that the mind uses a predetermined set of rules to “make sense” of the stimuli that the eyes have acquired. These concepts are used by the brain in a way that allows people to see consistent shapes rather than just collections of disconnected pictures. Although they work in a predictable manner, these principles are only mental shortcuts for understanding data. They occasionally fall short as they are shortcuts, which is why they might provide false impressions.

  • Prägnanz: The “law of simplicity” or “law of excellent figure” is another name for the law of Prägnanz. According to this theory, the human brain tries to simplify a group of ambiguous or complicated things when presented with them. An item or image that is simple to take in as a whole is considered to be an “excellent figure.” Our view of the Olympic emblem is a wonderful illustration of this process. Instead of a succession of curved, linked lines, we frequently observe overlapping circles (the more straightforward variant).
  • Resemblance: According to this rule, we often group forms, objects, or design components that are like one another in some way, whether that similarity is in terms of colour, shape, orientation, texture, or size.
  • According to the rule of proximity, forms, objects, or design components that are close to one another are more likely to be viewed as a group. On the other hand, things that are positioned randomly often appear to be alone. The closer visual elements are near one another, the more likely it is that people will view them as connected to one another, while too much negative space between pieces serves to separate them from one another. This idea may be used to draw attention to important aspects of a design.
  • Common Region: According to this theory, objects that are contained inside the same enclosed space, such as the interior of a circle or a form, are more likely to be associated with the same group. The distinct lines that separate the inner from the exterior of a form strengthen the bond between components and may even overcome the laws of proximity or similarity.
  • Continuity: According to this law, forms, objects, or design components will be interpreted rather than as isolated parts if they are placed in a way that indicates lines, curves, or planes. To create a continuous picture, we perceptually group the components together.
  • Closure: According to this rule, the human brain has a built-in propensity to visually fill gaps in forms, especially when recognising well-known pictures. When information is lacking, our attention shifts to what is already there and we unconsciously “fill in” the blanks with recognisable lines, colours, or patterns. Once a shape is detected, even if new gaps are added, we still tend to visually complete the form to stabilise it. One well-known example of applied closure is the logo for IBM, which is made up of three stacks of blue horizontal lines that are “closed” to create the letterforms.

The traditional gestalt ideas have been expanded in several ways. The ones mentioned above are some of the more often used examples, although there are others, such as the symmetry principle and the shared faith concept (symmetrical components will typically be placed together) (elements tend to be perceived as grouped together if they move together).

What is Gestalt Therapy?

The foundation of Gestalt therapy is the notion that perception as a whole is influenced by the interplay of several variables. These elements include our present surroundings, thoughts, feelings, and wants as well as our prior experiences.
The present is the main emphasis of gestalt therapy. A Gestalt therapist would advise you to concentrate your attention on your current experience even if the historical background is crucial for seeing oneself as complete.
Gestalt therapy is a humanistic, holistic, person-centred type of psychotherapy that places more emphasis on a client’s current issues than on exploring their history. This method emphasises more on the significance of comprehending a person’s life circumstances and emphasising responsibility over assigning blame.

Gestalt implies that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and refers, by definition, to the form or shape of anything. This counselling philosophy specifically places a focus on perception. Gestalt therapy focuses on the ways in which we assign significance to and interpret our surroundings and experiences.
In the 1940s, Fritz Perls created gestalt therapy as an alternative to more conventional psychoanalysis with the assistance of his then-wife, Laura Perls. Fritz and Laura both received gestalt psychology and psychoanalytic training.

Along with others, including Paul Goodman, they collaborated to create a humanistic therapeutic approach. In other words, the strategy emphasised the individual and the distinction of their experience.
Gestalt therapy may help patients acquire confidence, boost emotions of self-efficacy and self-kindness, and may be beneficial in treating the signs and symptoms of sadness and anxiety, according to research. It is frequently a useful technique to set up group therapy. The interaction between the client and therapist is crucial for the therapeutic process. As a patient, you must feel at ease with your therapist to have a deep relationship with them, and they must be able to foster an objective setting where you may express your ideas and experiences.

How does Gestalt therapy work?

Gestalt therapy, a style of psychotherapy, focuses on enhancing a person’s consciousness, independence, and self-direction. It’s a type of treatment that places more emphasis on the present than on the past.
The foundation of gestalt therapy is the notion that people are impacted by their immediate surroundings. Each person strives for balance and personal development. Empathy and unwavering acceptance are key components of gestalt therapy. By learning to trust and embrace their feelings, people may eliminate discomfort.

Several activities and experiments are used in the various gestalt therapy procedures. Both individual and group therapy are options. People can improve their awareness and comprehension of the present moment by engaging in exercises and experiments.

