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

Section 19
Gestalt Techniques and Metaphor Analysis
in the Treatment of Depression

CEU Question 19 | CEU Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Gestalt
Social Worker CEUs, Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, MFT CEUs

Apart from aiding in expression, metaphors can serve several functions during psychotherapy. They may facilitate (e.g. Barlow et al., 1977; Strong, 1989), provide novel avenues of self growth and suggest new solutions (Berlin et al., 1991; McMullen, 1985; Strong, 1989) as well as enhance the communication between the client and the therapist by introducing new experiential terminology into the session (Angus & Rennie, 1988; Huckins, 1992; Ingram, 1994; McMullen, 1985; Rasmussen & Angus, 1996, 1997).

The present study involves the application of two process measures, the Narrative Process Coding System (NPCS; Angus et al., 1996) and the Experiencing Scale (Klein et al., 1970), to discourse units (narrative sequences) which include metaphors relating to themes of 'burden' (or, for the sake of brevity, 'metaphored-sequences') in one good and one poor-outcome process experiential dyad.  The process-experiential approach to psychotherapy combines various aspects of client-centered and gestalt approaches (Greenberg et al., 1993). It focuses on clients' present experience and expression in order to facilitate emotional change and experiential processing. Active interventions are used including empathy work, such as Gendlin's (1996) focusing, and process-directive techniques, such as gestalt two-chair exercises and the evocation and intensification of emotion.

The purpose of the present study is to develop an understanding of how 'burden' metaphors were used in a productive therapy, in contrast with the less successful approaches, as well as to further explore how metaphors may be used as markers of client change in psychotherapy. For this study, frequency of metaphoric phrases are not being used as a measure of outcome (a battery of client-rated outcome measures are employed for this purpose) but rather the relationship between the occurrence of metaphor phrases and therapy outcome will be examined. Since little is known about how metaphors evolve over the course of therapy, this investigation is exploratory in nature with the goal of developing grounded hypotheses for future analyses.

Outcome measures. Standardized client-report measures were used to evaluate therapy outcome. Pretherapy and post-therapy client ratings on the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI; Beck et al. 1961), the Symptom Check List-90 (SCL-90R; Derogatis, 1983), the Inventory for Interpersonal Problems (IIP; Horowitz et al., 1988), the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE; Rosenberg, 1965) and the Target Complaints (Battle et al., 1968) were compared in order to identify the therapies as either a good or a poor outcome.

The experiencing scale. The Experiencing Scale (Klein et al., 1970) is a measure of the clients' emotional involvement in therapy. It examines the construct of 'experiencing' which is defined as 'the extent to which inner referents become the felt data of attention, and the degree to which efforts are made to focus on, expand, and probe those data' (Klein et al., 1986, p. 21). The Experiencing Scale is derived from Gendlin's experiential theory and Roger's client-centered theory and is one of the first widely used therapeutic process measures (Hill & Corbett, 1993).

Narrative process coding system. Angus et al. (1992,1996) have developed a method of examining the similarities and differences between approaches to therapy. At first, topic segments are identified, which are based upon the changing thematic content within a therapy session transcript. Then, within these topic segments, psychotherapeutic discourse is divided into units conceptualized according to one of three narrative process codes: external or story-telling sequences (e.g. 'My mother told me a horrible story yesterday, it was about...'); internal or emotion-related sequences (e.g. 'Sadness just wells up in me. I hate hearing about other people in pain...'); and reflexive or self-analytic sequences (e.g. 'It seems that I'd rather run away and not listen, just like my father used to do'). This generic, comprehensive classification system, derived from research on several therapeutic approaches, can provide sequences upon which process measures can be applied and contrasted (Angus & Hardtke, 1994; Levitt & Angus, 2000). The smallest units in the system must include at least four complete sentences, in order to provide enough data to be meaningfully rated, the average narrative sequence in the NPCS system has been found to be 30 sentences in length (Hardtke, 1996; Levitt, 1993).

Metaphor analysis. Metaphors were identified using Lakoff and Johnson's inclusive definition, that being 'the understanding of one thing in terms of another' (1980,p. 3). Metaphors initiated by either the client or therapist were identified. Inter-rater reliability on the identification of metaphors in two therapy sessions achieved an agreement level of 87%. The two raters identified a total of 365 metaphors in these sessions.

In this study, the 'burden' metaphor theme was selected as it was found to capture an essential element of the client experience of depression (Korman & Angus, under review). All metaphors were identified in both the good and the poor outcome therapies. Once it was established that the good and poor dyads shared the theme of 'carrying a heavy burden' the analysis was focused on that theme. Only those metaphors which were agreed upon by two of the researchers to have a 'burden' theme were included in the study.

