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

Section 17
Implementing Gestalt Reminiscence Therapy with Older Adults

CEU Question 17 | CEU Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Gestalt
Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, MFT CEUs

The Cork Older Adult Intervention Project is based on a developmental model of the person in which the emotional, social and spiritual growth of older adults is viewed as continuing until death. The particular therapeutic method used is gestalt reminiscence therapy (O'Leary and Barry, 1998; 2000). This approach uses storytelling as a means of identifying unfinished business (O'Leary and Nieuwstraten, 1999). It develops intrapersonal and interpersonal contact and considers environmental contexts. Because this integrative approach views development as a lifelong process, merely facilitating older adults to recall the past would not be considered sufficient. Participants are also challenged to continue to develop themselves in the present. Gestalt reminiscence therapy is primarily used as a group approach, thereby creating a greater opportunity for interpersonal contact and feedback and the formation of new friendships.

Recall of the past can enhance identity as participants relive former achievements. Reminiscence can develop self-esteem by increasing the level of self-referent knowledge (Kovach, 1990). Buffer (1963) viewed storytelling as a method which allowed older adults to come to terms both with their past lives as they were and with their own mortality. However, unexpressed feelings and unvoiced thoughts often arise as individuals remember unpleasant incidents in the past. Within gestalt reminiscence therapy, a supportive environment is created which allows participants to experience feelings associated with such events and come to terms with them.

Participants in gestalt reminiscence therapy increase their awareness, become more responsible for themselves and free themselves from shelved issues. Awareness is focused on the `here and now' and may involve either a current, recent or more distant event. Increased responsibility for themselves allows older adults to have a greater sense of empowerment, even within a nursing home setting. Group members are enabled to live more fully in the present by coming to terms with unfinished business. Emotions accompanying a particular story can be identified, expressed and completed.

Memories can be triggered in social interaction: being asked about memories will spark off memories (Sacks, 1995). However, memories can also be `objectified'. Particular articles can trigger memories because of their associations--when and where they were acquired or from whom they were received. Fairhurst (1997) stated that these type of objects are not just material things, they `are memories' (Fairhurst, 1997, p. 69). Memories can be embodied in places as well as possessions especially if the people associated with them are deceased.

Butler (1963) saw memories as a potential fount of mastery, wisdom and gratification. Reminiscing, therefore, has a therapeutic potential that goes beyond its social function. Recounting memories can be a way to approach talking about and appraising one's own life. Watt and Wong (1991) outlined a taxonomy of reminiscence as a first step in developing the therapeutic use of memories. They identified six different types: integrative, instrumental, transmissive, narrative, escapist and obsessive. The function of integrative reminiscence is to attain meaning and reconciliation with regard to one's past. It may involve working through feelings of guilt, failure and depression. Instrumental reminiscence acts as a buffer against emotional distress, as the person recalls past efforts in coping with difficult situations, sometimes in order to help solve a present difficulty. Watt (1986) found that this type of reminiscing is associated with `successful ageing' (cited in Watt and Wong, 1991). An instructive aspect identifies transmissive reminiscing: the speaker can `hand on' some enduring values acquired when growing up in a different era. These reminiscences, therefore, always concern `a moral'. They differ from purely narrative reminiscences, which are restricted to `descriptive or factual accounts of the past for the purpose of providing biographical information' (Watt and Wong, 1991, p. 49).

The two forms of memory-sharing which are not as adaptive in a coping sense are escapist and obsessive. The former has a fantasy/daydreaming quality, which can be viewed as beneficial by the speaker. Since the accent is on the `good old days', it allows an escape from a possibly much more gloomy present. The relief experienced is usually only temporary however. Obsessive reminiscing shows the preoccupation with disturbing past events and the speaker may be haunted by feelings of `guilt, resentment and despair' (Watt and Wong, 1991, p. 51). This type of reminiscence would be viewed as a marker of `unfinished business' in gestalt reminiscence therapy. Watt and Wong (1991) coded their subjects' recollections according to 11 themes: childhood memories; dating and marriage; domestic life; children and grandchildren; significant others (including relatives and friends); education and career (including personal accomplishments); societal events; health; relocation; death; and existential beliefs (including religious or philosophical beliefs regarding life and death).

