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Gestalt Therapy is a form of psychotherapy. Based on several descriptions it seems to be vague and fringe.

A practicing psychotherapist told me:

It is anything but scientific. It was popular in the '60s and '70s but has never had any empirical research or validation.

The lay person simply cannot negotiate the jungle of craziness in the therapy world. It really hurts psychology in general and therapy specifically when clients get poor treatment or worse. They don't see it as worthwhile and, of course, they tell everyone else about their bad experience. The root of much of this is religious protections and religious people who sit on licensing boards, to say nothing of religious legislators who write licensing laws that allow people to practice some pretty kooky stuff.

Trying to nail down a specific claim, consider depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. The American Addiction Centers make a claim on their page describing the therapy:

Research indicates that Gestalt therapy is successful in the treatment of trauma- and stressor-related disorders, depression, issues with anxiety, and substance use disorders. Individuals who participate in Gestalt therapy often become more self-confident and happier as they learn to accept themselves, accept others, and take responsibility for their actions.

Does research indicate that Gestalt Therapy is successful in the treatment of any of: trauma- and stressor-related disorders, depression, anxiety, or substance use disorders?

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    It isn't clear what the claim here is. Is Gestalt therapy effective at treating what? Does anyone make a specific claim that can be tested?
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 31 at 7:13
  • @Oddthinking Yes, the practitioners of Gestalt therapy claim it works for treating emotional problems.
    – CJ Dennis
    Jan 31 at 10:47
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    Would you like to include that claim in the question, with a citation if possible? Jan 31 at 10:56
  • This is still way too broad and vague. Let's take something specific and real-world - like, say, drug addiction - and then quote something that says Gestalt Therapy can cure it. For example: " Research indicates that Gestalt therapy is successful in the treatment of trauma- and stressor-related disorders, depression, issues with anxiety, and substance use disorders." Then we can delete all the vaguery except perhaps a Wikipedia link for context.
    – Oddthinking
    Feb 1 at 0:47
  • @Oddthinking I obviously don't know how to ask a good question for this site, even though you understand exactly what I'm asking. I give you permission to change the question however you want, and if I don't like it, I'll roll it back (incredibly unlikely).
    – CJ Dennis
    Feb 1 at 0:50
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Short answer: Yeah, I guess...

Some Disclaimers:

  • There is a section on Wikipedia discussing a host of issues with measuring the effectiveness of psychotherapy. I won't review that here.
  • Gestalt therapy is not a particularly popular form of psychotherapy. For example, an APA survey by Norcross & Rogan (2012) reported 4% of respondents ascribing to Gestalt, and in a global survey by Goodyear et al (2016) only about 2% of respondents reported Gestalt as their preferred theoretical orientation. Even fewer therapists practice Gestalt exclusively.
  • Consequently, there is a paucity of research data available on the effectiveness of Gestalt therapy. For example, Raffagnino (2019) found only 11 studies in 12 years for their review of the effectiveness of Gestalt therapy, most of which are small, and do not report comparable effect sizes.

For the Love of Dodo Birds:

But it turns out that thanks to a character in Alice in Wonderland, we may reasonably answer the question without much additional evidence. This is because most "empirically validated" treatment modalities have been found to be equally effective - a finding known as the "Dodo bird conjecture" - with a "moderate" level of effectiveness all around. The so-called "third wave" therapies - those built on CBT, with outcome measures in mind - may be an exception to this rule, but Gestalt therapy is an older orientation, so would reasonably fall under the umbrella of moderately effective treatments. Studies measuring effect sizes for Gestalt therapy support this conclusion (eg, Stevens et al, 2014; Elliot et al, 2013; Shinohara et al, 2013; see Brownwell, 2016 for more examples).

A summary of a notable meta-analysis by Uwe Strümpfel (2006) of approximately 4500 patients concludes (original in German):

The studies confirm the effects of Gestalt therapy in a wide range of clinical disorders such as schizophrenia, other psychiatric and personality disorders, affective disorders and anxiety, substance dependencies and psychosomatic disorders and for work with special groups and in psychosocial preventive health settings.

The results published in this book are evidence that Gestalt therapy does not lag behind other forms of therapy in regard to efficacy and breadth of applications and even demonstrates particularly good treatment outcomes in certain areas of change.

Scientific Basis:

If you are interested in the scientific basis of psychotherapies in general, then check out:

As is often the case in medicine, tests of effectiveness are agnostic about the scientific basis of treatment. It does not matter if therapy involves extremely well-researched conditioning paradigms, or more questionable practices of flashing lights into people's eyes. There are for example, many art-oriented therapies, and no one would argue that art is science-based - what matters is the effect, even if the successful treatment is literal snake oil. Gestalt therapy being largely client-centered (rather than scientific) is not much of a concern in this sense.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Oddthinking
    Feb 19 at 15:39

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