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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
| CEU Answer Booklet | Table of Contents
| 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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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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