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On this track, we will review four guidelines for implementing Gestalt therapy with clients. These four guidelines are timing in applying Gestalt approaches, gradations in approaches, in and out of counseling, and individual differences among clients.
Four Guidelines for Implementing Gestalt Therapy
Guideline #1 -Timing
Clearly, the ideal time to implement Gestalt therapy approaches is early in the counseling relationship, when the client's expectations for the therapy and the therapeutic relationship are still being established. When the therapeutic relationship is well established, and the client is used to a specific style of interaction, introducing Gestalt approaches at the wrong time can be damaging. One of my supervisees, Allan, became very excited about Gestalt therapy, and was eager to implement the approaches he had learned with his clients.
During our weekly session, Allan stated, "I don’t know what went wrong. I was in my session with Betty, and she was mentioning her new boyfriend, and I just got really in sync with the discrepancies between her verbal and nonverbal communications. So, I brought them up, just like we learned how to do. All of a sudden, she's hostile and defensive… she just shut down on me!" Track 6 will outline four ways in which a therapist can respond to a client's nonverbal behavior using Gestalt therapy.
I stated to Allan, "Well, your perceptions of her behaviors certainly seem accurate. But there seem to be two factors that contributed to Betty's being defensive.
-- First, you had never responded to her nonverbal behavior in a session before.
Second, you didn't introduce the approach you were using, so Betty did not know what to expect.
In the future, you might want to consider carefully introducing the ideas of Gestalt therapy, and starting by implementing only one or two approaches at a time. Implementing complicated or multiple approaches early on might overload Betty."
Guideline #2 - Gradations in Approaches
The second guideline in implementing Gestalt therapy is gradations in approaches. As you know, a client may not be able to respond immediately to a given approach. Anne had several things she wanted to say to her son, Daniel, who had been killed in a motorcycle accident three years ago. When I began seeing Anne, she could not even bring herself to say Daniel's name. Clearly, beginning to work through her feelings in a dialogue fashion was out of the question. For Anne, working on talking about Daniel was a positive gradation towards being able to talk about, and express, her feelings.
Guideline #3 - In and Out of Counseling
In addition to timing and gradations, the third guideline I have found in applying Gestalt approaches is discussing behavior in and out of counseling. I find that it is very important to discuss the difference between in-counseling behaviors and out-of-counseling behaviors with clients. My client Kevin experienced a great deal of stress due to what he felt to be constant criticism from his family about his decision to go to art school.
As a learning experiment in the session, we role-played Kevin shouting "Shut up!" to each person who criticized him. We then channeled this experiment into discussing appropriate and constructive assertive responses. However, I am sure you can imagine the counterproductive nature if this exercise if Kevin were to misinterpret the activity, and began shouting "Shut up!" at his family every time they criticized him.
Do you have a client who needs to be reminded of the difference between appropriate behavior in and appropriate behavior out of counseling?
Guideline #4 - Individual Differences Among Clients
The fourth important guideline in applying Gestalt approaches is the concept of individual differences among clients. As you know, a Gestalt approach that works amazingly well for one client may be unproductive with another. In Gestalt therapy, I find one of the first considerations I make in gauging the appropriateness of a technique often time is my clients is age.
Do you agree? While a young child might be highly responsive to imagining "being" another person to understand his or her feelings, the same young child might have difficulty accepting the responsibility for how he or she makes himself or herself feel happy, frustrated, or jealous. As you have experienced, adult clients also differ in the degree of responsibility they can accept for their own feelings.
On this track, we have discussed four guidelines for implementing Gestalt therapy with clients. These four guidelines are timing in applying Gestalt approaches, gradations in approaches, differentiating behavior in and out of counseling, and individual differences among clients.
On the next track we will discuss three important considerations in approaches for enhancing a client's present awareness. These three considerations are, awareness helps in focusing on the "now", awareness of self, and awareness of surroundings.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Elliott, R. (2014). Review of Gestalt therapy in clinical practice: From psychopathology to the aesthetics of contact [Review of the book Gestalt therapy in clinical practice: From psychopathology to the aesthetics of contact, by G. Francesetti, M. Gecele & J. Roubal, Eds.]. Psychotherapy, 51(3), 462–463.
Klapp, S. T., & Jagacinski, R. J. (2011). Gestalt principles in the control of motor action. Psychological Bulletin, 137(3), 443–462.
Tønnesvang, J., Sommer, U., Hammink, J., & Sonne, M. (2010). Gestalt therapy and cognitive therapy—Contrasts or complementarities? Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 47(4), 586–602.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION
What are four guidelines for implementing Gestalt therapy with clients?
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