Memories are the raw material of gestalt reminiscence therapy. Memories emerge through a number of different avenues, such as linking to objects and people, locations, past achievements, historical events, private events and public occasions, sensitive issues, a particular word, past and recent events. Recounting them can have a number of different functions from a social and therapeutic point of view. Memories can link people's experiences, giving group members a common ground and providing important interpersonal contact. The feeling of `shared experience' this type of reminiscing provides may then develop into subsequent interpersonal bonding. The group process is also facilitated through the linking of themes between group members. Memories can also serve to boost either the self-esteem of the speaker or another group participant by concentrating on past achievements. They can furthermore help to identify unfinished business, which may need to be worked on within the group setting or in one-to-one therapy. From a social-historical point of view, the act of relating memories can give the teller a sense of `empowerment' as a personal expert on the times they lived in.
- O'Leary, Eleanor; Nieuwstraten, Inge M.; The exploration of memories in Gestalt reminiscence therapy; Counselling Psychology Quarterly, Jun2001, Vol. 14 Issue 2
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.


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Personal Reflection Exercise #3
The preceding section contained information about implementing Gestalt reminiscence therapy with older adults.  Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 17
What are four benefits to using Gestalt reminiscence therapy with older adults? Record the letter of the correct answer the CEU Answer Booklet.

