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Enhancing Your Therapy with Gestalt Approaches
Gestalt Therapy continuing education psychologist CEUs

Section 16
A Case Study Example of Gestalt Art Therapy

CEU Question 16 | CEU Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Gestalt
Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

Sharon is living on many levels all at once; I marvel that she can move about in the everyday world practically and effectively while carrying on such a lot of symbolic activity in her inner life. Tiny and delicate physically, she is inclined to be quiet and still. Only her shining, expressive eyes move about quickly, and she tilts her head from side to side as if she wants to see things from many angles. When she feels shy and fearful, Sharon's whole bearing becomes that of a little girl, on the verge of but never quite giving up her held-back tears. When she has that look I see the child who learned to go into her closet and be alone rather than ask for any sort of open emotional expression with her parents. Her mother says that Sharon was an obnoxious child whom she has never understood; her father, a quiet, bookish man, dramatically taught Sharon that the best thing to do with bad feelings was to bury them underground: in a planned ceremony the two went out one evening, dug a hole in the ground, and six-year-old Sharon was told to bury her temper and never let it show again. Sharon learned her lesson well; her conscious suppression gradually became habitual and her outward behavior fit into the family's pattern of keeping out of sight anything that might be disturbing.

Sharon went to college, painted, went to a New York art school on a scholarship, and worked for the New York State Council of the Arts. Her inventive techniques for three-dimensional print-making brought her success but not much happiness. She tried psychotherapy; that didn't seem to help. Her prints were in galleries, and she was in limbo. She took LSD and was shocked out of lethargy; on the drug she felt transported beyond all individuality and felt ecstasy in belonging with all-beingness. She saw joys in non-ego-involvement and envisioned wondrous release in non-being. But she was frightened, too; when she saw herself in a mirror, Sharon saw only translucency. Was that what she wanted--to lose her identity in cosmic unity before she'd ever lived here on this earth? Sharon didn't know. She and a new husband, who was little more than another body in lostness, began wandering. John drove the car; Sharon sat and passively watched the world go by. "It" was "out there, fascinating" but none of "it" was here.

Back in San Francisco, Sharon functioned on a sort of minimal level, limiting herself to superficial involvements. But when her father developed terminal cancer, she chose to be with him during the long months of his dying. At his request, Sharon and her father together did what they could to help him express his buried feelings; he grieved that he had repressed so much of himself and hoped that Sharon would live more freely. After her father died, though, she felt more deadened than ever and could not involve herself deeply in art or anything else.

Sharon realized how much she had cut off her creativity when she saw in a stranger's home a three-dimensional print that she'd made two years before and now could not recognize or remember as her own creation. Shortly afterwards she began coming to art therapy groups and then to weekly private sessions with me.

For the first year, Sharon resisted expressing herself with art forms; given a large sheet of paper, she would draw tiny, delicate decorations in one corner and was inarticulate about them. Six months ago Sharon told me that she was "making little things" at home; she "enjoyed tinkering," she said. She made gifts for people, grew potted plants, decorated her apartment for Christmas--small things, but all of her own creation. She brought small, neat, black and white collages to our sessions, discussing how she was beginning to discover elements in them that related to her individuality. A month ago she brought in four forms.

About six inches high, made from plastic, glass, cotton, and metal, they are very personally Sharon's. At my suggestion, she began expressing her thoughts and feelings by writing. At first this was difficult for her, but now she pours out words, pages and pages of them. In her own way, she describes her self-trait figures:

"Aspect I"
I am obscure, unclear, non-functional, split, non-directional. I am soft and dream-like, with sharp tangents of reality and discomfort. I neither radiate nor direct. I feel helpless and static. My movement is dependent--I can be picked up, placed, and given meaning by an "other." I can also be ignored, passed over, unseen. I can be loved or unloved, unhappy or happy, observant but indecisive, a willing object. I am between a dream and a reality. Life becomes an echo.

"Aspect II"
I am definite, definitive, directed. My movement starts slowly with a spiraling to conclusions. I am unreasonable, brilliant, angry, rash, permanent, stubborn, and purposeful. I am right, tall, and impenetrable. I have no feeling, but I have logical progressions of a third sense. I reach an end, lose connections with the spiral or process or why, and I become implacable, dreamless, determined, and compassionless. I am not here to be loved or loving. I am here to do and to be. There is no echo, I am the voice and the conception. Brittle and breakable.

"Aspect III"
I am in balance, shorter but functioning. I can both feel and be at the same time. I combine softness with balance and brittle receptivity. I am open to change that I can maintain in various positions. I can be delighted and graceful, useful and willing. I have a synthesis of dream and reality. I am non-linear; I can be absurd but not dismissed. I do not alarm, nor do I feel alarmed or vulnerable to breakage. I am perhaps content with the image I am.

"Aspect IV"
I must combine my dream-observer with real-life situations. Softness can combine with sharpness and still give a pleasing feeling. I can joke about my situation because I am self-willed and not an object of a stranger's needs. I can work with my own needs and experiment with combinations of feelings. I can destroy myself when I feel I need to destroy an unworkable aspect of me. If I do it it's okay; I need the time to reach my own conclusions. I can laugh and give my experience to others 'cause I did it myself.

Sharon is now exploring her own experiences through art, with her own intelligence and imagination; recently she wrote: "I have developed a real feel for edges. I can sense an edge, or a limit, or a closing off of space and time and sound when I am in an uncomfortable situation .... I am trying to learn the process of expanding this space without the fear of edges, without the tendency to get lost in another, and without the need to scrap the whole picture if I can't find my place."

Sharon is finding her place: she is working for a public-service agency part time and is also acquiring a clientele for her free-lance services as a designer. She feels that she will have an agency in a few years and is excited about her possibilities. More important, Sharon is increasingly self-determining; she is realistically expanding to fit recognized spaces in her own potential.

This brief vignette is an unenclosed, open-ended image of the here-and-now awareness of a person in process. More eloquent than any words I can say are Sharon's own self-perceptions, both graphic and verbal.
- Rhyne, Janie; The Gestalt Approach To Experience, Art, And Art Therapy; American Journal of Art Therapy; Aug2001, Vol. 40 Issue 1
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.

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Personal Reflection Exercise #2
The preceding section contained information about a case study example of Gestalt Art Therapy.  Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 16
What two statements did Sharon make that indicated her increased receptiveness to expressing herself through art? Record the letter of the correct answer the CEU Answer Booklet.

 
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