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Gestalt Therapy for Drug Addiction

Gestalt therapy is a holistic form of psychotherapy focused on helping patients accept their current circumstances instead of living in the past. It highlights the importance of self-awareness and self-direction. This allows you to let go of negative things that may have happened in the past and realize the opportunity to better yourself in the present moment.1

This alternative therapy has been examined and is being used by some to treat drug and alcohol addiction. It helps you get to the root of substance use disorder (SUD) while encouraging you to take accountability.

What is Gestalt Therapy?

In the 1940s, Fritz and Laura Perls developed gestalt therapy as an alternative to other forms of psychoanalysis based on their belief in the humanistic approach. Originally stemming from German descent, the term “gestalt is loosely translated to “an organized whole is better than some of the parts.”

The main goal of gestalt therapy is to increase your perception of the present using a holistic approach. It encourages patients to look at their lives in the present context and deal with what is revealed to them. The philosophy rejects the belief that individual traits are responsible for all behaviors and proposes examining a blend of mind, body, soul, and emotions.

At first, it was used as a proven and effective way to treat mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and trauma. As it gained widespread popularity in the 1970s, healthcare professionals even used it to treat physical ailments like ulcerative colitis, back spasms, and migraines.

Find Out If Your Insurance Plan Covers Alcohol or Drug Addiction Treatment

AAC can help people recover from alcohol or drug misuse and substance use disorders. To find out if your insurance covers treatment, with therapy that may include gestalt therapy, for you or your loved one at an AAC facility, click here, or fill out the form below. Your information is kept 100% confidential. You can also click here to find a rehab near me.

Gestalt Therapy Techniques & Key Concepts

The gestalt philosophy includes vital techniques and concepts, and therapy is provided in group and individual settings. In a one-on-one session, your therapist should remain empathetic and may ask questions such as “what do you feel in the moment” or “how do you feel right now” to encourage you to focus on the here and now and take responsibility for the present. Regularly participating in these sessions encourages progressive growth and self-awareness over time.

Some key concepts include understanding the context of past situations, focusing on the present, learning the impact that experience has on perception, and working through painful memories. There are no set guidelines. Different techniques and exercises are used to fit each patient’s specific needs. Following are examples of techniques used.

Empty Chair

This role-playing exercise encourages you to step outside of yourself by having a dialogue with a part of you or another person. Patients sit across from an empty chair and speak out loud, imagining themselves in a conversation with the other person or part of themselves. This exercise helps increase emotional awareness by drawing out significant underlying meanings and perceptions.

Body Language

Your therapist may observe different parts of your body language, such as facial expressions and body movements, and prompt you with questions about what is happening in that experience. They may also ask you to speak with your body instead of your words.

Locating Emotion

During a session, your therapist may also ask you to express where you’re feeling emotions in your body. For example, describing feelings like a “lump in your throat” or “pit in your stomach” when certain emotions arise. Focusing on the physical expression of emotion will help you stay present and effectively process your emotions.


Exaggeration is used to process emotions when words are difficult to find. Your therapist may ask you to exaggerate a physical representation of what you’re feeling to express your experience. This exercise is used to help you and your therapist understand how you may have disconnected mentally and physically.

Language and Words

Analyzing language and words by developing your use of “I” statements is useful to recognize where you might be deflecting. As you learn to take self-ownership for your circumstances, your use of “I” statements will reflect that.

Creative Arts

Other activities such as drawing, sculpting, and painting may be included in your therapy session to further promote awareness of your healing process, feelings, and experiences. This is commonly offered as an alternative or in conjunction with sitting down and talking.

Gestalt Therapy for Addiction

There are many benefits to using gestalt therapy for addiction treatment because it takes a person as a whole into account. This is specifically beneficial for increasing a patient’s level of self-awareness and coping behaviors.2

For those who struggle with substance use disorder (SUD), improvement of these traits can increase accountability and help with properly navigating difficult emotions and life circumstances. Some of the potential benefits of gestalt therapy for addiction treatment include:3

  • Better self-awareness.
  • Improvements in levels of self-control.
  • Increased emotional understanding.
  • Increased ability to self-monitor and regulate negative mental states.
  • Better communication skills.
  • Improved tolerance for negative emotions.
  • Improved mindfulness.

Strengthening these qualities can help you achieve your treatment goals. Developing a better grasp of your emotions can help with long-term recovery and lessen your chances of relapsing.1

Does Gestalt Therapy for Addiction Work?

Several studies have explored the efficacy of using gestalt therapy to treat addiction.1,2 Since it helps you to grow and gain a true understanding of your present self, it’s a useful tool to include in conjunction with other evidence-based substance abuse treatments.2 It also allows you to address the underlying causes of addiction.

Its effectiveness as an addiction therapy largely depends on the patient’s dedication. Sitting with yourself and only focusing on the here and now may be difficult and feel limiting. Gestalt therapy for substance use also requires your therapist to have a high level of understanding of the key theories and how to use them appropriately.

Finding Gestalt Therapy for Addiction Treatment

If you’re interested in gestalt therapy, reaching out to different facilities to confirm availability is recommended since some treatment centers offer it—but not all. Always seek a licensed therapist who thoroughly understands how to effectively apply the concepts and principles of gestalt therapy.

To avoid paying the complete cost of therapy, you can find an in-network treatment center covered by your insurance. If you’re ready to seek help, reach out to American Addiction Centers (AAC) for more information on how to find a facility that offers Gestalt therapy.

Gestalt Therapy FAQs

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