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Section 2
Gestalt: Considerations in Enhancing Awareness

CEU Question 2 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Gestalt
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On the last track, we discussed four guidelines for implementing Gestalt therapy with clients.  These four guidelines were timing in applying Gestalt approaches, gradations in approaches, differentiating behavior in and out of counseling, and individual differences among clients.

On this track, we will discuss three considerations in Gestalt 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. 

Three Considerations for Enhancing Awareness

Consideration #1 - Focusing on the 'Now'
When I introduced Gestalt therapy to Suzanne, age 21 she stated, "I'm not sure I understand about awareness.  I am here because I've been a little stressed about school.  How is being aware going to help me?"  I explained to Suzanne that the first important concept in enhancing present awareness is that awareness helps regarding focusing on  the "now." 

Suzanne stated, "But why is now so important!?  What I'm worried about is graduating next year, getting all the credits I need, and keeping my grades up... and getting a job after I graduate!!"  I stated to Suzanne, "Let's try an experiment.  First, start tapping your foot on the floor.  Now, at the same time, start snapping your fingers.  What do you notice?"  Suzanne stated, "Wow, it's hard to concentrate on doing both at the same time!" 

I stated, "Right, it's pretty difficult to focus on two things at once; like focusing on now and the future at the same time.  Human beings can only make changes in the now.  But if our attention is divided, it's hard to make those changes, just like it's hard to tap your foot and snap your fingers at the same time. By training our awareness regarding now, we can learn to focus on the now, where we can make change."

Consideration #2 - Awareness of Self
The second consideration for enhancing a client's awareness is awareness of self.  As you know, an important principle of Gestalt psychology is that a person is inseparable from his environment.  Therefore, for a person to live effectively he must have sufficient awareness of him or herself and his or her environment. In Gestalt psychology, a person is composed of several parts that make the whole self.  These parts include the structures of the body, the movements of the body, body processes, sensations in nerves and muscles, emotions, and thoughts. 

3-Step Technique: My Movements
To help Suzanne begin to increase her awareness of self, I introduced the "My Movements" technique. Although this exercise focuses only on the neck and head, the "My Movements" technique can be easily adapted to encompass all of the client's body.

I stated to Suzanne, "I'm going to walk you through a set of movements.  Try to focus on how each movement feels.  As you make these movements, notice what you can observe about each one.  Are your movements more fluid or more jerky?  Can you notice how different movements in one part of your body result in sensations and movements in connected parts?  Are you asking your body to move in ways that do not fit its structure?

Step #1. Start with your neck.  Rotate your head and feel the range of motion your neck allows… Now, make your neck hard and rigid, focusing on the muscles near your spine.  Does this feel familiar?  Now release the muscles at the back of your neck… How does that feel? 
Step #2. Now, focus on your head. Try some biting motions with your jaw… Clamp your jaw shut… Now let it hang open.  Feel how you can move your jaw side to side as well…
Step #3. Next, focus on your face.  Notice how your nose feels when you open your eyes wider than usual.  Now squint… Now clamp your eyes shut.  Open your eyes, and with your head still, roll your eyes around as if you were tracing "X's" in the air with them.  Move the muscles behind your eyebrows up and down.  How does this feel?"

Consideration #3 - Awareness of Surrounding
In addition to the fact that awareness helps in focusing on the "now", and awareness of self, the third consideration in enhancing awareness is awareness of surroundings.  According to Perls, interactions between a person and his or her environment are dependent on his or her awareness of that environment.  Thus, a fuzzy awareness of the environment will render a person less effective in coping with the environment to meet his or her needs.  In addition, this fuzzy contact may cause a person to miss out on stimulation in his or her environment that could contribute to growth. 

Six Step Sight Experiment

To help Suzanne learn to increase her awareness of her environment through seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling, I invited her to participate in a "sight experiment."  Here are the six steps I used with Suzanne.

-- 1. Let your eyes explore your current surroundings.  Let them rest on any object which holds some interest for you.  Attend to this object.  Notice its shape, color, and form.  Notice the relationship between this object and its background.
-- 2.  Let your eyes move again.  This time, chose a color and stay looking at it.  Do you notice any changes in the color after a few moments? 
-- 3. Pick out another object and look at it carefully for several moments.  Move your eyes away.  Repeat this several times, noticing what happens when you look away.
-- 4. Pick out a dull, uninteresting object and examine its color, shape, and size.  Notice your attitude towards this object.  Do you feel any differences in attitude as you examine it? 
-- 5.  Now, close your eyes for a few minutes.  When you open them, be aware of the first object you focus on.  Notice the sharpness of your vision after the slight rest.  Feel the control you have over focusing your vision. 
-- 6.  Alternate between letting your eyes wander, and consciously directing where you are looking.  How do your experiences differ as a result?

Think of your Suzanne.  Would your Suzanne benefit from using this sight experiment as a tool to help him or her increase his or her awareness of the now?

On this track, we have discussed 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. 

On the next track, we will discuss three techniques that can enhance a client's awareness during counseling.  These three techniques are repeating, exaggeration, and staying with.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Bird, B. M., & Jonnson, M. R. (2020). Have a seat: Supervisee perspectives on using chair-based role plays in clinical supervision. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 30(1), 25–35.

Cavaleri, P. A. (2020). A gestalt therapy reading of the pandemic. The Humanistic Psychologist, 48(4), 347–352.

Furley, P., Kohlhaas, S., Englert, C., Nieuwenhuys, A., & Bertrams, A. (2019). The expression of ego depletion: Thin slices of nonverbal behavior as cues to momentary self-control capacity. Social Psychology, 50(5-6), 305–321.

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. 

Wiekens, C. J., & Stapel, D. A. (2010). Self-awareness and saliency of social versus individualistic behavioral standards. Social Psychology, 41(1), 10–19.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 2
What are three important considerations for in approaches regarding enhancing a client's present awareness? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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