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Understanding the Healing Power of Gestalt Therapy for Past Trauma

October 5, 2023


A man holding a coffee mug and woman sitting together on a couch, enjoying each other's presence and engaging in conversation


You may have heard of gestalt therapy, without being sure of how this form of therapy actually works. Gestalt therapy is a form of person-centered therapy that helps people suffering from issues with chronic mental health disorders and substance abuse to heal and let go of issues in the past that have been keeping them from moving forward in their lives. In this article, we look at how gestalt therapy works, benefits of gestalt therapy, and where to find the best gestalt therapists online.

How Gestalt Therapy Works

Gestalt therapy was designed to help people resolve individual challenges and heal from issues in their pasts that have been preventing them from moving forward with their lives. Many people who get gestalt therapy are suffering from issues related to unhealed trauma, or other mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder that have kept them rooted in the past and unable to move forward. In gestalt therapy, a licensed clinical therapist will teach therapy clients how to regain their personal power by taking accountability for their lives and personal responsibility for their circumstances.

Gestalt therapy teaches clients to stay present in the moment and to base behaviors, thoughts, and emotions on things that are happening in the present. Many people who get gestalt therapy have an issue with focusing current behaviors on negative experiences that have happened in the past. Gestalt therapists work to help clients remove this pre-programmed response and experience each situation in life as new.

Learning how to experience each situation from a fresh perspective is one of the main goals of gestalt therapy. You and your therapist will work together to help you learn how to focus on what is actually happening now, versus what you think may be happening based on what has happened in the past. If you’re suffering from issues with chronic mental health disorders, your therapist will work with you to develop an individual treatment plan with the best strategies and treatment options for your specific situation.

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Interactive Gestalt Therapy Approaches

The goal of gestalt therapy is to bring awareness to the current moment. As a result there are many components of gestalt therapy that involve Interactive therapy methods.

Role-play – during role play in gestalt therapy sessions, you and your therapist will choose a role for you to act out based on the issues that you’re working on healing at the time. You and your therapist will each take on a role and have a conversation as the role you’re playing. This is a therapy technique that allows for people to express pent-up emotions and frustrations about a person or situation without feeling guilty for having their own perspective.

Guided imagery – gestalt therapists use guided imagery techniques to help therapy clients to achieve a calmer state of mind that keeps them in touch with the here and now. For example, a therapist may ask a gestalt therapy client to close their eyes and visualize a calming scene like a beach, waterfall, or other calming scenario.

The Empty Chair Technique – this is one of the most popular therapeutic techniques used across a wide-variety of therapy approaches. The empty chair technique is an interactive form of therapy that places the client face-to-face with an empty chair. The empty chair is a representation of a person or situation that remains unhealed in the client’s life.

The therapist guides the client through a conversation with the empty chair where the client is able to fully express their emotions toward the person or situation without feeling guilty for hurting the other person. This technique works well for victims of abuse who may be in fear of facing their abuser directly. Using the empty chair technique allows mental health sufferers to heal by releasing their mental burdens and frustrations on the empty chair.

The interactive therapy techniques used in gestalt therapy are created to help clients become aware of what is happening in the present moment and to identify their feelings. Interactive therapy exercises help clients to locate the emotions they are feeling in their body. For example, if you’ve ever heard someone say they feel “all choked up,” “a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach”, this is an example of identifying emotions in the physical body.

Two woman sitting on a couch engaged in conversation during an in person therapy consultation

Remove Emotional Blocks And Heal From Past Trauma

Pent up emotions and frustrations can have a physical effect on the body. Over time, these unresolved issues can cause somatic symptoms that can lead to physical illness. Gestalt therapy can help remove these physical and emotional blocks while placing emphasis and awareness on the present moment and not becoming consumed by negative thoughts of the past.

Gestalt therapy is used to treat many chronic mental health conditions including anxiety, post-traumatic stress related disorders, mood disorders like depression, relationship issues, and substance abuse disorders. A gestalt therapist teaches chronic mental health sufferers how to take more personal responsibility for their actions. As a result, people who get gestalt therapy often feel more empowered after getting therapy.

People who have successfully completed regular gestalt therapy sessions report increased awareness, increased emotional resilience, and increased self-confidence. If you’re interested in getting started with gestalt therapy, find a licensed practitioner by searching your state’s therapy licensing board or by logging in to a popular online therapy app for distance therapy online.