 
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Enhancing psychotherapy process with common factors feedback: A randomized, clinical trial.
In this study, we developed and tested a common factors feedback (CFF) system. The CFF system was designed to provide ongoing feedback to clients and therapists about client ratings of three common factors: (a) outcome expectations, (b) empathy, and (c) the therapeutic alliance. We evaluated the CFF system using randomized, clinical trial (RCT) methodology. Participants: Clients were 79 undergraduates who reported mild, moderate, or severe depressive symptoms at screening and pretreatment assessments. These clients were randomized to either: (a) treatment as usual (TAU) or (b) treatment as usual plus the CFF system (TAU + CFF). Both conditions entailed 5 weekly sessions of evidence-based therapy delivered by doctoral students in clinical psychology. Clients completed measures of common factors (i.e., outcome expectations, empathy, therapeutic alliance) and outcome at each session. Clients and therapists in TAU + CFF received feedback on client ratings of common factors at the beginning of Sessions 2 through 5. When surveyed, clients and therapists indicated that that they were satisfied with the CFF system and found it useful. Multilevel modeling revealed that TAU + CFF clients reported larger gains in perceived empathy and alliance over the course of treatment compared with TAU clients. No between-groups effects were found for outcome expectations or treatment outcome. These results imply that our CFF system was well received and has the potential to improve therapy process for clients with depressive symptoms. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
Can reflecting on personal values online increase positive beliefs about counseling?
This research developed and tested an online values-affirmation exercise to attenuate threat and enhance positive beliefs about counseling among individuals struggling with mental health concerns. There is evidence that reflecting on personal values (values-affirmation) is an effective approach to eliciting self-affirmation—a psychological process that temporarily bolsters self-worth in order to forestall maladaptive, self-protective responses to counseling information. The present study utilized a randomized 2-group between-subjects design to test the effectiveness of a values-affirmation exercise with an online sample (N = 186) of adults who reported struggling with a mental health concern. It was predicted that values-affirmation would reduce threat related to reading mental health information and increase positive beliefs about counseling. Results indicated that those in the values-affirmation condition reported fewer negative emotions such as feeling upset, irritable, hostile, and scared after reading mental health information, indicating that the information was perceived as less threatening. There was also evidence that engaging in values-affirmation was associated with greater anticipated growth in counseling and greater intent to seek counseling, reflecting greater positive beliefs about counseling. Overall, the results suggest that reflecting on personal values may have the potential to enhance the positive effects of online psychoeducation. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
Depression symptoms moderate the association between emotion and communal behavior.
Depression is associated with emotion regulation deficits which manifest as elevated negative affect and greater continuation of negative affect over time. The present study examined a possible emotion regulatory deficit, whether depression symptoms attenuate the association between communal (i.e., agreeable, quarrelsome) behavior and affect. A community sample reported on depression and anxiety symptoms before recording their affect and behavior following naturally occurring interpersonal interactions over 21 days. Participants’ behaviors were measured using items selected to represent the Interpersonal Circumplex Model of behavior. Results indicated an association between affect and communal behavior, which was stronger for negative than positive affect. Depression symptoms moderated this association; elevated depression symptoms were associated with decreased association of affect and interpersonal behavior. Comorbid anxiety symptoms did not moderate this association. Results suggest that elevated depression symptoms are associated with a diminished ability to adapt communal behavior to emotion cues. Given prior evidence of elevated overall quarrelsome behavior among individuals with elevated depression symptoms, this may demonstrate an interpersonal mechanism by which emotion regulation deficits impact the generation of interpersonal problems. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
Thwarted belongingness, perceived burdensomeness, and depression among asian americans: A longitudinal study of interpersonal shame as a mediator and perfectionistic family discrepancy as a moderator.
This short-term longitudinal study applied Joiner’s (2005) Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicide to Asian Americans’ experiences with depression. Interpersonal shame (i.e., the experience of inadequacy arising from interpersonal concerns) was hypothesized to mediate the effects of (a) thwarted belongingness and (b) perceived burdensomeness on future depression. Furthermore, the positive associations between (a) thwarted belongingness and (b) perceived burdensomeness on future depression were hypothesized to vary depending on students’ experiences with perfectionistic family discrepancy (PFD; their perceived gap between their actual performance and what their parents expect of them). A total of 605 Asian Americans attending predominantly White, Midwestern universities completed 3 online surveys. Conditional process modeling via Hayes’s (2013) PROCESS was used to analyze the data. Results demonstrated that (a) thwarted belongingness and (b) perceived burdensomeness contributed to higher interpersonal shame, which influenced students’ future depression. Furthermore, the effect of thwarted belongingness on future depression was significantly positive for those with PFD levels greater than the 12th percentile, after taking into account students’ initial level of depression. The effect of perceived burdensomeness on future depression was not significant for those with PFD levels greater than the 3.5th percentile. This study identified that students with perfectionistic family discrepancy may be at higher risk for depression while experiencing thwarted belongingness. Overall, findings supported using Joiner’s (2005) theory to understand Asian American students’ risk for future depression. Future studies may gather data across Asian American students’ years in college. Counselors can apply these findings to increase students’ awareness about possible risk factors for depression. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
Distress disclosure and psychological functioning among Taiwanese nationals and European Americans: The moderating roles of mindfulness and nationality.
Research using Western samples shows that talking about unpleasant emotions—distress disclosure—is associated with fewer psychological symptoms and higher well-being. These benefits of distress disclosure may or may not be observed in East Asia where emotional control is valued. Instead, mindfulness may be more relevant to emotion regulation in East Asia (e.g., Taiwan). In the present study, cultural context (Taiwanese nationals vs. European Americans) and mindfulness were examined as moderators of the relation between distress disclosure and both depression symptoms and life satisfaction. A sample of 256 Taiwanese college students and a sample of 209 European American college students completed self-report measures in their native language. Moderated multiple regression analyses revealed significant interaction effects of mindfulness and distress disclosure on both depression symptoms and life satisfaction for Taiwanese participants but not for European Americans. Specifically, distress disclosure was negatively associated with depression symptoms and positively associated with life satisfaction for Taiwanese low in mindfulness but not for Taiwanese high in mindfulness. For European Americans, distress disclosure was not associated with depression symptoms but was associated with higher life satisfaction, regardless of one’s level of mindfulness. These findings suggest that the potential benefits of disclosing distress are a function of one’s cultural context as well as, for those from Taiwan, one’s mindfulness. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)

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