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

Section 10
Gestalt Therapy: Bringing Self to the Present

CEU Question 10 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Gestalt
Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

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On the last track, we discussed two orienting points of implementing Dialogues in Gestalt therapy.  These two orienting points are the client plays both parts, and using two chairs.  We also discussed the Puppeteer Technique.

On this track, we will discuss three Gestalt strategies for helping a client "presentize", or facilitating the client's bringing him or herself into the "now".  The three strategies we will discuss are presentizing the past, reclaiming, and presentizing 'when'.

In my experience, Gestalt therapy's focus on the present can be a concern for those new to the theory.  When I was first introduced to Gestalt therapy, I questioned whether, since the Gestalt approach is geared towards the immediate "now" and the present, does Gestalt therapy have no validity in counseling focused on the client's past?  The answer, I discovered, is "no." 

As you know, through presentizing, the client uses fantasy to bring the events of the past into the present.  The client is asked to relate past events as though they were happening in the "now", using "I am" and "I feel" rather than "I was" or "I felt."  I have found that this presentizing leads to possibilities of reexamination, discovery, changes in attitude, and the completion of unfinished business. 

I feel that the most important aspect of this presentizing is that the client may gain a fresh perspective on the event as it occurred, which may be quite different from a client's distorted memory.

Three Strategies for Helping a Client 'