Techniques in Gestalt Therapy: Exercises and Experiments

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  • 0:01 Techniques in Gestalt Therapy
  • 1:01 Exercises
  • 2:42 Experiments
  • 4:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

Exercises and experiments are two techniques in Gestalt therapy that are used to increase a client's present awareness. Learn more about how these techniques work in this lesson.

Techniques in Gestalt Therapy

Imagine you're a counselor with a client who comes to therapy with a desire to better themselves and improve their self-confidence. When the topic of their job comes up, you notice specific body language associated with the topic. You also notice that the client changes the topic quickly and avoids discussing his job more deeply. As a Gestalt therapist, you recognize that these actions will be important in therapy sessions.

You may have learned in another lesson that Gestalt therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on what is occurring in the present and is based on understanding a person within their environment. Gestalt therapy is concerned with the obvious, such as the body language displayed by clients and their reluctance to talk about their job. This does not mean that the therapist has it easy. They must still use tools that bring these feelings to the surface and resolve existing conflicts. Two major techniques used for this purpose in Gestalt therapy are experiments and exercises.

Exercises

Exercises are pre-existing techniques that are used to make something happen in a therapy session. The purpose of an exercise is to elicit emotion, produce action, or achieve a specific goal. Let's look at a couple of different exercises used in Gestalt therapy.

In the exaggeration exercise, our client is asked to exaggerate a movement or gesture repeatedly, which usually intensifies the feelings attached to the behavior and makes the inner meaning more clear. Imagine the client starts shaking his leg when the topic of his job comes up. As the therapist, you may ask the client to exaggerate the shaking and use words to describe it. The client begins to understand that he is actually expressing feelings about his job.

Another exercise is the internal dialogue exercise. This exercise involves the outward expression of an inner conflict. An empty-chair technique is often used to help the client with the external communication. Imagine the client feels conflicted about seeking a new job. As the therapist, you bring out two chairs and arrange them facing each other.

One chair represents the desire to find a new job. The other chair represents the fear of changing jobs. You ask the client to sit in each chair alternately, expressing only the side of the argument that is represented by the chair he is sitting in at the time. Creating a verbal dialogue for his feelings helps the client better understand and work through the conflict. Many more exercises exist in Gestalt therapy, and they are all designed to help clients be honest and open with themselves in order to move forward without conflict.

Experiments

Experiments are therapy techniques that develop from the therapeutic process and client/therapist relationship. Experiments are fundamental to Gestalt therapy. Some Gestalt theorists would even argue that therapy sessions are nothing but a series of experiments. Experiments are spontaneous, and because of this, they can take many different forms. Let's look at a few examples of an experiment that might take place during therapy:

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