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Enhancing Your Therapy with Gestalt Approaches
Gestalt Therapy continuing education addiction counselor CEUs

Section 13
Track #13 - 4 Key Factors in Addressing Avoidance & Using the 'Rule Book' Technique

CEU Question 13 | CEU Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Gestalt
Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs

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On the last track, we discussed two aspects of bipolarities.  These two aspects are, the topdog and underdog, and opposites.

On this track, we will discuss four important factors to consider in addressing avoidance in Gestalt therapy.  These four factors are, contrasting avoidance and expression, avoidance is an ongoing self-regulatory process, avoidance is not a sign of weakness, and a vast majority of clients will engage in avoidance at some time. We will also discuss the Rule Book technique.

Four Important Factors in Addressing Avoidance

Share on Facebook Factor #1 - Contrasting Avoidance and Expression
A first important factor to consider in addressing avoidance in Gestalt therapy is the misconception that avoidance and expression are vastly different.  Of course, in one sense this difference is true, since avoidances insures that feelings stay within the client and are not acted upon directly, although there may be displacements and leakages.  Expression occurs when feelings are experienced and acted on directly. 

I have found that a common description of the difference is that “expression is something the client has to do, while avoidance keeps the client from doing what has to be done.”  However, I feel that avoidance should be regarded as an active process.  A client who is avoiding a feeling is operationalizing an adjustment he or she believes is necessary.  This can be seen as a manifestation of self; the client is doing what he or she truly believes is the best for him or herself at the moment.  Would you agree?

Share on Facebook Factor #2 - Avoidance if Ongoing Self-Regulatory Process
A second factor to consider in addressing avoidance is that avoidance deserves respect as an ongoing self-regulatory process.  Remember Allan, my supervisee from Track 1?  Allan stated, “But isn’t avoidance a problem, like resistance?  Don’t you need to get past it to work on the problem?”  I stated, “In Gestalt therapy, avoidance is generally best regarded as something the client does, rather as what is not being done.  Therapy focused on what a client avoids is as legitimate a topic as any other.”

Share on Facebook Factor #3 - Not a Sign of Weakness
In addition to contrasting avoidance and expression; and avoidance as an ongoing self-regulatory process, a third  factor to consider is that avoidance is not a sign of weakness. There is considerable strength and energy involved in avoidance.  As you know, a powerful feeling will clamor for attention in a client’s awareness.  The force a client must exert in avoiding this feeling must be at least equal, or the feeling would emerge.

Share on Facebook Factor #4 - Vast Majority of Clients Engage in Avoidance
A fourth important factor to consider in addressing avoidance in Gestalt therapy is that a vast majority of clients will engage in avoidance at some point in time.  As you have experienced, most of these clients will not be aware of their avoidance. I have found that helping a client explore how he or she avoids certain feelings can lead to his or her questioning whether he or she has to continue avoiding those feelings. 

This, in turn, can lead to experimenting with experiencing and owning the feeling.  This is, in my experience, a necessary process in reintegrating the avoided feeling within the client’s personality.

My client Zach, age 15, frequently displayed glimpses of feelings that he avoided letting himself experience.  In one of our first sessions, Zach stated, “Sometimes I feel a little jealous of my friends, but then I feel upset.  I know I’m not supposed to feel that way about my friends!”  I asked Zach who told him he was not supposed to feel jealousy. 

Zach stated, “Well, everybody.  It’s not a nice feeling.  My parent’s have always told me it’s not nice.”  When I asked Zach who told him now that he was not allowed to feel jealousy, Zach stated, “I guess I do.”  Clearly, Zach’s statements were full of rule stems indicating avoidance, such as “I’m not allowed to feel, because.”  To help increase Zach’s awareness of his avoidance, I introduced the Rule Book technique. 

Share on Facebook Technique: Rule Book
I stated to Zach, “It sounds like you have a rule, ‘I’m not supposed to feel jealous.’  What other rules do you have about what you should and shouldn’t feel?”  Zach laughed, and stated “There’s a lot of them.”   I stated to Zach, “I believe you.  Let’s try an experiment to see how you create these rules.  Suppose you were writing a book called ‘Zach’s Rules.’  What would you put down as the first rule?” 

In this technique, the therapist walks the client through writing down his or her personal rules on paper.  This can increase the client’s awareness of these rules, and can help the client recognize feelings he or she avoids as a reflex due to these rules. 

Think of your Zach.  Would he or she benefit from the Rule Book technique?

On this track, we have discussed four important factors to consider in addressing avoidance in Gestalt therapy.  These four factors are, contrasting avoidance and expression, avoidance is an ongoing self-regulatory process, avoidance is not a sign of weakness, and a vast majority of clients will engage in avoidance at some time. We also discussed the Rule Book technique.

On the next track, we will discuss we will discuss four concepts regarding acceptance of feelings.  These four concepts are, avoided feelings can be a source of difficulty, problems with beginning to accept feelings, building confidence, and confronting the idea of acceptance.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 13
What are four factors to consider in addressing avoidance from a Gestalt point of view? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Answer Booklet.

 
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