THE ORIGINS OF GESTALT PSYCHOLOGY AND GESTALT THERAPY THEORY

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INTRODUCTION

Chapter One discussed the primary objective of this study, namely to investigate the adjustment of South African families living in Dubai and to utilise the findings to  formulate Gestalt therapeutic techniques aimed to assist expatriate families with their adjustment process. Gestalt therapy theory provides an important source of reference in the formulation of the proposed techniques, and for this reason, the theoretical principles underpinning this therapeutic approach will be provided in this chapter.The chapter commences with an introduction of Gestalt psychology theory and an overview of its history.  Melnick (2008:2) provides that the three key philosophical premises of the Gestalt approach are dialogue, phenomenology and field theory. However, Haley, Sieber and Maples (2003:181) assert that the four important principles of Gestalt therapy theory are field theory, phenomenology, dialogue and existentialism. Flowing from the four principles of Gestalt theory are the constructs, for example, awareness or creative adjustment.  The four principles and the related constructs will be examined in this chapter. Finally, an evaluation of Gestalt theory will be given and the meaning of Gestalt theory for the present study will be presented.

THE ORIGINS OF GESTALT PSYCHOLOGY AND GESTALT THERAPY THEORY

Chapter One provided a definition of ‘Gestalt’, namely the “German word meaning configuration, pattern or whole” (Hergenhahn, 1997:430).  The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology (2001:299) defines Gestalt as “ the primary focus of the term is that it is used to refer to unified wholes, complete structures, the nature of which is not revealed by simply analysing the several parts that make them up … the whole is different from the sum of its parts”.
The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology (2001:300) describes Gestalt psychology as “a school of psychology founded in Germany in the 1910’s. Arguing originally against the structuralists, the Gestaltists maintained that psychological phenomena could only be understood if they were viewed as organised, structured wholes (or Gestalten).”  Gestalt psychology is defined by Hergenhahn (1997:430) as “The type of psychology that studies whole, intact segments of behaviour and cognitive experience.”  It is in these definitions that some understanding of the essence of ‘Gestalt’ is provided. However, it is only in being more familiar with the origins of Gestalt theory that these definitions become clearer and reveal how the emphasis of ‘patterns’ and ‘parts’ or Gestalten,  have assisted in forming many of the Gestalt concepts as we know them today.The founding of Gestalt psychology commenced in 1910 when Max Wertheimer (1880-1943) had an idea that was to introduce Gestalt psychology (Hergenhahn, 1997:405).   Wertheimer’s idea was that the individual’s perceptions are structured in different ways to sensory stimulation, namely, that our perceptions are different to our sensations.  In arriving at this theory, Wertheimer purchased a stroboscope, an instrument that creates the perception of movement in pictures that are actually still.  To examine the phenomenon of perceived motion where motion actually does not exist, Wertheimer further experimented with similar instruments that created changes in the perception of light flashes.  Arising out of these experiments, Wertheimer formulated his theory of Phi Phenomenon and published this in his 1912 article entitled Experimental phenomenon, which subsequently became the formalisation of the first school of Gestalt psychology (Hergenhahn, 1997:405).  Pursuing Wertheimer’s theoretical approach, were the Gestalt theorists, Kurt Koffka (1886-1941) and Wolfgang Kohler (1887-1967).  Both theorists published several articles on perception and Gestalt theory, assisting in Gestalt psychology becoming better known in the United States of America (Hergenhahn, 1997:406-407).   From these earlier theorists of Gestalt psychology arose the Gestalt concepts of perception, pattern making, sensation and the ‘here and now’ (Melnick, 2008:1).The following section discusses the origins of Gestalt therapy theory, commencing with a brief overview of the original works of Perls, Hefferline and Goodman published in the 1950’s and other earlier works that influenced Gestalt therapy practice as it is known today.

