Psych 101: Gestalt – ‘You are you and I am I’

Note: The internet is full of articles on Gestalt Psychology. This one is strictly for the basic understanding of the concepts.

Gestalt Psychology was introduced by Czech-born psychologist, Max Wertheimer along with Wolfgang Kohler and Kurt Koffka, and championed by Fritz and Laura Perls, the Gestalt approach of psychology lies on these fundamental principles:

  • The whole is ‘other’ than sum of its parts

It is often misrepresented as the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It refers to how an event needs to be understood in its entirety because of the various transformative factors involved.

For example. Shahi Paneer is made of paneer, cashew paste, cream, salt, sugar, water, and various other spices. However, we cannot pick a single ingredient once it is made as it has transformed during the cook – from a set of ingredients to a delicacy.

Similarly, humans need to be considered in their entirety. They are more than their characteristics and attributes.

  • It is ‘now’. Whole Picture Vs Larger Picture

When we think of antecedents, we are living in the past. When we think of consequences, we are living in the future. What actually is, we can only experience in the now. Metaphysically, time can neither be rewound nor be skipped. It can only be experienced as it flows – in the now.

It is important to not confuse ‘whole picture’ with the ‘larger picture.’ The ‘larger picture’ oscillates between the past and the future while the ‘whole picture’ is about the present.

  • Background and Foreground

Every event has a background (associated with the past) and the foreground (linked to the future). One usually focuses on either background or foreground but only when ‘both’ are focused upon in the present the whole picture can be viewed.

Key Gestalt Principles from Social perspective

  • Proximity – One usually sees the background or the foreground depending on which they are closer to
  • Similarity – One usually sees either the background or foreground depending on which they associate with more
  • Closure – One’s tendency to join the dots and draw conclusions from an event
  • Continuity – One’s tendency to see a flow in the events

Gestalt Therapy

Why does it work?

  • Gestalt studies experiences and how reality is experienced in the present.
  • It helps individuals explore the way they derive meaning than the actual meanings.
  • It is deeply empowering as it shows how meaning shapes a sense of possibility. 

Why does Gestalt work with groups?

  • Basic principle: Individuals can self-regulate
  • Change occurs when we are aware of what we are
  • It brings the interpersonal dimension as individuals understand how they respond to a story and create meaning from a shared experience 

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