Exercises to elicit emotion, produce action, or achieve

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.

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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 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 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:As the therapist, you might ask the client to imagine a threatening future encounter. This might be telling his boss he is quitting. The client would describe in words how he imagines the encounter taking place.

When discussing the client’s work relationships, you might ask him to do a couple of role-plays with an everyday encounter between him and his boss. The client would take on the role of himself the first time and the role of his boss the second time.The client’s father had been out of work when he was a child, and it was difficult for the family. As the therapist, you ask the client to relive his feelings about his father being out of work. This allows the client to re-experience these feelings and be able to recognize any power the feelings may still have over him in the present.

Experiments such as these bring struggles to life during the therapy session by inviting clients to enact them in the present. It is important that experiments are specifically tailored to each client and used spontaneously. Through these experiments, clients experience the feelings associated with their conflicts that they may otherwise repress.

Lesson Summary

Gestalt therapy focuses on what is occurring in the present and is based on understanding a person within his or her environment.

Two techniques often used in Gestalt therapy are experiments and exercises. Therapy techniques that develop from the therapeutic process and client/therapist relationship are called experiments. Exercises are pre-existing techniques that are used to make something happen in a therapy session.Experiments and exercises are used to resolve conflicts and bring emotions to the surface. Clients are made more aware and are better able to clarify their feelings through the use of these techniques. The main difference between exercises and experiments is that exercises are ready-made techniques that are used by the therapist, while experiments tend to be spontaneously developed and tailored to the individual client’s needs.

Learning Outcomes

After you have finished with this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Identify the purpose of Gestalt therapy
  • Define exercises and experiments in terms of Gestalt therapy and provide examples of each
  • Contrast these two techniques

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