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

Section 24
Examining Gestalt Consistency Principles
in Objective Self-Awareness Theory

CEU Question 24
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| Gestalt
Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, MFT CEUs

The original statement of OSA theory (Duval & Wicklund, 1972) employed only a few constructs, relations, and processes. The theory assumed that the orientation of conscious attention was the essence of self-evaluation. Focusing attention on the self brought about objective self-awareness, which initiated an automatic comparison of the self against standards. The self was defined very broadly as the person's knowledge of the person. A standard was "defined as a mental representation of correct behavior, attitudes, and traits ... All of the standards of correctness taken together define what a 'correct' person is" (Duval & Wicklund, 1972, pp. 3, 4). This simple system consisting of self, standards, and attentional focus was assumed to operate according to gestalt consistency principles (Heider, 1960). If a discrepancy was found between self and standards, negative affect was said to arise. This aversive state then motivated the restoration of consistency. Two behavioral routes were proposed. People could either actively change their actions, attitudes, or traits to be more congruent with the representations of the standard or could avoid the self-focusing stimuli and circumstances. Avoidance effectively terminates the comparison process and hence all self-evaluation. Early research found solid support for these basic ideas (Carver, 1975; Gibbons & Wicklund, 1976; Wicklund & Duval, 1971). Duval and Wicklund (1972) also assumed that objective self-awareness would generally be an aversive state--the probability that at least one self-standard discrepancy exists is quite high. This was the first assumption to be revised. Later work found that self-awareness can be a positive state when people are congruent with their standards (Greenberg & Musham, 1981; Ickes, Wicklund, & Ferris, 1973).

Functions of Affect in Self-Awareness Processes: An unresolved theoretical issue concerns the role of affect in self-awareness processes. Three general positions can be found. The first position, which is found in the original OSA theory (Duval & Wicklund, 1972; Wicklund, 1975), assumes that the negative affect created by self-standard discrepancies has a motivational character. Consistent with its roots in gestalt views of motivation (Heider, 1960) and past consistency theories (Festinger, 1957; Heider, 1958), the proposition of the model is that affect provided the energy and the incentive for the restoration of the preferred state of self-standard identity. A second position assumes that affect has an informational or monitoring function (Carver & Scheier, 1998). This view has its roots in cybernetic models of how action is controlled by online performance feedback (Miller et al., 1960). Affect serves this feedback function by indexing the velocity of goal progress. A third position is simply the view that discrepancies create affect but that the affect has no stated implications for later discrepancy reduction. In self-discrepancy theory, for example, it is unclear what functions anxiety, dejection, and so on serve in subsequent regulation (Higgins, 1987).

As before, the conflict within the broader area of inquiry implicates self-awareness theory. Emotion psychologists have always argued over the functions of affect. The prevailing position, proposed by Darwin (1872/1998) and promulgated primarily by Tomkins (1962,1981,1991) and his students (Izard, 1971, 1977), is that emotions motivate action. This broad notion is not very controversial: Ekman and Davidson (1994) listed "emotions have motivational properties" as one of the few things that "most students of emotion agree about" (p. 412), but it is not always clear what is meant by "motivation." Some theories assume that the motivating character of affect lies in its prioritizing effects (Oatley & Johnson-Laird, 1996; Tomkins, 1991). By adding incentive to one of many possible actions, emotions enable important adaptive activity in the face of other attractive possibilities. Other theories assume that emotions provide the energetic "oomph" toward a single action (Frijda, 1986). Emotions, in this view, are motivational because they direct and energize single adaptive actions. In addition, of course, there are theories that eschew motivation and instead argue for informational functions of affect. Carver and Scheier (1990,1998), for example, argued that affect is the output function of a system that monitors that rate of progress toward a goal. Affect thus indicates rather than motivates the intensity of activity. Batson, Shaw, and Oleson (1992) also argued that emotions are capable of amplifying motivational states, but they primarily give information about what is valued and preferred.

