How to Become a Gestalt Therapist

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You’ve no doubt heard the expression that something “is greater than the sum of its parts.” That is the very definition of gestalt – that a unified whole is perceived as more than the total of its individual components.

how to become a gestalt therapist

Gestalt therapy is a form of mental health treatment focused on personal responsibility and the client’s experience in the present moment, as well as the therapist–client relationship, the environmental and social situations of the client’s life, and the adjustments people can make to alleviate problems and improve the quality of their lives. The core theory behind gestalt therapy is that all people are deeply connected to and influenced by their environment, and that everyone naturally seeks out growth and equilibrium, or balance, in their lives.

Gestalt therapy is used successfully to treat adults and teens suffering from substance abuse, addiction, behavioral and mood disorders, eating issues, grief/loss, trauma, sex addiction, compulsive gambling, bipolar, depression and other conditions.

Developed in the 1940s, Gestalt Therapy encourages patients to become aware of their emotions in the present moment.  This is how gestalt differs from other forms of therapy, which tend to focus on past events. Gestalt therapy does not disregard the past, but attempts to help patients understand past experiences by reflecting on how they feel about those experiences in the here and now.

The therapy is rooted in the notion that dealing with negative past experiences involves managing our reactions to them in the present, not merely reflecting on the memories.

The goal of gestalt therapy is to help clients become aware of their thoughts, emotions, and perceptions, and ultimately to understand how these interior conversations with the self can change action and behavior for the better.

Think of it as a “real time” evaluation of an individual’s thoughts. Being in the present creates self-awareness, and that can lead to inner peace.

Gestalt therapy involves exercises and experiments designed to spark action, emotion, or reach certain goals.

For example, the “empty chair” technique is a classic gestalt therapy exercise in which the client is seated or standing across from, yes, an empty chair. The client is instructed to imagine someone is sitting in the chair. The imagined person can even be the client. Often, the dialog with this imagined person will involve a spouse, lover, boss, parent or some other individual the client may be involved with in a troubled relationship. The goal is to engage and evaluate the client’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors throughout this one-sided conversation. It’s a helpful technique that enables clients to consider the entire situation, especially if the roles are then reversed.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • How much money you can make as a gestalt therapist
  • The required training and certifications
  • Professional groups to join
  • Employment opportunities for a gestalt therapist         
  • Finding clients
  • Plus helpful tips

How much money can you make?

how much do gestalt therapist make

Gestalt therapists in the United States currently earn $69,117 annually on average, according to Simply Hired. The top 10 percent of therapists in this field are making more than $150,000 a year, usually by working independently in a private practice after acquiring several years of experience.

Training and Certification

Your education on the path to a career in gestalt therapy involves earning bachelor and master’s degrees, as these are the minimum credentials for state licensure to practice almost all forms of psychotherapy.

Many organizations offer training leading to certification in gestalt methods. The best strategy in choosing a certification program is to check with your state’s licensing board to determine requirements, then make sure your training program will fulfill them.

Here are two of the best known certification programs for gestalt therapists:

The Pacific Gestalt Institute offers a certification program for a $400 fee. Certification requires at least 220 hours of training. Of the total required hours of training, up to 60 hours) can be credited from another gestalt training institute, with the institute’s approval. Another 50 hours of individual Gestalt Therapy and 75 hours of Gestalt supervision are also required.

gestalt therapist training and certification

GATLA is another organization offering a certification program in Gestalt therapy with five levels of achievement. Fees range from $1,910 to $3,500 and up, depending on the program. The basic certification is $1,910.

What you’ll learn in a certification program

  • Field Theory
  • Phenomenology
  • How to dialogue effectively
  • Paradoxical theory of change
  • Organism/environment field, contact and awareness
  • Organismic self-regulation
  • Character styles
  • Shame process
  • Group process
  • Gestalt psychology
  • Existential thinking
  • Creative Adjustment
  • Working with clients on experiments
  • Gestalt perspective on anxiety management

Professional Groups to Join

The New York Institute for Gestalt Therapy is the original institute in the field. You can request a membership form here. Benefits of joining include career development programs, regular seminars, and the ability to socialize and network with other professionals in the field. If you live in New York State or Connecticut, membership includes a listing on the institute’s Therapist Search page, which people use to find a trained gestalt therapist.

gestalt therapist professional groups

The Association for Advancement of Gestalt Therapy is an organization with an international membership. Annual fees are $100 for a full-time professional or $50 if you are working as a gestalt therapist part-time.

