10 Gestalt Therapy Activities & Exercises to do with your Clients in Therapy

Numerous professionals have made significant contributions to the development and advancement of Gestalt Therapy. Among them are Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffa, Wolfgang Kohler, and the most renowned individual, Fritz Perls (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). Fritz Perls’ work was influenced by other prominent figures in the field of mental health, including Sigmund Freud, Karney Horney, Wilhelm Reich, and Otto Rank (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). Furthermore, Gestalt Therapy shares similarities with Person-Centered Therapy and Existential Therapy (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). Continue reading to discover ten Gestalt Therapy activities and exercises that can be conducted with clients during therapy.

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Perls held the belief that every individual possesses inherent goodness and the capacity to effectively navigate the challenges and distress encountered in life (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). Assisting clients in developing the ability to cope with distress can lead to personal growth and an enhanced overall quality of life. Gestalt Therapy serves as a powerful tool for fostering client awareness, inner strength, and self-reliance (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

Gestalt Therapists advocate that heightened awareness acts as a catalyst for transformative change (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). Self-actualization becomes possible when individuals attain awareness of their unresolved issues, strengths, and available resources (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). Not only does Gestalt Therapy emphasize cognitive awareness, but it also places significant emphasis on bodily awareness (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

Gestalt Therapists strive to achieve four essential objectives with their clients (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010):

  1. Foster attentiveness to the present moment, allowing clients to become fully aware and focused on their immediate experiences.
  2. Uphold and nurture the interconnections and integrity of various aspects, such as social, cultural, historical, physical, and emotional factors.
  3. Encourage experimentation as a means of exploring new possibilities and breaking free from limiting patterns.
  4. Cultivate creativity by embracing novel ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.

Gestalt Therapists endeavor to establish a collaborative relationship with their clients, engaging together in the present moment. By developing awareness of their own emotions, experiences, and perceptions, therapists can authentically connect with their clients during interactions.

Why Gestalt Therapy?

Gestalt Therapy is chosen for several compelling reasons:

  1. Holistic Approach: Gestalt Therapy takes a holistic approach to understanding individuals, considering their thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and physical sensations as interconnected aspects of their experience.
  2. Awareness and Mindfulness: It emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and mindfulness, helping individuals become more present and attuned to their experiences in the here and now.
  3. Effective for a Range of Issues: Gestalt Therapy is versatile and can be applied to a wide range of mental health and life challenges, including anxiety, depression, relationship issues, trauma, and personal growth.
  4. Focus on the Present: It encourages individuals to focus on the present moment, making them more aware of their current thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  5. Experiential Approach: Gestalt Therapy uses experiential techniques and role-playing exercises to help individuals explore their emotions, unresolved issues, and unmet needs.
  6. Creative Expression: It incorporates creative expression techniques, such as art, movement, and drama, to help individuals express themselves and explore their inner worlds.
  7. Positive Therapeutic Relationship: Gestalt Therapy emphasizes building a strong therapeutic relationship characterized by empathy, support, and genuine interaction.
  8. Customized Treatment: It can be tailored to the unique needs and goals of each individual, ensuring that therapy is personalized and relevant.
  9. Enhanced Self-Acceptance: Gestalt Therapy promotes self-acceptance by helping individuals explore and accept all aspects of themselves, including parts they may have rejected or suppressed.
  10. Long-Term Benefits: Many individuals who complete Gestalt Therapy report lasting improvements in their mental health, relationships, and overall well-being.
  11. Transdiagnostic Application: While initially developed for specific issues, Gestalt Therapy can be adapted to address a broader range of concerns, making it suitable for clients with diverse issues.
  12. Cultural Sensitivity: It can be applied with cultural sensitivity, respecting diverse cultural perspectives and values.
  13. Integration of Parts: Gestalt Therapy assists individuals in integrating fragmented aspects of themselves, leading to greater self-wholeness and authenticity.
  14. Resilience Building: It fosters resilience by helping individuals develop coping skills and adapt to life’s challenges more effectively.
  15. Promotion of Personal Growth: Gestalt Therapy encourages personal growth and self-discovery, enabling individuals to live more authentically and in alignment with their values.

Gestalt Therapy is particularly well-suited for individuals seeking to explore their inner experiences, improve self-awareness, and address unresolved issues from the past. It offers an experiential and humanistic approach to therapy that encourages self-discovery, personal growth, and greater authenticity. Keep reading to learn Gestalt Therapy activities to try with your clients.

Mental Health Conditions That Can Benefit from Gestalt Therapy Activities

Gestalt Therapy is particularly beneficial for clients who feel dissatisfied with their current level of functioning and seek to maximize their potential (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). This approach is well-suited for individuals grappling with conditions such as anxiety, depression, mood disorders, phobias, and mild dysfunctional personality traits (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

Due to its emphasis on bodily awareness, Gestalt Therapy can be an effective choice for clients who experience emotions manifesting in physical sensations. It is especially relevant for individuals dealing with somatoform disorders (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

When applied to individuals struggling with substance use disorders, Gestalt Therapy has demonstrated positive outcomes. It has been associated with high abstinence rates and improvements in overall mood and personality traits (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

Moreover, Gestalt Therapy has shown promise in working with clients diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and those living with disabilities (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

However, it is important to note that Gestalt Therapy is not suitable for clients with severe mental health concerns like schizophrenia, paranoia, or impulse control disorders (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010). Practitioners must exercise caution when applying Gestalt Therapy techniques and interventions, as some may appear confrontational and intense, particularly to individuals accustomed to non-Western European communication styles (Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W., 2010).