From this variety of perspectives, we are inclined toward the motivational position. There are certainly merits to the informational position advanced by Carver and Scheier (1990,1998). Affect processes dovetail seamlessly into their broader model of feedback and action control and can thus provide an internally consistent account of how emotions organize activity. Yet a considerable body of data supports the general view that emotions motivate activity, particularly the appearance of emotions before advanced cognition in infancy (Izard, 1978), the obvious motivating effects of emotions in cognitively simple animals (Darwin, 1872/1998), the links between emotional processes and incentive systems in the brain (Panksepp, 1998), and broad relations between emotions and autonomic activity (Levenson, 1992). With regard to self-awareness processes more specifically, there is a lot of support for the gestalt model of consistency motivation (Heider, 1960). The motivating character of cognitive dissonance, for example, is pretty well established (Elliot & Devine, 1994; Wicklund & Brehm, 1976). It seems reasonable that essentially similar self-standard consistency processes would have similar dynamic underpinnings. We thus view the informational model as serving a useful heuristic function within the cybernetic metaphor and the motivation model as more reflective of actual affect dynamics.

Automatic and Controlled Activity: Contemporary research commonly distinguishes different forms of thinking and acting, such as automatic versus controlled (Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977), mindless and mindful (Langer, 1978), and so forth. This distinction is central to recent theories of automatic activity (e.g., Bargh & Chartrand, 1999), which assume that behavior will be automatically guided by primed stereotypes and associations unless it is interrupted or otherwise regulated (Macrae & Johnston, 1998). Dijksterhuis and van Knippenberg (2000) extended this reasoning to objective self-awareness. They suggested that focusing attention on the self can break automatic links between priming and behavior because highly self-aware people consciously consider different action possibilities instead automatically following primed associations. Two studies found that persons low in self-focus showed the usual automaticity effects--for example, writing more garrulous essays after a "politician prime"--whereas highly self-aware persons were unaffected by priming manipulations (Dijksterhuis & van Knippenberg, 2000).

Yet we suggest that the correspondence between automatic versus controlled processing and subjective versus objective self-awareness is not as tidy as some might think. Although much activity in the subjective state is probably habitual and conducted without concern for one's standards, the objective state itself displays important aspects of automaticity. Objective self-awareness is not a dispassionate, reflective state in which people appraise the situation and then select a course of action. Focusing attention on the self is assumed to initiate an automatic process that compares the self against one or more standards. By automatic we mean that the comparison process occurs spontaneously and is not easily controlled or regulated by conscious, deliberate thought processes. Indeed, these comparisons need not occur consciously or involve standards that are themselves accessible to conscious awareness. This comparison process is assumed to follow gestalt consistency principles (Heider, 1960). The self-organizing nature of the comparison system is thus inherent in the system and might potentially be impervious to conscious circumvention (cf. Koffka, 1935; Wertheimer, 1945).

Research on self-awareness in clinical disorders shows how impenetrable this automatic evaluation process can be. Self-awareness is implicated in a broad range of clinical problems (see Wells & Matthews, 1994), many of which involve unfavorable self-evaluations. People suffering from depression and social anxiety, for example, often experience automatic negative thoughts about the self. Intensive therapy is needed to regulate these spontaneous evaluations and attributions. It is noteworthy that successful therapies cope with this problem by changing the unrealistic standards involved in the comparison process or by regulating the self-evaluation after the fact, as in reframing (e.g., Beck, 1967; Wells & Matthews, 1994). Actually inhibiting or preventing the comparison process appears to be difficult.

We suggest that different forms of information processing are relevant to objective self-awareness, but that the processes described by OSA theory do not neatly assimilate into these categories. OSA might derail automatic effects on behavior, though not because it invokes a conscious, reflective mode of processing. Instead, it changes what is important to people by diverting attention to an unresolved discrepancy and arousing motivation to do something about it (Silvia & Gendolla, in press). Certainly the automatic effects observed thus far have been emotionally neutral and self-irrelevant--and hence less important--than typical self-standard discrepancies. We have yet to see, for instance, automatic rejection of one's ambitions or interpersonal ostracization as a result of priming. Yet the intersections to date are intriguing, and more thought should be devoted to how automaticity and self-standard comparison interlock.
- Silvia, Paul J.; Duval, T. Shelley; Objective Self-Awareness Theory: Recent Progress and Enduring Problems; Personality & Social Psychology Review, 2001, Vol. 5 Issue 3
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.

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Personal Reflection Exercise #10
The preceding section contained information about examining Gestalt consistency principles in Objective Self-Awareness theory.  Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 24
According to OSA Theory and Gestalt views of motivation, how is negative affect created by self-standard discrepancies motivational? Record the letter of the correct answer the CEU Answer Booklet.

