Gestalt Theory in Healthcare

Pattern or Form

The main premise of Gestalt education theory is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In a Gestalt approach, it is believed students are able to comprehend a concept in its entirety rather than broken down into segments.

“A person’s ability to organize and transforming what is taught into a general pattern (or Gestalt). They believed that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and breaking the behavior into its components, generally destroy the whole concept of behavior” Aliakbari, Parvin, Heidari, & Haghani (2015).

Gestalt theory can be considered part of the phenomenology approach to education in that the learner comes with perceptions and relates to past experiences which have a significant impact on their approach to learning. Education is delivered with relation to the learners real life experiences and this is when learning happens best.

Say What You See

“The gestalt effect is the capability of our brain to generate whole forms, particularly with respect to the visual recognition of global figures instead of just collections of simpler and unrelated elements (points, lines, curves, etc) (Wikipedia, 2017).

The Gestalt theory of learning presents information or images that contain gaps and elements that requires the learner to use critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Gestalt in Healthcare

“This implies that clinicians have the ability to indirectly make clinical decisions in absence of complete information and can generate solutions that are characterized by generalizations that allow transfer from one problem to the next. In essence, clinical gestalt is pattern recognition and is characterized as a heuristic approach to decision-making” (Cook, 2009).

So Gestalt could be considered our clinical judgement and decision making process. The question I still have in regards to this theory is, is this just our ‘priors’, our knowledge and experience providing an all round clinical expertise to make clinical judgments? In nursing is this purely our tacit knowledge, our gut feeling or sixth sense?

Keywords: Gestalt; problem solving; phenomenology; learning theory.


Aliakbari, F., Parvin, N., Heidari, M., & Haghani, F. (2015). Learning theories application in nursing education. Journal of education and health promotion, 4. [abstract]

Cook, C. (2009). Is clinical gestalt good enough? J Man Manip Ther. 2009; 17(1): 6–7. Doi:  10.1179/106698109790818223

Wikipedia (2017) Gestalt Psychology