Benefits of joining this association include:

  • Networking with and learning from other gestalt therapists, researchers and scholars.
  • Participate in an international coalition of professionals engaged in gestalt theory, philosophy and practice into the wider field of psychotherapy.
  • A newsletter to keep you updated on organizational and professional issues, projects, activities and discussions.
  • The ability to join or create regional groups to share information and support, develop joint activities and projects, and widen your circle of friends and associates.
  • Receive discounts on association conference fees, publications and materials.
  • Get a listing on the association’s Find a Therapist online directory (a great way for new clients to find you).


Public health departments and private therapy facilities hire gestalt therapists. One advantage of being a salaried employee, especially when you’re starting out, is there is practically no overhead expense. You don’t have to pay for office space, an assistant to help with record keeping (unless you’re willing to invest the time to do it yourself), monthly utilities, furniture and everything else that comes with running your own business. As an employee, your liability insurance should also be covered by your employer.

employment as gestalt therapist

School counselors often use gestalt therapy in their work with students. Gestalt therapists can also find opportunities in the local social services department, and the U.S. Veteran’s Administration. Non-profit organizations, hospitals and major corporations also hire gestalt therapists.

With membership in professional groups you’ll be able to connect with other professionals in your field and ask them about job openings in their area. Keep in mind that if you move to another state you’ll need to be licensed by that state in order to practice.

Finding Clients

Congratulations. You’re ready to start your own practice. Now you are your own boss. That means it’s up to you to find clients. Here’s how:

  • Let professionals in the community know that you are available for referrals. Doctors and clergy who are aware of your private practice and know you personally may be willing to recommend your therapy services for new clients.
  • Be sure your business gets listed on the online directory of every professional organization in which you are an active member. Potential clients check these listings to locate a gestalt therapist nearby.
finding clients as gestalt therapist
  • Your website should include the business name, address, city and state and phone number on every page at the top. This helps Google and other search engines recognize your website as a match for people looking for a therapist in your city.
  • While you should certainly highlight your achievements and education, most of your content should focus on how your services benefit your clients. 
  • Eventually you’ll need to decide whether accepting insurance will be a part of your practice. Taking insurance payments can expand your client base, but the insurance companies may offer a lower amount than you’d prefer to charge. That’s the trade-off. Also, there’s paperwork, follow-up on payments and additional record keeping.
  • The advantage of taking direct payment from clients is you get paid immediately. Clients who are paying for therapy services out of their own pockets may also turn out to be more committed to their treatment.

Good to know:

Gestalt therapy is unpredictable, according to the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, because the therapist and client follow moment-to-moment experiences and neither knows exactly where this will lead. Gestalt therapy is complex and intuitive, but is based on the following principles:


This refers to the whole person — thoughts, feelings, behavior, body sensations, and dreams. The focus is on integrating these component parts and how the client interacts with the environment.

Field theory.

Everything in existence is related, in constant flux and part of a process. The gestalt therapist focuses on how clients interact with their environment, including family, work, school, friends and authority figures.


This process describes how individuals organize or manipulate their environment from moment to moment.

Organismic self-regulation

Involves understanding the creative adjustment the organism (the client) makes in relation to the environment. The person’s equilibrium with her environment can become disturbed by the client’s needs, sensations, or interests. The goal of therapy is to help the client learn to self-regulate and adjust to cope effectively with changing situations.

The Now

What is being done, thought, and felt at the moment; not in the past or future.

When past events trigger feelings of resentment, rage, hatred, pain, anxiety, grief, guilt and other emotions, the client is said to have “unfinished business.” Because these feelings continue in the present and may carry on into the future, the unfinished business may cause self-defeating behaviors that will continue until the client faces and deals with these feelings.

If you enjoyed this article, check out some more great content that can help you grow your career as a gestalt therapist. Here’s a great place to start.

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