Metaphors were identified as either having a 'burdened' or 'unloading' quality, in correspondence with the findings from the Korman and Angus study (under review). The good- outcome dyad examined in the present study was one of the dyads analyzed in the Korman and Angus study.

The metaphors in the good outcome therapy were found to evolve from an emphasis on the experience of 'carrying a burden' in the initial sessions to the experience of 'unloading the burden' in later sessions (Korman, 1995). As the client in this therapy made progress in terms of realizing that she was not responsible for the behavior of others around her, she began to feel relieved of her depression. In contrast, the poor outcome dyad had no such pattern. Although metaphors of weight or heaviness continued throughout the therapy and the client would occasionally use metaphors of unloading, these were often in a wishful tone rather than as an expression of ongoing relief (e.g. 'I wish I could get this off my back' versus 'I feel like a burden has been lifted from me'). The expression of burden in these two dyads did seem to mirror their respective outcomes and to symbolize the clients' struggle with their depression.

Metaphor-theme research provides a heuristic for tracking clients' evolution in psychotherapy. In this study, the analysis of metaphored-sequences seemed to differentiate the good and the poor outcome therapy dyads in two key ways: (1) the content of the metaphor phrases; and (2) the processes which occurred when the metaphors were used, as indicated by differences in experiencing scale ratings and NPCS coding. In terms of content change, metaphors seem to be a useful marker for psychotherapeutic change, as the 'burdened' theme in the good-outcome was transformed into an 'unloading' theme, a change which was not evident in the poor outcome.

A limitation of this study results from its focus on only one dyad from each outcome condition. Although the purpose of this study was to generate hypotheses about the use of metaphors in psychotherapy in relation to outcome, the therapeutic outcome variable was confounded with therapist and client variables making it difficult to separate these causal factors. Caution should be exercised therefore when generalizing these results to other dyads. The study has, however, generated grounded and useful hypotheses in an area in which there has been limited empirical research.  First, it suggests that it may be beneficial for therapists to focus clients on the feelings embedded in their metaphors (e.g. engaging internal narrative processes and middle levels of experiencing) and to help clients to comprehend the meaning or metaphors in the context of their lives (e.g. engaging in reflexive narrative processes and high levels of experiencing). Second, as sequences in the poor outcome dyad with 'burden' metaphors introduced by the therapist had lower experiencing ratings than client- introduced metaphor sequences, while the reverse was found in the good outcome dyad, it appears useful to explore whether productive therapists might use metaphor in a way which encourages emotional-connection in contrast with less productive therapists. It would be of interest to examine these hypotheses in a future outcome study using a larger sample size, and including both good and poor outcome dyads by the same therapist, in order to distinguish therapeutic outcome from therapist and client variables. As a marker of client-change, metaphor analyses can provide a targeted method of examining shifts in client's experience of depression, which can be useful for therapy researchers and therapists alike. This current study indicates that metaphor analysis can be used to track therapeutic change and can be a powerful representation of human experience.
- Levitt, Heidi; Korman, Yifaht; Angus, Lynne; A metaphor analysis in treatments of depression: metaphor as a marker of change; Counselling Psychology Quarterly, Mar2000, Vol. 13 Issue 1
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.

Personal Reflection Exercise #5
The preceding section contained information about Gestalt techniques and metaphor analysis in the treatment of depression.  Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 19
According to Levitt, why is metaphor analysis useful in the treatment of depression? Record the letter of the correct answer the CEU Answer Booklet.