Gestalt Therapy Theory

Gestalt therapy is a phenomenological-existential therapy developed by Frederick (Fritz) and his wife, Laura Perls in the 1940s (Yontef & Simkin, 1989:2). Laura Posner Perls, was a psychology student at the time she met with Perls in the 1920’s.  She obtained her degree from the University of Frankfurt in 1932.  She was influenced by existential theologians Paul Tillich and Martin Buber.Yontef and Simkin (1989:2) state that as a psychoanalyst, Perls was influenced by Wilhelm Reich and Karen Horney. The works of the philosopher Sigmund Friedlander and the works of the earlier South African prime minister, Jan Smuts also left an impression on Perls, specifically Smut’s major book on evolution and holism (Yontef & Simkin, 1989:7).   Yontef and Simkin (1989:7) reveal that Laura and Fritz Perls lived in a time or Zeitgeist when phenomenological-existential thinking was prevailing and that this significantly influenced the theoretical underpinnings of Gestalt therapy theory.   During World War II, Perls and his wife escaped the Jewish persecution taking place in Germany and took refuge in Holland for a short period.  Thereafter, Perls and Laura lived in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the couple continued with their work as Gestalt therapists (Mohammed-Patel, 2008:26).  After some 12 years in South Africa, Perls relocated to New York.  Towards the latter stages of his life, Perls travelled the world and during his travels he visited a Zen monastery in Japan.  The exposure to Zen, a branch of Buddhism, influenced Perls into incorporating the Zen concept of ‘illumination’ or awareness into his Gestalt therapy approach (Sinay in Mohammed-Patel, 2008:24).   Perls further adopted the idea of ‘Yin and Yang’ from Taoism, maintaining that every individual coexists with polarities, the concept of which is evident in Gestalt therapy theory today (Sinay in Mohammed-Patel, 2008:24).In 1947 Fritz Perls published his book Ego, Hunger and Aggression which provided the principles and themes of the Gestalt therapy approach (Melnick, 2008:1).  Another classic work entitled Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality by Perls, Hefferline and Goodman, was first published in 1951.  According to Yontef and Simkin (1989:1) this early work, has been used as a benchmark by Gestalt therapists over the years and provides an essential source of information for Gestalt therapy theory.Joyce and Sills (2001:7) describe Gestalt therapy as humanistic and existential, whereby the belief is that individuals are equipped with the resources and skills to enjoy rewarding relationships with others and lead creative, satisfied lives.  Clarkson (1989:4) asserts that Gestalt therapy is theoretically an integrative approach to counselling, that is rooted in the existential paradigm, or orientation and includes psychoanalytic knowledge using therapeutic relationship, awareness and experiment.  Classified as third force humanistic psychology, it blossomed in the 1950 and 1960s.  Perls identified Gestalt as one of the three types of existential therapy, but saw Gestalt as the only psychotherapy based purely on phenomenology – an approach founded on the philosophy that steers away from inherent concepts but moves instead towards pure awareness (Clarkson, 1989:4).  This is achieved by the individual discovering the meaning of an event, namely, what phenomenologists call experience which is not subject to interpretation.  Judgement is perceived as clouding phenomenological perception and therefore interfering with direct experience (Clarkson, 1989:4).The Gestalt therapeutic approach, informs clients and therapists about the phenomenological method of awareness in which perceptions and emotions are distinguished from attitudes that pre-exist.  Dialogue is used for clients and therapists to communicate their phenomenological experiences.  The objective is that clients become aware of how they behave, how they can change themselves and learn how to fully accept themselves.  Gestalt therapy therefore focuses mainly on the process, namely, what is happening, rather than mere content or what is being discussed at the time (Yontef & Simkin, 1989:2).The literature on Gestalt therapy theory (for example, Melnick, 2008; Yontef & Simkin, 1989) emphasise that the theory has several important underlying assumptions and principles.  Arising from the aforementioned four principles are the constructs or ‘tools’ that assist the Gestalt therapist to understand the client and to facilitate the therapeutic process.  From a meta-theory perspective, the four main principles of Gestalt theory are therefore phenomenology, existentialism, dialogue and field theory.   Flowing from these four principles are the determined constructs used in Gestalt theory, for example; the ‘self’, contact boundaries,Figure 2.1 (Page 26) displays the four Gestalt principles and provides examples of their related constructs.  In the researcher’s view, these four principles could also be perceived as useful tools  in understanding the experiences of the expatriate participants interviewed in the current study. For example, phenomenology is the system of enquiry employed to study and observe the subjective experiences of the participants. Existentialism is concerned with the meaning that the participants assign to their own experiences within the expatriate context.  Field theory is provided to understand the inner field or ‘self’ of the expatriate and how he or she relates to the external field, namely the new environment.  To obtain the information from the expatriate participant, dialogue is used whereby the participant verbalises his or her experiences. In the following section, each of the four principles and their related constructs will be discussed.