Gestalt Therapy Activities to do with Clients

A range of Gestalt Therapy activities exist to facilitate progress in the four key components targeted by this approach. These activities can be implemented in both group and individual sessions, accommodating diverse therapeutic settings. Continue reading our list of Gestalt Therapy activities:

  1. Perhaps the most commonly known Gestalt Therapy activity is the empty chair technique. This technique can be used during individual sessions. Before you begin, you will need to have two chairs, often facing each other, that your client can move to during this exercise. Once you have the chairs arranged, as your client to imagine another person in the other chair. This could be a partner, friend, family member, co-worker, or anyone whom they have unfinished business with. As the Counselor, you will help your client have a conversation with their identified person as they move between the two chairs respectively. Once you have completed this exercise, allow for time to process your client’s experience and any key takeaways they have gained.
  2. Using the My Movement Worksheet offered by TherapyPatron.com can be used to help your clients gain awareness of their body and its movements. As an example, this activity begins by asking your client to turn their head and notice any new sensations they experience within their body. In addition to gaining awareness of their physical being, clients will practice being in the here and now.
  3. An awareness Gestalt Therapy activity that you can utilize in either a group or individual session would be exploring a recent dream that your client has had. Encourage your client to identify different parts of their dream, and make a note of what they believe each part would say about itself if it had a voice. Once your client has shared their thoughts and observations, spend time exploring anything that they are taking away from the exercise, or that they have learned about themselves from this exercise.
  4. With respect to the goal of gaining awareness, a helpful Gestalt Therapy Activity would be to explore your client’s way of being in the moment and the messages that they believe these behaviors send. Examples of behaviors that can be explored include their use of language, their body language, their use of eye contact, and their natural body movements. Once your client has gained some awareness, spend time exploring differences that can be observed within their body language and their words, and if these differences are related to any internal splits that they are navigating.
  5. TherapyPatron.com offers a Now I Feel Worksheet which can be used to help clients explore the level of responsibility that they feel for their emotions. With this worksheet, your client will be asked to complete the following statement aloud: I feel _____, and I am responsible for that.  The next step is exploring how that statement makes them feel. Since we can feel more than one emotion at a time, clients can use this sheet to respect each emotion they are feeling in the present moment.
  6. If you are looking for a Gestalt Therapy exercise that can be incorporated into a group session, encourage your clients to pick a possession or object that they feel they can identify with.  This can be in how the object is viewed by others, its importance, and the way it makes others feel. Once you have provided your clients with an appropriate amount of time, have your group share the item that they identify and why. Allow for time to process anything that the group members have recognized or learned about themselves during this exercise.
  7. The I Give You The Power worksheet available at TherapyPatron.com can be used to help clients gain insight into how they give others the power of impacting their emotions. With this therapeutic exercise, your client will identify someone who has made them feel bad. You will then ask your client to imagine that that individual is sitting across them and tell them how they feel. Once your client has verbalized their thoughts and emotions, have them say “I give you the power to make me feel this way” more than once. You will then go into processing your client’s experience and exploring how this statement impacted them.
  8. The Cant Substitution Worksheet is an example of an activity that a Gestalt Therapist could use in a group or individual session. With this activity, you will ask your client to identify something they feel that they cannot do. After repeating this statement, you will then ask them to replace “I can’t” with “I won’t” and explore any changes that this has for your client. You will then ask them to repeat the same phrase with “I won’t”, and explore any implications this has on the amount of responsibility that your client is owning for this concern. Allow for time to process anything they have learned about themselves and their reactions to the exercise.
  9. Another commonly used approach by Gestalt Therapists is the exaggeration technique. With this technique, clients are asked to repeat and exaggerate a physical movement that they unconsciously engage in to try and gain awareness of any emotional connections the movement may have. As an example, someone who is adjusting or bouncing their leg may feel anxious at that moment and be unaware of their experience at the moment. The repeated engagement and the exaggeration of the movement can help clients tap into what they are feeling emotionally at that time. Allow for time to process your client’s thoughts and emotions after engaging in this exercise.
  10. The Top Dog- Under Dog, exercise is a commonly used Gestalt Therapy activity that can increase awareness of different aspects of our client’s personality. Top Dog refers to the part of our client that is dominant and assertive, whereas the Under Dog refers to the parts of us that may be a bit passive. With this exercise, your client will have a conversation between these two aspects of themselves to increase their awareness of the polarities they are balancing. Allow for time to process your client’s experience, thoughts, and emotions after this activity.

Final Thoughts On Choosing Activities for Gestalt Therapy

Thank you for reading this resource on 10 Gestalt Therapy activities and exercises to do with your clients in therapy. Gestalt Therapy Exercises can be an effective tool in group and individual sessions, which is an attractive trait of this therapeutic approach. Gestalt Therapy can be used by Clinicians who view themselves as their client’s partner and are passionate about helping their clients develop a deeper understanding of themselves. After all, Fritz Perls believed that with guidance and support, we all have the ability to cope with the challenges we experience in life.

If you are interested in learning more about Gestalt Therapy and helpful interventions, training and continued education courses can provide you with the knowledge and tools needed to integrate Gestalt Therapy into your clinical work.

TherapyPatron.com helps mental health professionals better serve their clients. Our (editable, fillable, printable PDF) therapy worksheets can help you streamline your practice, effectively deliver different types of therapy, and support your clients be the best version of themselves.

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Resources:

  • Seligman, L., & Reichenberg, L.W. (2010). Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy: Systems, Strategies, and Skills (3rd ed., pp. 191-218).  Pearson Education, Inc.
Anthony Bart
Author: Anthony Bart

Anthony Bart is a huge mental health advocate. He has primarily positioned his marketing expertise to work with mental health professionals so that they can help as many patients as possible.

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