 
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The scientific future of counseling psychology: Five specific areas of predictions. - June 29, 2017
To honor the 125th anniversary of the American Psychological Association, the scientific future of counseling psychology is highlighted in this special section. Five areas of research growth are covered: three in psychotherapy (research relative to sexual and gender minorities, the importance of the client perspective, and applications of machine learning), one in the application of the cultural lens approach, and one on aspects of privilege. Each of these areas has specific, testable hypotheses that can serve as stimuli for future research. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
White male power and privilege: The relationship between White supremacy and social class. - June 29, 2017
Counseling psychologists have studied privilege as an individual behavior, belief, and attitude related to an individual’s privileged identity such as masculinity, Whiteness, or Christianity. Conceptualizing individual privileged identities in this way means that privileged identities may exist alongside marginalized intersectional identities. However, in this article, the author defines privilege as a multi-identity act that is facilitated and supported by institutions and organizations (e.g., banks, law enforcement, and schools). These institutions are defined as power-governors that regulate access to scaffolds of privilege afforded to the affluent and wealthy. The author posits that power-governors were created to support an ideology of White supremacy and to organize actors within the system to perpetuate and legitimize the status quo. The author describes the ways in which White wealthy men use privilege as a means to access and gain power while White men in lower- and working-classes use privilege to build relationships and legitimize inequality. The author also discusses the proxy privilege of White women and people of color and how this privilege is in fact restricted to specific physical spaces and is limited due to their overt marginalized identities. Recommendations for privilege research are provided. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
The future of counseling psychology research viewed through the cultural lens approach. - June 29, 2017
In this article, we address the need for the future of counseling psychology research to adequately address issues of relevance and application of our theories across cultural groups. We bring the cultural lens approach (CLA; Hardin, Robitschek, Flores, Navarro, & Ashton, 2014) home to its roots in counseling psychology and address the approach’s application specifically within counseling psychology theory. First we provide a brief description of the CLA. Then we offer an in-depth example of how to apply the CLA to a specific theory, using Super’s (1953, 1957) Life-Span, Life-Space Theory of Career Development, and more specifically, the self-concept as an example. Importantly, we articulate how the CLA yields specific, testable hypotheses, providing multiple examples. We conclude with implications of the CLA for implementation of counseling psychology values, evaluating psychological theory, and research training. Adopting the CLA in future counseling psychology research will increase the cultural sensitivity of our work and widen the relevance and applicability of our findings. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
Client-focused psychotherapy research. - June 29, 2017
Although the field of professional psychology has definitive evidence that therapy is effective, we do not yet have a good understanding of how therapy works or what makes it so effective. Although hundreds of research studies have been conducted on various aspects of psychotherapy, including client factors and outcome, in the current paper we argue that a key component of the psychotherapy enterprise that warrants additional empirical attention is the client. We readily acknowledge the need for researchers to continue to examine other aspects of psychotherapy, such as therapist factors, the therapy relationship, and the effectiveness of certain therapies or interventions for specific psychological conditions and problems. However, we believe that by pursuing research questions from the perspective of the client that we might be able to better understand clients’ experience in therapy and ways to tailor therapies and interventions to clients, uncover evidence about what actually engages and motivates the client, and gain a broader perspective about the nature of the therapy relationship. In the current paper we highlight fruitful areas for client-focused research, and within each area, we propose research questions that might stimulate further thinking and future empirical inquiries. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
Improving the lives of sexual and gender minorities: The promise of psychotherapy research. - June 29, 2017
Current psychotherapy research with sexual and gender minorities (SGMs) is inadequate to address the health disparities in this population. Psychotherapy can benefit from research demonstrating the unique experiences of SGMs with respect to behavioral health, internalized stigma, coping, and resilience. This article describes research approaches, questions, and measurement that can be employed to study psychotherapy. Given the impact of minority stress and microaggressions on SGM individuals, many of the recommendations provided in this article focus on how these components should be infused throughout a diverse range of psychotherapy interventions. Namely, we provide recommendations for researchers focusing on SGM populations in randomized controlled trials and psychotherapy process research. We also provide 7 specific recommendations that focus on psychotherapy research measurement with SGM populations and how researchers can focus their efforts to reduce disparities for SGM individuals. Finally, we identify additional constructs to consider for future intervention research with SGM individuals. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)

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