THE FOUR PRINCIPLES OF GESTALT THERAPY THEORY

Hergenhahn, (1997:422-428) reveals how Gestalt therapy draws upon the theories of earlier philosophers and theorists, for example, field theory founded by Kurt Lewin. The phenomenological roots have been taken from Edmund Husserl’s theory, and the I-Thou dialogue theory from Martin Buber (Haley, et al. 2003:184). The discussion commences with phenomenology.

Phenomenology

The motivation for commencing with a discussion on phenomenology, is that this philosophical paradigm underpins the methodology of the present research, namely the subjective exploration of the experiences of the expatriate participants. Furthermore, phenomenology underpins the way Gestalt therapists understand and make sense of their client’s inner world by examining the client’s subjective experiences in the ‘here and now’ with the aim of enhancing awareness (Haley, et al., 2003:184; Joyce & Sills, 2001:16). Clarkson (1989:13) states that phenomenology aims to find the truth or the origin of knowledge by focusing on immediate experiences without the use of presuppositions or assumptions.  Phenomenology may be described as the study of human experience by focusing on the subjective experiences and observations of individuals (Hazler in Haley et al., 2003:184).A distinction needs to be made between the original phenomenological philosophical approach first introduced by Husserl in 1931, and the phenomenological existentialist and field theory method adapted in Gestalt therapy theory.

The Origins and Nature of Phenomenology 

The German philosopher Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) was the original founder of phenomenology.  He expressed his philosophy in his most influential  book Being and Time which emphasises man’s ‘being in the world’ or ‘Dasein’, the German term for ‘being here’ (Hergenhahn, 1997:252).  In formulating his philosophy, Husserl aimed to describe the mental essences by which humans experience other people, themselves and the environment. He believed that phenomenology could be used to create a link between the external world and the subjective inner world of the individual.   Derived from this belief, various definitions of phenomenology are provided in the literature, for example, Hergenhahn (1997:540) describes phenomenology as “the introspective study of intact, mental experiences”.   A more detailed description of phenomenology is given in The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology (2001:533)  as “a philosophical doctrine that advocates the scientific study of immediate experience be the basis of psychology … it is the focus on events, occurrences, happenings as one experiences them with a minimum regard for the external, physical reality and for the so-called scientific biases of the natural sciences … real meaning for a phenomenologist is to be derived by examining an individual’s relationship with and reactions to real-world events”.  Another more detailed description is provided by Seamon (2000:3) which states,  “it is the exploration and description of phenomena, where phenomena refers to things or experiences as human beings experience them.  Any object, event, situation or experience that a person can see, hear, touch, smell, taste, feel, intuit, know, understand or live through is a legitimate topic for phenomenological investigation”.Husserl’s view of phenomenology focused on the processes of the mind that were independent of the external or physical world, calling this ‘pure phenomenology’ with the aim of finding the essence of conscious experience (Hergenhahn, 1997:511).  Husserl further believed that the objective of this form of phenomenology was to catalogue all cognitive processes by which the individual interacts with events or experiences obtained from his or her environment.  An inventory of these cognitive processes had to precede philosophy, psychology and science because it was fundamental to these cognitive processes upon which all human knowledge is founded (Hergenhahn, 1997:511).  From (1994:9) asserts that Gestalt therapy theory draws on classical Gestalt psychology’s ideas regarding cognitive processes, thereby revealing Hursserl’s influence in the development of the Gestalt concepts used in contemporary Gestalt therapy.  To illustrate this, From (1994:9) explains that Gestalt therapy draws on the notion that the information given to us by our environment is organised into ‘wholes’ of experience named ‘Gestalts’ which influence the individual’s impulses, needs, emotions and so forth.Seamon (2000:2) states that Husserl interpreted the changing flow of human awareness and experience as ‘structures of consciousness’ which could be identified by using the phenomenological method of enquiry. This style of phenomenology came to be known as ‘transcendental’ phenomenology, creating a reaction from other phenomenological theorists and philosophers.  The philosophers Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, originally followers of Husserl’s philosophy, did not agree with the ideas of transcendental structures of consciousness, arguing that Husserl did not base his theory on actual human experience but on his speculation regarding the individual’s cognitive processes. This resulted in Heidegger and his followers becoming known as “existential phenomenologists” (Seamon, 2000:3).   Hergenhahn (1997:512) posits that whereas Husserl was more interested in epistemology and the essence of cognitive phenomena, the existential theorists were more concerned with the nature of human existence asking:  what is the nature of human nature? and, what does it mean to be a unique individual? The philosophical tradition of phenomenology therefore changed since its original formulation by Husserl, with the original founder of Gestalt psychology, Max Wertheimer (1880-1943) incorporating the concepts of existential phenomenology into Gestalt theory (Hergenhahn, 1997:405).    An examination of the ‘components’, or constructs pertaining to phenomenology in Gestalt therapy theory will now be provided.

