The cycle of contact can be interrupted by danger and/or fear or inevitable frustration. Instead of making contact and experiencing the pain of the original situation an individual usually prevents contact by using neurotic mechanisms as explained briefly below. Projections are parts of a person’s personality that they disapprove of and so disown, but since they are still part of them they continue to experience them. To explain the experience of these unacceptable parts of one’s being the individual interprets them as being aspects of other people’s personality rather than their own.
Introjection is when a rule, role or belief comes to belong to an individual without it being assimilated. Perls (1967) stated “to assimilate it one must inspect it, try it for fit, work it over and to some extent work oneself over. Introjects do not contribute to an individuals growth because without this process of assimilation they do not form part of the personality” (cited in Clarkson and Mackewn, 1989).
Confluence is the inability of an individual to perceive any boundary between themselves and others. “The chronically confluent individual does not know where he ends and others begin. Since good contact requires a sense of difference to others, he is unable to contact well, but since he is unaware of any boundary, he cannot withdraw well either” (Clarkson and Mackewn in Gestalt Counselling in Action, 1989).
Retroflection comes in two forms. The first is doing to oneself what one wants/wanted to do to others and the second is doing to oneself what one want/wanted others to do to them. It can occur when expression meets opposition, such as in punishment. The need remains within the body but instead of being directed towards the environment, it is redirected towards the self. As quoted in Gestalt Counselling in Action, Clarkson (1989) stated “the impulse to hit out remains locked in the person’s body, affecting muscular patterns, abdominal tension and chemical imbalances in the body”.
One of the ultimate goals of Gestalt therapy is to allow the individual to complete the unfinished business that demands satisfaction and interrupts contact. Self-awareness gives the individual the ability to be in touch with their present field of existence. As present functioning is designed to meet the dominant need of that moment, becoming aware of operations such as breathing patterns, voice qualities, postures and gestures means an individual can realise how they are attempting to meet their requirements at that time.
Awareness is gained through phenomenological investigation, describing to an individual their behaviour without attempting to give explanations or interpretations. It is in the “obvious” phase that a person’s mode of operation is revealed. Awareness can only take place in the here-and-now. Change occurs when an individual identifies with parts of their personality that have split off and completes their unfinished business. This can only happen with awareness. Yontef, in Gestalt Counselling in Action (1989), explained what is called the “paradox of change” as occurring “when the individual becomes what she already is, not when she tries to become what she is not”.
The practice of Gestalt therapy is designed to heighten awareness of how one is operating in the present moment as this reveals attempts to complete unfinished business. Through awareness can come resolution of unfinished business and integration of the personality. Concentration is placed on the most important principles of an individual’s nature and how they operate in the world. The cycle of needs arising and being met is one of the most important models for Gestalt therapy.
Gestalt psychology is based on isomorphism. The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology (1995) defines isomorphism as “the hypothesis that there is such a structural similarity between excitatory fields in the cortex and conscious experience. Note that the correspondence here is not presumed to be between the physical stimulus and the brain but between the perception of the stimulus and the brain”.
Humanistic psychology differs from other approaches to mental disorder because it talks in terms of “problems and difficulties” rather than “normal and abnormal”. Humanists support the opinion that the individual receiving therapy is, in fact, their own therapist.
Therapy is usually based on a group setting with the focus on one individual at a time. The therapist uses various techniques, known as directed experiments, in an attempt to teach participants how to become aware of their problems and solve them by making self-enhancing choices. These can include the empty chair exercise, amplification, dialogue and speaking in the first person. There is also emphasis on the true notion of asylum. That is, somewhere the individual can work through what they are experiencing. R.D. Laing, the world renowned psychologist prominent in the 1960’s, set up asylums in which he would take an active role in the therapy. Emphasis was placed on catharsis.
The medical model would attempt to cure an individual of hallucinations and/ or illusions, particularly using drugs. However, the humanistic model sees hallucinations and illusions as normal parts of the individual and therapists encourage discussing and expressing how the individual feels, no matter how abnormal it may be considered by some. The psychoanalytic model does not deal with the present, as in humanistic therapy, but the past. Freud considered that life events change an individual and if not resolved would cause disruption later in life. Psychotherapy is always carried out on a one-to-one basis and the psychotherapist attempts to uncover the unconscious conflicts being suffered by the individual. Once these are discovered, the ego is then able to deal with them effectively.
Both humanistic and psychoanalytic therapy involves the interpretation of dreams. Perls saw dreams as “disowned parts of the personality”, whilst Freud saw them as “the royal road to the unconscious” and a powerful origin of information about concealed features of an individual’s personality. Desires are expressed in symbolic form (Gross & McIlveen, 1996). The behavioural model is only interested in the behaviour, not why the individual is suffering such inner turmoil. No attempt is made to understand what is causing unacceptable or abnormal behaviour, only changing it by whatever methods are most successful. Behaviour therapy involves either classical conditioning or operant conditioning (Gross & McIlveen, 1996).
The cognitive model is considered by some to be very similar to the behavioural model. However, the cognitive model concentrates on feelings, expectations and attitudes that are associated with and, in some cases, are considered to be the cause of, mental disorders. The aim of cognitive treatment is to alter maladjusted activity by changing the way an individual thinks (Gross & McIlveen, 1996).
The main strength of humanistic therapy may be considered to be that it is humane. There is no use of drugs or electro-convulsive therapy. Individuals must be agreeable to participating in the therapy – they cannot be forced to take part. Another strength is that the humanistic model uses a creative, exploratory approach to therapy as opposed to a reductive approach. The therapy is holistic, looking at the whole being, rather than at individual elements. Participants are encouraged to express themselves in the form of art, drama or writing.
A weakness of humanistic therapy is that there is no immediate solution – participants must trust their therapist before they feel able to play a part in any therapy. Treatment can be intensive and quite traumatic as an individual may learn things about himself that he has previously been unaware of. Another weakness is that Gestalt therapy may be considered moralistic (see Appendix I). Critics may say that individuals are being told what to think, instead of being given the opportunity of free thought.
It may be considered a weakness that humanistic therapy is scientifically dubious. However, it is anecdotally successful. It is of vital importance that the therapist is correctly trained to teach individuals how to be self-supportive; they must learn not to rely on their therapist for emotional support. Although it is true that humanistic therapy has both strengths and weaknesses, there is evidence that some techniques can be particularly effective (Simkin and Yontef, 1984), although undoubtedly humanistic therapies are going to be more successful in some civilisations than in others.