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Table of Contents

The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.
Being in-between: A model of cultural identity negotiation for emerging adult immigrants. - March 15, 2018
This qualitative study explored the cultural identity negotiation of young adult immigrants. Using a grounded theory research design, 10 semistructured interviews were conducted with emerging adult immigrants (EAI), ages 19–27. Results yielded a substantive model of cultural identity negotiation (MCIN) for EAI and posited that One’s Motivation and Sense of Agency to Negotiate Cultural Identity is at the core of how participants navigate their cultural identities. This model included 6 major categories: (a) Family Cultural Rigidity; (b) Connections Specific to Canada; (c) Connection to a Same Cultured Community; (d) Sense of Permanency; (e) Desire to Preserve Culture of Origin; (f) Desire to Fit in to Canadian Culture, as well as 2 overarching factors (Dimension of Time and Dimension of Age), which were found to be influential on participants’ cultural identity negotiation. The model also included the identification of 4 approaches to cultural identity negotiation: (a) Blended; (b) Dual; (c) Disconnected; and (d) Intermediate. The MCIN for EAI is discussed in terms of the current literature on cultural identity formation as well as implications for counseling psychology training and practice. Recommendations for further research are also suggested. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)
Helping others increases meaningful work: Evidence from three experiments. - May 11, 2017
The aim of the current research was to examine whether manipulating task significance increased the meaningfulness of work among students (Study 1), an online sample of working adults (Study 2), and public university employees (Study 3). In Study 1, students completed a typing task for the benefit of themselves, a charity, or someone they knew would directly benefit from their work. People who worked to benefit someone else, rather than themselves, reported greater task meaningfulness. In Study 2, a representative, online sample of employees reflected on a time when they worked to benefit themselves or someone else at work. Results revealed that people who reflected on working to benefit someone else, rather than themselves, reported greater work meaningfulness. In Study 3, public university employees participated in a community intervention by working as they normally would, finding new ways to help people each day, or finding several new ways to help others on a single day. People who helped others many times in a single day experienced greater gains in work meaningfulness over time. Across 3 experimental studies, we found that people who perceived their work as helping others experienced more meaningfulness in their work. This highlights the potential mechanisms practitioners, employers, and other parties can use to increase the meaningfulness of work, which has implications for workers’ well-being and productivity. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)
Change in post-traumatic cognitions mediates treatment effects for traumatized youth—A randomized controlled trial. - March 15, 2018
Posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) are associated with serious impairments in psychological, social, and academic functioning in youth. The aim of this study was to investigate whether changes in posttraumatic cognitions mediate treatment effects. Participants were multitraumatized youth (N = 156, mean age = 15.1 years, range = 10–18; 79.5% girls) randomly assigned to receive trauma-focused cognitive–behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) or treatment-as-usual (TAU). Mixed-effects models were applied to investigate the impact of treatment conditions on posttraumatic cognitions. Mediation analyses were applied to examine whether changes in posttraumatic cognitions mediated the relationship between treatment conditions and outcome in posttraumatic stress symptoms, depressive symptoms, and general mental health. Participants receiving TF-CBT reported significantly lower levels of negative posttraumatic cognitions at the end of treatment compared to participants in TAU. Change in posttraumatic cognitions mediated the treatment effect difference found for PTSS. When the overall change in cognition was divided into early and late changes, it was only the late change that significantly mediated the PTSS treatment effect. A mediation effect of posttraumatic cognitions was also found for the treatment effect difference in depressive symptoms and in general mental health symptoms. Traumatized youth report having many negative posttraumatic cognitions and changes in negative cognitions plays a key role for treatment outcome. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)
Discrimination, work outcomes, and mental health among women of color: The protective role of womanist attitudes. - March 15, 2018
With a sample of employed women of color (N = 276), we tested the associations of sexist and racist discrimination with poor work outcomes (job-related burnout and turnover intentions) and mental health outcomes (i.e., psychological distress). Drawing from the Theory of Work Adjustment, Organizational Support Theory, and scholarship on discrimination, we tested perceived person-organization (P-O) fit, perceived organizational support, and self-esteem as mediators of the associations of workplace discrimination with the outcomes. Based on intersectionality scholarship, womanist attitudes were tested as a moderator. Participants provided cross-sectional data via an online survey. Latent variable structural equation modeling results indicated that a second-order latent workplace discrimination variable yielded better fit to the data than modeling sexist and racist discrimination separately. Workplace discrimination was directly and indirectly (via the mediating role of self-esteem) associated with higher psychological distress. Furthermore, workplace discrimination was indirectly associated with poor work outcomes through the mediating roles of perceived P-O fit, perceived organizational support, and self-esteem. Last, moderation analyses indicated that higher womanist attitudes weakened the direct association of workplace discrimination with psychological distress. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)
Associations among psychological distress, high-risk activism, and conflict between ethnic-racial and sexual minority identities in lesbian, gay, bisexual racial/ethnic minority adults. - July 06, 2017
In this brief report, we present results from a study exploring the associations of high-risk activism (HRA) orientation in lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) issues; HRA orientation in racial/ethnic issues; conflicts in allegiances (CIA) between one’s ethnic-racial and sexual minority identities; and anxiety among LGB racial/ethnic minority adults. A racially and ethnically diverse sample of 208 LGB racial/ethnic minority adults (age: M = 27.52, SD = 8.76) completed an online survey. Bivariate correlations showed that HRA orientation in LGB and in racial/ethnic issues, as well as CIA, were each positively associated with anxiety. However, regression analyses indicated that CIA moderated the association between anxiety and HRA orientation in LGB issues (but not racial/ethnic minority issues) such that this association was significant and positive at low levels of CIA and nonsignificant at high levels of CIA. These findings can be used to not only inform psychological practice with this population (e.g., by encouraging practitioners to be more attentive to these issues as potential sources of stress), but also more broadly, as knowledge that can inform the burgeoning psychological literature on collective action. We highlight, for example, the importance of distinguishing between types of activism (i.e., high- vs. low-risk types) in relation to mental health outcomes. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)

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