Mental Health
What is Gestalt Play Therapy?

What is Gestalt Play Therapy?

4 min read


Lauren Carlson

The Transformative Landscape of Gestalt Play Therapy

Gestalt Play Therapy stands as a beacon in the field of mental health, offering a holistic and compassionate approach to understanding oneself. In this blog, we’ll explore the principles, practices, and transformative potential of Gestalt Therapy. 

What is Gestalt Play Therapy?

Gestalt Play Therapy, a transformative modality in the realm of mental health, is defined by its holistic and experiential approach to understanding the intricacies of human existence. Based in the belief that individuals are inherently whole beings, Gestalt Therapy explores the interconnectedness of thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and the present moment.

Founded by Violet Oaklander, Gestalt Play Therapy is a creative and experiential therapeutic approach designed specifically for children. It integrates principles from Gestalt Therapy with play-based techniques to provide a developmentally appropriate and engaging way for children to explore and express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

The Wholeness Perspective of Gestalt Play Therapy

The wholeness perspective in Gestalt Play Therapy goes beyond viewing individuals as a collection of fragmented parts. It acknowledges that each person is a complete and interconnected whole, more significant than the sum of their experiences, thoughts, and emotions. This holistic approach encourages individuals to explore the totality of their being rather than focusing solely on isolated aspects. When integrating Gestalt Play Therapy, the wholeness perspective takes on a vibrant and playful form, inviting little explorers to embark on a journey of self-discovery.

Play, in all its colorful forms, becomes the canvas where the child's wholeness is expressed and celebrated. From imaginative storytelling to interactive games, each play activity is an opportunity for the child to engage holistically with their emotions, thoughts, and creativity. The interconnectedness of various play themes mirrors the holistic nature of the child's inner world. Whether they're expressing joy through drawing, navigating social dynamics in role-playing, or working through challenges in imaginative play, each theme contributes to the rich tapestry of the child's wholeness.

The Power of ‘Here and Now’ Explained

The 'here and now' perspective in Gestalt Play Therapy invites children to step into the authenticity of the present moment. Through play, little explorers have the freedom to express their feelings, thoughts, and experiences in real time, fostering a genuine and uninhibited form of self-expression.

Play becomes a sensory-rich experience where the sights, sounds, textures, and emotions of the 'now' are fully embraced. Whether molding clay, painting a canvas, or engaging in imaginative play, the child is immersed in a multisensory exploration, heightening their connection to the immediate experience.

Play acts as a vehicle for the immediate exploration of emotions. Rather than dwelling on past experiences or worrying about the future, children engage with the feelings arising in the moment. This real-time exploration empowers them to navigate and understand their feelings as they emerge. In the context of play therapy, the 'here and now' extends to the therapeutic relationship. The dynamic interaction between the child and the play therapist becomes a shared experience of exploration, deepening the connection and trust in the present moment.

The Power of Awareness

Central to Gestalt Therapy is the notion that awareness is a catalyst for change. The therapeutic process encourages individuals to become more attuned to their thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. In this case, the power of awareness lies in the conscious exploration of emotions during play. Children are gently guided to recognize and name their feelings, fostering emotional intelligence. This self-awareness becomes a compass, guiding them through the intricate landscape of their inner world.

The dialogue between the child and the play therapist becomes a reflective exploration of the child's awareness. Through gentle questioning and open-ended conversations during play, the therapist facilitates a deeper understanding of the child's thoughts and feelings, nurturing a sense of clarity and insight.

The power of awareness cultivated through play extends beyond the therapeutic space. Life-enhancing skills, such as mindfulness, introspection, and the ability to navigate complex emotions, seamlessly integrate into the child's daily life, enriching their overall well-being.

The Significance of Connection and Relationships

Within MyWellbeing's Gestalt Play Therapy, there is the profound significance of connection and relationships. Play becomes a canvas for exploring relationship dynamics. Whether it's through role-playing, interactive games, or storytelling, children can safely delve into themes related to family, friendship, and social connections, gaining insights into their relational experiences.

The significance of connection in Gestalt Play Therapy isn't confined to the therapy room. Children learn to transition the insights gained through play into their real-life connections, fostering healthier relationships with family, friends, and the broader community.

Is Gestalt Play Therapy suitable for every child?

Children, like adults, have diverse temperaments and preferences. Some may naturally gravitate toward expressive and imaginative forms of play, while others may initially find it challenging. The suitability of Gestalt Play Therapy is often influenced by the child's comfort and engagement with play as a means of expression.

Developmental Stage and Readiness

The developmental stage of a child plays a pivotal role in determining the suitability of Gestalt Play Therapy. Younger children, for example, may benefit from more concrete and sensory-focused play, while older children might explore abstract concepts through play. Readiness to engage in self-exploration and express emotions through play is considered in assessing suitability.

Communication Style

For some children, traditional talk therapy may be less effective due to communication challenges. Gestalt Play Therapy provides an alternative avenue for communication through non-verbal expression. Its suitability often aligns with children who may find it easier to convey thoughts and emotions through creative and symbolic play.

Nature of the Concerns or Goals

The nature of the child's concerns or therapeutic goals influences the suitability of Gestalt Play Therapy. It is particularly beneficial for issues related to emotional expression, social interactions, trauma, and behavioral challenges. However, the therapist carefully evaluates whether the approach aligns with the child's specific needs.

Supportive Environment

The suitability of Gestalt Play Therapy is enhanced when the child is in a supportive environment. Factors such as a stable family environment, understanding of caregivers, and a willingness to engage in the therapeutic process contribute to the overall effectiveness of the approach.

The Flexibility of the Therapist

The therapist's ability to adapt and be flexible in their approach is crucial for the suitability of Gestalt Play Therapy. An experienced therapist can tailor the sessions to meet the child's evolving needs, adjusting the types of play activities and interventions accordingly.

Ongoing Assessment and Feedback

The suitability of Gestalt Play Therapy is an ongoing assessment that involves regular feedback from both the child and the caregivers. The therapist remains attuned to the child's responses, making adjustments as needed to ensure a positive and beneficial therapeutic experience.

How long does it usually take to see results in Gestalt Play Therapy?

The question of timing naturally arises—how long it takes for the seeds of therapeutic exploration to blossom into visible results. The journey through Gestalt Play Therapy is unique for each child, and the timeline for observing results is influenced by several factors.

The regularity and consistency of Gestalt Play Therapy sessions contribute to the timing of results. Regular engagement allows the therapeutic relationship to deepen, providing a consistent space for the child to explore, express, and integrate new insights. The frequency of sessions is often discussed and determined collaboratively with the child and caregivers.

The depth and quality of the therapeutic relationship play a significant role in the timing of results. As trust and rapport deepen between the child and the play therapist, the therapeutic process gains momentum. A strong therapeutic alliance fosters an environment where the child feels safe to explore and express themselves.

The readiness of the child to engage in the therapeutic process also influences the timeline for results. Some children may readily embrace play as a form of expression, accelerating the pace of self-discovery. Others may take more time to feel comfortable and fully engage in the therapeutic play process.

Ready to Start Gestalt Play Therapy for Your Child?

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About the author

Lauren is a member of the content team at MyWellbeing. She originally began her career in Client Services within the field of Advertising Technology. Recently, she transitioned career paths to pursue her passion for helping others. In December 2022, Lauren graduated with a Master’s degree in School Counseling and is primarily focused on working with middle school and high school students.

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