Given that everyone’s prior experiences are diverse, different gestalt therapy strategies are effective in different ways for various people. Here are some illustrations of several gestalt therapy techniques:

  • Paradoxical or irrational change: The desire for self-acceptance is at the centre of the notion of paradoxical transformation. It aids people in growing their sense of self-awareness. Living in the present is made easier for someone when they are at peace with who they are as a person. As a result, sentiments and moods are improved.
  • “Now” and “here”: People may appreciate their prior experiences and how they affect their present-day attitudes and behaviours by using this strategy. People might learn to let go of the past by being aware of the internal forces that shape their present existence. This enables people to concentrate on the present moment. This method aims to assist people in living in the moment and implementing constructive changes in the future.
  • Use the empty chair method: This method enables people to open up and practise speaking in front of an empty chair. To envision yourself opening to a certain person you needed to talk to, is the aim of this strategy. The therapeutic experience of opening creates the conditions for healing when you do so as though the other person is sitting there listening.
  • Exaggeration strategy: This method works by helping a person recognise underlying problems that could be connected to their current difficulty. You can be asked by the therapist to exaggerate a certain action or feeling. This aids in locating and resolving the problem’s fundamental cause.

What issues can Gestalt therapy help with?

Gestalt therapy may be used to treat a wide range of illnesses, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • low self-efficacy
  • a low sense of self
  • relationship difficulties

The advantages of Gestalt therapy

  • An enhanced capacity for self-control
  • improved capacity to keep track of and control mental states
  • improved understanding of your demands
  • greater ability to tolerate bad feelings
  • enhanced communication abilities
  • increased emotional intelligence and awareness

The Present Moment or living in the present:

Gestalt therapy seeks to help the patient become more conscious of how they are feeling while they are in the world. Gestalt therapists don’t want to see their patients change. Clients are urged to concentrate on growing in self-awareness, remaining present, and digesting things in the present.
Gestalt therapy’s collaborative client-therapist interaction is essential to the healing process.

Self-Reflection and Development

It has been proposed that the way we learn to endure events, especially traumatic ones, is to put up barriers or push things out of our conscious consciousness so that we can go on. Even if it appears to be working, it can cause problems for us as we separate and fragment our experiences and our sense of ourselves.
The very strategies we formerly employed to assist ourselves now serve as barriers to self-awareness and development. By identifying these barriers, effectively challenging them, and removing them from the path, we can discover healing and personal development.

Individual Responsibilities

Giving patients the chance to own and embrace their experiences is one of the main objectives of gestalt therapy. By placing the blame on others, we give up control and become victims of the incident or the other people involved. Gestalt therapy invites patients to question their preconceived notions of how we might have given an event significance in the past.
Gestalt therapy aims to teach clients how to accept and embrace personal responsibility, giving them a stronger sense of control over their experiences and the ability to better manage their emotions and interactions with others.

How to Increase Your Self-Control, Growth, and Self-Regulation

Gestalt therapy contends that while people strive for self-control and development, they occasionally resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms to get through tiring situations. Some of these methods seem beneficial at the moment because they can lessen our suffering.
Long-term, nevertheless, they put us in more vulnerable emotional states and prevent us from expressing ourselves. It could be challenging for us to communicate with others and to develop the self-control necessary to be whole, accountable humans.
Despite some of these shortcomings, gestalt therapy holds that humans are nonetheless wired for this sense of completeness and experience discomfort when we are unable to accomplish it. Our distress may manifest as various medical conditions, emotional sensitivity, social isolation, and more.


Gestalt therapy is at least as successful as other psychotherapy modalities, according to research, in treating several problems, such as anxiety and personality disorders.
According to research conducted on anxious individuals in Hong Kong, four weeks of gestalt therapy reduced anxiety levels, reduced the avoidance of inner experiences, and increased mindfulness and self-kindness. However, self-judgment was unaffected.

Gestalt therapy has been examined in several trials on women with depression and has been proven to be more helpful than medication therapy and cognitive therapy in treating depressive symptoms.
According to research on divorced women, gestalt therapy, which consisted of 12 sessions, increased the women’s self-efficacy, or capacity for coping.Gestalt therapy was found to be a successful outpatient treatment for bipolar illness in one study of patients, helping patients not just with their disease’s symptoms but also with their social, professional, and academic functioning.


Gestalt therapy is a thorough therapeutic approach that helps a person’s intellect, emotions, body, and spirit over the long term. Our understanding of perception and sensation is impacted by gestalt psychology. Additionally, it deepens our comprehension of how our cognitive processes affect how we interact with others.

The focus of gestalt therapy is on taking ownership of your current psychological and physical demands. A Gestalt therapist would think about things like freedom and responsibility, the present-moment nature of experience, and your part in giving your life purpose. The goal of gestalt therapy is to overcome conflicts and ambiguities caused by your incapacity to successfully integrate different aspects of your personality.


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