A Brief Sketch of The History of GTP

[extract from G. Stemberger, The Power and Challenge of Consistency (2021)]

The history of the clinical-psychotherapeutic application of Gestalt theory cannot be adequately presented within the narrow confines of this editorial. I must limit myself to some necessarily highly abbreviated remarks.

In the now more than 100-year history of Gestalt theory of the Berlin School (Wertheimer, Köhler, Koffka, Lewin), its approach has radiated from the early beginnings to a multitude of people working in clinical psychotherapy and the “schools of therapy” developed or represented by them. It did so in interaction with similarly directed scientific developments and new orientations of its time, which above all had in common the aim of overcoming mechanistic conceptions of life and man and the search for more appropriate holistic-dynamic alternatives (cf. Ash, 1995; Harrington, 1996, King &  Wertheimer, 2005).

For example, people trained and inspired by Gestalt theory significantly influenced the development of group psychoanalysis, psychoanalytic psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, and catathym imaginative psychotherapy, various methods associated with humanistic psychology from Rogers’ client-centered approach to Gestalt therapy and Moreno’s psychodrama, to name a few.

In this broader sense, psychotherapy based on or inspired by Gestalt theory has been around for more than 100 years. However, this early history of Gestalt theory in psychotherapy consisted, on the one hand, of the insertion of certain ideas and concepts, procedures, and research findings from Gestalt theory into other ideas, whereby these adoptions were often not insignificantly distant from their origin; on the other hand, in the personal integration of Gestalt theoretical thought into therapeutic practice by individual clinically active Gestalt psychologists who never set themselves the task of systematically formulating the basic concepts of their Gestalt-theoretical-psychotherapeutic work. (e.g., Erwin Levy, Abraham S. Luchins, Molly Harrower).

The impetus for such a formulation and thus for a Gestalt Theoretical Psychotherapy in the narrower sense was given a little more than 40 years ago by a small group of psychotherapists in Germany around Hans-Jürgen P.  Walter and Rainer Kästl within the framework of the GTA (Society for Gestalt Theory and its Applications), which they co-founded in 1979. Walter had previously presented a first outline of a Gestalt theoretical rationale for the integrative application of Gestalt therapy, psychodrama, talk therapy, depth psychology, behavior therapy, and group dynamics in 1977.

Since then, the focus of further development and application of Gestalt Theoretical Psychotherapy has increasingly shifted to  Austria, motherland of so many psychotherapy methods in history. It is now being further developed there by the Austrian Association for Gestalt Theoretical Psychotherapy (ÖAGP) with the GTA as its scientific umbrella organization, integrating the impulses of other Gestalt-psychologically oriented clinicians from other countries—among them especially also from Italy (e.g., Giuseppe Galli, Anna  Arfelli Galli, Giancarlo Trombini, Andrzej Zuczkowski).


Essentials of Gestalt Theoretical Psychotherapy

Essentials of
Gestalt Theoretical Psychotherapy

Edited by Gerhard Stemberger

Co-authored by
Doris Beneder
Angelika Böhm
Thomas Fuchs
Bernadette Lindorfer
Edward Ragsdale
Gerhard Stemberger
Katharina Sternek
Giancarlo & Elena Trombini
Andrzej Zuczkowski

184 pages; print edition: 14,00 Euro; E-Book 9,99 Euro
Contents, overview, and introduction
Info and ordering: in the BoD-Bookshop