It can be hard to choose a therapist. When perusing profile after profile online, peppered with different psycho-babble that might not ring a bell, you may not know which therapist is right for you. Wouldn’t it be nice if these profiles came with a key to define all the therapy terms being thrown around? One type of therapy you may come across is called Gestalt. This blog will demystify what you might expect from Gestalt therapy.
Focus on the here and now
When you work with a Gestalt therapist, you can expect that they will ask you about your experience in the present moment. During the course of therapy, you will certainly explore your past. However, Gestalt therapists give particular attention to their clients’ experience in the moment as it is unfolding. In fact, the goal of Gestalt therapy is to raise the client’s awareness of their present experience. Although, it might seem counterintuitive; giving focused attention to what you are currently experiencing can lead to insight that can shift unhealthy patterns.
It might feel scary to really let yourself stay present with uncomfortable or painful feelings that come up. However, avoiding those feelings will keep them stuck. Here are some examples of what a Gestalt psychotherapist might ask you when you settle into the therapy room:
“What are you aware of right now?”
“What’s your experience as you’re telling me about that date you went on?”
“What’s coming up for you as you describe the way your mother treated you in high school?”
One way that Gestalt therapists help their clients notice their experience in the present moment is by helping them slow down. This can be very challenging since we live in a culture that values fast pace and multi-tasking. We are often distracted by smartphones and social media. Sitting with emotions can be difficult and we often “go up into our heads” to avoid that discomfort. A Gestalt therapist can help you slow down by saying things like, “After you said that you miss your ex, I saw tears well up in your eyes and I notice your voice sounds sad. Can you stay with that for a minute?” or, “The story you’re telling me is so important. I’d like to ask you to pause here to take a few breaths and notice what you’re aware of.”
Notice your body’s experience
One of the ways that Gestalt therapists help their clients connect to their emotions is by getting curious about the sensations in their bodies. This is called your somatic experience. Sometimes it can be difficult or even overwhelming to answer the question, “How does that make you feel?” It can sometimes be more manageable to be asked, “What do you notice in your body right now?” For example, you might notice that you feel a tightness in your chest. A Gestalt therapist might ask you to put your hand on your chest and take a few breaths while noticing your hand rising and falling on your chest. They might ask you what your chest would say, if you could “speak from that place.”
Another way somatic experience can be utilized in a therapy session is when you make a hand gesture while explaining something to your therapist. A Gestalt therapist might interrupt you to note your gesture and ask you to do it again. They may even ask you to exaggerate it and invite you to notice what it’s like to do it with this added awareness.
You might be reading this section and thinking, “I have no idea what I’m feeling in my body at any given moment!” If that is you, then do not worry. You are not alone! Learning to notice your somatic experience is a skill and takes practice. Gestalt psychotherapy can help you hone this practice.
Process the relationship between client and therapist
No matter what approach your therapist takes or what their training background is, most therapists believe that the relationship between a client and therapist matters. Gestalt therapists do not believe they are “blank slates” with no personality or impact on their clients. In fact, they believe that their particular presence is inevitably impacting the client’s experience. Patterns that typically come up in a client’s relationships with people in their life can often emerge in their relationship with their therapist as well. Gestalt therapists use their relationship with the client as one of the tools of therapy. This type of therapy is also known as relational therapy. When a therapist helps a client to notice what it’s like to process or communicate about something in therapy, this can also support them in being more able to do that in other relationships as well.
For example, a Gestalt therapist can utilize their relationship with their clients in a session by saying things like, “As you’re telling me how lonely you felt as a child, I’m noticing that I feel sad right now. How is it to hear me share that?” or, “What’s it like to share this with me today?” or, “I hear how betrayed you’ve felt by women in your past. I wonder what it’s like talking about this with me, since I’m a woman?”
Experiment in sessions
Gestalt therapists do what they call “experiments” with their clients. This simply entails inviting a client to try something new then notice what happens. Gestalt therapists suggest experiments based on what they observe a client saying and doing; there is never any intended outcome. The goal of Gestalt experiments is always to gain awareness. Therefore, there is no such thing as a “failed experiment.” Some examples of experiments a Gestalt therapist might suggest include:
- Inviting a client to repeat a certain sentence several times, trying out different tones or volumes of voice.
- Asking the client to hold eye contact with the therapist for a certain amount of time. Then proceed to look away and notice what comes up.
- Inviting a client to have a dialogue with a “younger part of themself” who they could imagine is in the therapy room.
I hope this blog has offered some concrete information to help you feel better informed about what to expect from a Gestalt therapist and experiential therapy. There are countless effective approaches to psychotherapy and Gestalt therapy is one of many. The most important thing is finding both a therapist and an approach that is a good fit for you.
At myTherapyNYC, we practice Gestalt therapy as well as other relational and experiential modalities. Contact us to connect with us and learn more about our different approaches in therapy.
What sensations are you aware of in your body in this moment, as you are reading this? Join the conversation in the comments below!
/* check if google analytics tracking is disabled by user setting via cookie - or user must opt in. */
var analytics_code = "nnnnnn".replace(/"/g, '"' );
var html = document.getElementsByTagName('html');
$('html').on( 'avia-cookie-settings-changed', function(e)
var cookie_check = html.className.indexOf('av-cookies-needs-opt-in') >= 0 || html.className.indexOf('av-cookies-can-opt-out') >= 0;
var allow_continue = true;
var silent_accept_cookie = html.className.indexOf('av-cookies-user-silent-accept') >= 0;
var script_loaded = $( 'script.google_analytics_scripts' );
if( cookie_check && ! silent_accept_cookie )
if( ! document.cookie.match(/aviaCookieConsent/) || html.className.indexOf('av-cookies-session-refused') >= 0 )
allow_continue = false;
if( ! document.cookie.match(/aviaPrivacyRefuseCookiesHideBar/) )
allow_continue = false;
else if( ! document.cookie.match(/aviaPrivacyEssentialCookiesEnabled/) )
allow_continue = false;
else if( document.cookie.match(/aviaPrivacyGoogleTrackingDisabled/) )
allow_continue = false;
if( ! allow_continue )
// window['ga-disable-UA-35588208-2'] = true;
if( script_loaded.length > 0 )
if( script_loaded.length == 0 )
$('head').append( analytics_code );
$('html').trigger( 'avia-cookie-settings-changed' );
})( jQuery );