The Constructs of Phenomenology in Gestalt Therapy

Melnick (2008:3) supports that phenomenology in Gestalt therapy provides a method to create awareness about how individuals organise meaning in their lives.  It also highlights the uniqueness of all individuals and provides that all experience is legitimate phenomena (Melnick, 2008:3).   For the Gestalt therapist this means staying close to the client’s experience, remaining in the here and now moment and approaching the client with open minded and with authentic interest (Joyce & Sills, 2001:16). In doing this, the client obtains more awareness concerning his own process and the life choices he makes.  The phenomenological method of enquiry into the client’s subjective meaning and experience of himself and his environment or world is an essential part of Gestalt therapy.  To assist with this process, Joyce and Sills (2001:16-22) provide the essential components, namely, bracketing, description, horizontalism and active curiosity. These components may also be viewed as tools or methods involved in the phenomenological enquiry of the client’s experiences.Bracketing:Bracketing concerns the way that the therapist identifies and acknowledges his/her own judgements or preconceptions brought into the therapeutic relationship. Bracketing entails the placing aside of his/her own preconceptions and endeavours to be sensitive and open to the client’s unique experiences. Essentially, this means that the therapist needs to prevent stereotyping the client with regards to nationality, race, mental illness and so forth.  Bracketing however, does not imply being free of the therapists own preconceptions, but trying to avoid them from blocking the interpretation of the client’s own unique experience or world view (Joyce & Sills, 2001:17).
Description:Description implies staying with the perception or awareness of what is obvious on immediate contact with the client and describing this observation.  The therapist, in bracketing off his/her own preconceptions or values devotes the attention on describing what he/she notices, sees or senses.  This may be provided in the following way of expression by the therapist (Joyce & Sills, 2001:20). You look anxious…I’m aware that …I notice that your feet are moving rapidly…The therapist remains close to what is obvious or noticeable from the contact functions and sensory perceptions coming from the client, for example, body posture.  The therapist will also become aware of his/her own phenomenology, for example, an emotional response or bodily tension. This becomes the way that the therapist is able to describe the themes or emerging figures of the client.  The therapist thereby uses ‘tracking’ to interpret the phenomenological process over time.  The central goal of this is to enable the client to become aware of his or her own experiences by allowing him or her to give these areas of awareness optimal attention.  However, some clients may feel exposed and vulnerable when the therapist notices the client’s unique inner experiences.  It is therefore with sensitivity and caution that the therapist conversationally explores these inner experiences with the client (Joyce & Sills, 2001:20).
Horizonalism or Equalisation :The therapist does not place more importance on one therapy event or aspect of the client. Everything that occurs with regards to the client is viewed as potentially important.  The skill of being able to notice possible connections and/or abnormalities is important.  Similarly what is not apparent may also be important, for example, the client who shows very little emotion due to a recent traumatic or sad event in his or her life (Joyce & Sills, 2001:20).

