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New Directions In Gestalt Group Therapy: Relati...



Gestalt therapists often work with groups. Group therapists from a variety of theoretical orientations frequently incorporate insights and methodology from gestalt therapy. New Directions in Gestalt Group Therapy: Relational Ground, Authentic Self was written with particular attention to both gestalt and group work specialists in providing a comprehensive reference for the practice of group therapy from a gestalt perspective. In includes an introduction to gestalt therapy terms and concepts written to make the gestalt approach understandable and accessible for mental health practitioners of all backgrounds. It is appropriate for students as well as seasoned psychotherapists.




New Directions in Gestalt Group Therapy: Relati...



A unique and newer exploration within group theory is the contribution that Jungian psychology has on group therapy work. Hecht (2011) is used as the seminal refence point to illuminate the contributions that Jungian therapy to group therapy: (a) a broader conceptualization of libido, (b) attitudes towards the unconscious, (c) individuation, (d) ego-self axis, (e) the problem of opposites, (f) an alchemical approach to transference, and (g) archetypes and the collective unconscious.


The combination of these theories creates a unique fusion of psychodynamic and gestalt theory principles, producing a group experience that focuses on individual work in the presence of others. This gives group member universal language to recognize their (critical and nurturing) parent, provide compassion to their (adapted and natural) child, and maintain a balanced adult ego states, challenging the narratives of past scripts they wrote in childhood and work towards "being okay with who we are, completely."


The different gestalt therapy techniques involve a series of experiments and exercises. Therapy can be done individually or in a group setting. Exercises and experiments help individuals increase their awareness and understanding of the here and now.


Gestalt therapy is one of the most innovative therapies now available. It provides significant resources for growth-oriented counselors, therapists, teachers, and group facilitators. Its underlying philosophy is existentialist, holistic, and growth-centered. The word "gestalt" is used to mean "figure formation," a holistic configuration that determines all its parts. Gestalt therapy is particularly useful in helping functional people enhance their awareness and deepen their relationships, and it can be integrated in a complementary way with other growth-oriented therapies, particularly TA and psychosynthesis. This therapy has been an important resource in my own growth struggles in recent years.(4)


The goals of growth in gestalt therapy are really directions of continuing change. Artist-therapist Joseph Zinker summarizes these growth directions when he states that he hopes a person in therapy moves toward greater awareness of himself -- his body, his feelings, his environment; learns to take ownership of his experiences, rather than projecting them on others: learns to be aware of his needs and to develop skills to satisfy himself without violating others: moves toward a fuller contact with his sensations, learning to smell, taste, touch, hear and see -- to savor all aspects of himself; moves toward the experience of his power and the ability to support himself, rather than relying on whining, blaming or guilt-making in order to mobilize support from the environment: becomes sensitive to his surroundings, yet at the same time wears a coat of armour for situations which are potentially destructive or poisonous: learns to take responsibility for his actions and their consequences: feels comfortable with the awareness of his fantasy life and its expressions. (11)


My personal growth in a gestalt workshop group I attended several years ago followed the basic flow of this process. (17) I was confronted there with a situation where I had to relate as myself, without the protective wall of a professional title or the status of a leader or teacher. In that setting my games became painfully evident, first to the therapists and to perceptive group members and gradually to me. I became aware of the deadness of my voice and my body much of the time; the ways my "nice guy" front and my intellectualizing games both feed and sugarcoat my anger; the way I tend to lock up my energy by not breathing fully; the way I give my power away to others, seeking by manipulation to get validation from them; the way I spend energy rehearsing in my mind what I will say to get approval from others; the ways I cut myself off from my laughing, playful, don't-give-a-damn side and thus burden myself and others as a "heavy"; the way I often stay distant from my center and therefore out of deep contact with others; the way I tend to live "five miles ahead on the road" worrying and planning; the ways I postpone living and savoring the real experiences of this moment. My anxious attempts to be a "successful" gestalt therapy patient (another game) naturally led to increased frustration and eventually despair. The impasse that followed was, indeed, deathlike. I experienced an explosion of energy, and the joy of being alive (expressed as a dancing mountain stream) when I finally gave up the frantic search for "the answer" and spontaneously began to laugh at myself and my futile attempts to manipulate myself and others.


The hyperindividualism in gestalt therapy seems to be particularly offset by Perls' view that a group is a microcosmic world in which people can expand their awareness and try out new behavior. However, when he worked in a group setting, he kept the entire therapeutic process centered on himself. Consequently he missed the unique power of therapy or growth groups -- the developing, through group-centered interaction, of a group climate that frees everyone in that group to grow and to become mutual growth facilitators.


As noted above, the group and organizational cycles of experience are slightly different than the individual cycle. Where the individual cycle begins with sensation, the group and organizational cycle begins by scanning itself and the environment to assess needs and identify key issues. Awareness develops through conceptualizing what has been scanned into an image or reality that evolves into a common picture. If a compelling picture surfaces, the group or organization mobilizes energy through the commitment of resources to the picture by discussing potential directions, establishing the level of commitment, developing pilot programs, stating themes that will be tracked, and moving forward. Action surfaces as movement toward the compelling picture and is initiated through plans and change directives. Contact becomes a change at the boundary between the organization and the environment (and/or itself)through implementation of the planned actions, creating change through impact upon the group or organization and the environment. Closure and withdrawal evolves from the assessment of what happened and the fulfillment or creation of the compelling picture. Whereupon, the group or organization returns to the scanning stage.


Congruent with both the gestalt cycle of experience and Kolb's cycle of learning, it was discovered that an experiment has a beginning, middle, and end, similar to Systems theory's input, throughput, and output. The structure of an experiment is used as a tool to organize interventions by providing an orienting structure to support the consulting process, similar to the change theories of Van Gennep's Ritual Theory", Victor Turner's "Initiation Theory" and Robert Moore's "Jungian DevelopmentTheory". This structure became known as Unit of Work, which has become a virtual trademark of the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland's (GIC) OD programs . By consciously adopting and following a structure of beginning, middle, and end, the Gestalt Consultant is better able to stay in the moment while patiently waiting for a notable figure to surface from the ground of the individual, group, or organization. The structure is generally used by the Gestalt Consultant without necessarily disclosing its use to the client. GIC (2008) "has defined "work" as processes of change or development, either naturally arrived at or deliberately orchestrated. A finished 'unit of work' is a coherent, assimilable experience; it may be the completion of a task, the resolution of an issue, or a learning experience. A successful unit of work creates energy that is sustained and purposeful" (p. 99). Moreover, the client recognizes not only something new, but that the new has shifted them from their prior point of awareness. Applying this definition, a Unit of Work is a procedural frame of reference that helps to organize intervention change activity. It consists of four steps: (1) assessing "what is" by heightening awareness of what appears to happening; (2) choosing what to attend to by defining patterns or themes that exist; (3) acting on that choice by creating awareness of the pattern, suggesting an experiment that tests alternative ways of doing things; and (4) closing out that particular activity by acknowledging the new "what is" that has evolved from the experiment. Figure 6 below expands on this procedural framework. 041b061a72


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