Guidelines For The Interaction

In working with the group, I watch for comments, behaviors, nonverbal cues, or interactions that suggest hesitation, ambivalence, avoidance, or conflict as members interact. For example, one member sits on the edge of the group, hugging her knees, and seems afraid to get involved. Another member rolls her eyes and challenges everything others say. A third member says he doesn't feel safe in the group.

Step 1

Invite the member to focus on the behavior, posture, or feeling that drew your attention. Ask member to pay close attention to how it feels, e.g., hug your knees; roll your eyes; focus on feeling of not being safe.

Step 2

Ask member to repeat, exaggerate, or intensify the experience. For example, the member hugging her knees reports she feels like she's hanging on for dear life; the one rolling her eyes says she's disgusted with everyone's complaints, whining, feeling sorry for themselves; the one who feels unsafe says he's convinced that if he doesn't take care of himself others will exploit or take advantage of him.

Step 3

Invite member to put a projected, opposite, or disowned part of self in the empty chair. For example the part that is holding her, supporting her, keeping her together, not letting her fall apart; the part of her that is whiney, complaining, and feels sorry for herself; the part of him that's exploitive and takes advantage of others.

Step 4

Once the person has moved to the empty chair, ask him or her to give a voice to that part, speaking in the here-and-now, first-person present tense as that aspect of self. For example, "I am holding you and supporting you; I won't let you fall apart; I'll make sure you are okay and will take care of you.;" "Oh, I've got so many problems and no one seems to care about me;" "You're all a bunch of losers; the only way to survive is to take what I need."

Step 5

Ask the person to focus on and report how it feels to take this position, paying attention to thoughts, feelings, posture, and body sensations.

Step 6

Ask the person to speak to one, or several group members in turn, from this place. For example, "I am strong, capable, and able to take care of myself;" "Oh, please pay attention to me-unless I make myself out to be pathetic, you won't even notice me;" "The only way to survive is for me to look out for myself and take what I need from you."

Step 7

Using two chairs, have member dialogue between the part identified in Step 2 and the opposite or projected part identified in Step 3. For example: the helpless one and the caretaker; the one disgusted with others' need for attention and the one who wants attention; the one who fears being taken advantage of and the exploiter of others.

Step 8

Invite the member to reflect on his or her own experience and to request feedback and reactions from others in the group. Ask others in the group to notice any identification with the issue at hand and to share related experiences with the member who did the dialogue.

TYPICAL RESPONSES: RECONCILIATION OF CONTRADICTORY ASPECTS

Almost invariably the exercise enhances empathy, identification, and appreciation for the member's openness, honesty, and trust in the group to deal with the issue at hand. One person's work frequently serves as a stimulus for others to open up more themselves, and enhances group interaction. Members frequently report that they feel more accepting and less judgmental of some of the contradictory aspects of self they were dealing with.

CONCLUSIONS AND CONTRAINDICATIONS

I have found this technique to be effective if the therapist is willing to trust that meaning and integration will occur if the client is guided to finding his or her own discoveries without feeling the need for either therapist or client to interpret, explain, or theorize about what the work means. Gestalt therapy is grounded in the belief that by attending to present-centered awareness and immediate experience, the clients will discover important understandings that are helpful to them.

If there are any contraindications, they may lie in the fact that Gestalt techniques can release intense affect. Clients who are severely disturbed or who lack impulse control may be overwhelmed by the emotions that emerge from identifying with disowned or uninte-grated aspects of self. If there is insufficient ego strength or group support, this technique may generate a level of affect that is hard to contain or integrate.

REFERENCES

Feder, B. & Ronall, R. (Eds. ). (1980). Beyond the hot seat: Gestalt approaches to group. New York: Brunner/Mazel. Glass. T. A. (1972). The gestalt approach to group therapy. Presented at the 80th annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Honolulu, HI. Glass, T.A. (2001). Gestalt therapy. In W.E. Craighead & C. B. Nameroff (Eds.) The Corsini encyclopedia of psychology & behavioral science (Third edition). New York: John Wiley & Sons. Vol. 2, pp. 636-639. Woldt, A.L. & Toman, S.M. (2005 ). Gestalt therapy: History, theory & practice.

Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Yontef, G. & Jacobs, L. (2005). Gestalt therapy. In R. J. Corsini & D. Wedding (Eds. ). Current Psychotherapies (Seventh edition), pp. 299-336. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

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