CHAPTER ONE: ORIENTATION AND OVERVIEW
ORIENTATION
1.2  MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY
1.3  THE PROBLEM STATEMENT
1.4  THE AIMS, OBJECTIVES AND RESEARCH QUESTIONS OF THE STUDY
1.5  IMPLEMENTATION OF THE STUDY
1.6  ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS
1.7  FEASIBILITY OF THE STUDY
1.8  DEFINITION OF TERMS AND KEY CONCEPTS
1.9  CHAPTER DELINEATION
1.10  CHAPTER SUMMARY
 CHAPTER TWO:  GESTALT THERAPY THEORY
INTRODUCTION
2.1  THE ORIGINS OF GESTALT PSYCHOLOGY AND GESTALT THERAPY THEORY
2.2  THE FOUR PRINCIPLES OF GESTALT THERAPY THEORY
2.3  EXISTENTIALISM AND EXISTENTIAL PHENOMENOLOGY
2.4  FIELD THEORY
2.5  DIALOGUE  IN GESTALT THERAPY
2.6  AN EVALUATION OF GESTALT THERAPY THEORY
2.7  THE MEANING OF GESTALT THEORY FOR THE PRESENT STUDY
2.8  CHAPTER SUMMARY
CHAPTER THREE:  EXPATRIATE ADJUSTMENT
INTRODUCTION
3.1  Cross-Cultural Adjustment  and Acculturation
3.2  The Adjustment Process
3.3  Determinants for Adjustment in Expatriate Families
3.4  Grief and Expatriate Family Members
3.5  CHAPTER SUMMARY
CHAPTER FOUR:  FAMILY AND CHILD THERAPY
INTRODUCTION
4.1  FAMILY THERAPY
4.2  THERAPEUTIC APPROACHES IN WORKING WITH FAMILIES
4.3  GESTALT FAMILY THERAPY
4.4  A GESTALT APPROACH FOR CHILD OR PLAY THERAPY
4.5  CURRENT TRENDS IN POSTMODERN FAMILY THERAPY
4.6  SUMMARY
 CHAPTER FIVE:  RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
INTRODUCTION
5.1  QUALITATIVE AND QUANTITATIVE RESEARCH
 5.2  THE AIMS AND OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
5.3  THE RESEARCH QUESTIONS
5.4  THE RESEARCH DESIGN
5.5  METHODS OF DATA COLLECTION
5.6  THE RESEARCH PROCEDURE
5.7  MEASURES TO ENSURE TRUSTWORTHINESS
5.8  ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS
5.9  CHAPTER SUMMARY
CHAPTER SIX: DATA ANALYSIS AND LITERATURE CONTROL
INTRODUCTION
6.1  THE ANALYSIS OF THE SIX FAMILY CASE STUDIES
6.2  THE FOCUS GROUP
6.3  CONCLUSIONS AND EVALUATION OF FINDINGS: THE SIX FAMILY   CASE STUDIES AND THE FOCUS GROUP
6.4  CHAPTER SUMMARY
CHAPTER SEVEN: A GESTALT APPROACH FOR EXPATRIATE FAMILY AND CHILD THERAPY
INTRODUCTION
7.1  A GESTALT THERAPEUTIC APPROACH FOR EXPATRIATE FAMILIES
7.2  AN EVALUATION OF A GESTALT APPROACH FOR FAMILY PLAY    THERAPY
7.3  CHAPTER SUMMARY
 CHAPTER EIGHT: FINAL OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSIONS
INTRODUCTION
8.1  OVERVIEW OF THE STUDY
8.2  EVALUATION OF THE STUDY: STRENGHTS AND LIMITATIONS
8.3  THE RESEARCHER’S PERSONAL REFLECTIONS
8.4  RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
8.5  CONCLUSIONS
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
ADJUSTMENT OF SOUTH AFRICAN EXPATRIATES IN DUBAI: A GESTALT APPROACH FOR FAMILY AND CHILD THERAPY

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