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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.

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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Table of Contents

Intersectionality research in counseling psychology. - October 19, 2017
This article introduces the special section on intersectionality research in counseling psychology. Across the 4 manuscripts that constitute this special section, a clear theme emerges: a need to return to the roots and politics of intersectionality. Importantly, the 2 empirical articles in this special section (Jerald, Cole, Ward, & Avery, 2017; Lewis, Williams, Peppers, & Gadson, 2017) are studies of Black women’s experiences: a return, so to speak, to the subject positions and social locations from which intersectionality emanates. Shin et al. (2017) explore why this focus on Black feminist thought and social justice is so important by highlighting the persistent weaknesses in how much research published in leading counseling psychology journals has tended to use intersectionality as a way to talk about multiple identities, rather than as a framework for critiquing systemic, intersecting forms of oppression and privilege. Shin and colleagues also point to the possibilities intersectionality affords us when scholars realize the transformative potential of this critical framework. Answers to this call for transformative practices are foregrounded in Moradi and Grzanka’s (2017) contribution, which surveys the interdisciplinary literature on intersectionality and presents a series of guidelines for using intersectionality responsibly. We close with a discussion of issues concerning the applications of intersectionality to counseling psychology research that spans beyond the contributions of each manuscript in this special section. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
The intersectionality framework and identity intersections in the Journal of Counseling Psychology and The Counseling Psychologist: A content analysis. - October 19, 2017
The framework of intersectionality is a powerful analytical tool for making sense of how interlocking systems of privilege and oppression are experienced by individuals and groups. Despite the long history of the concept, intersectionality has only recently gained attention in psychology. We conducted a content analysis to assess counseling psychology’s engagement with an intersectional perspective. All articles published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology (n = 4,800) and The Counseling Psychologist (n = 1,915) from their first issues until July 2016 were reviewed to identify conceptual and empirical work focused on intersectionality. A total of 40 articles were identified and examined for themes. Limitations and future directions are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
Applying intersectionality to explore the relations between gendered racism and health among Black women. - October 19, 2017
The purpose of this study was to apply an intersectionality framework to explore the influence of gendered racism (i.e., intersection of racism and sexism) on health outcomes. Specifically, we applied intersectionality to extend a biopsychosocial model of racism to highlight the psychosocial variables that mediate and moderate the influence of gendered racial microaggressions (i.e., subtle gendered racism) on health outcomes. In addition, we tested aspects of this conceptual model by exploring the influence of gendered racial microaggressions on the mental and physical health of Black women. In addition, we explored the mediating role of coping strategies and the moderating role of gendered racial identity centrality. Participants were 231 Black women who completed an online survey. Results from regression analyses indicated that gendered racial microaggressions significantly predicted both self-reported mental and physical health outcomes. In addition, results from mediation analyses indicated that disengagement coping significantly mediated the link between gendered racial microaggressions and negative mental and physical health. In addition, a moderated mediation effect was found, such that individuals who reported a greater frequency of gendered racial microaggressions and reported lower levels of gendered racial identity centrality tended to use greater disengagement coping, which in turn, was negatively associated with mental and physical health outcomes. Findings of this study suggest that gendered racial identity centrality can serve a buffering role against the negative mental and physical health effects of gendered racism for Black women. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
Controlling images: How awareness of group stereotypes affects Black women’s well-being. - October 19, 2017
This paper presents research exploring how stereotypes that are simultaneously racialized and gendered affect Black women. We investigated the mental and physical health consequences of Black women’s awareness that others hold these stereotypes and tested whether this association was moderated by the centrality of racial identity. A structural equation model tested among 609 young Black women revealed that metastereotype awareness (i.e., being aware that others hold negative stereotypes of one’s group) predicted negative mental health outcomes (e.g., depression, anxiety, hostility), which, in turn, predicted diminished self-care behaviors and greater drug and alcohol use for coping. High racial centrality exacerbated the negative association between metastereotype awareness and self-care. We discuss implications of the findings for clinical practice and for approaches to research using intersectionality frameworks. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)
Using intersectionality responsibly: Toward critical epistemology, structural analysis, and social justice activism. - October 19, 2017
The increasing popularity of the concept of intersectionality in the social sciences, including in psychology, represents an opportunity to reflect on the state of stewardship of this concept, its roots, and its promise. In this context, the authors aim to promote responsible stewardship of intersectionality and to tip the momentum of intersectionality’s flourishing toward fuller use and engagement of its roots and promise for understanding and challenging dynamics of power, privilege, and oppression. To this end, this article provides a set of guidelines for reflection and action. The authors organize these guidelines along 3 major formulations of intersectionality: intersectionality as a field of study, as analytic strategy or disposition, and as critical praxis for social justice. Ultimately, the authors call for expanding the use of intersectionality toward fuller engagement with its roots in Black feminist thought, its current interdisciplinary richness and potential, and its central aims to challenge and transform structures and systems of power, privilege, and oppression. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)

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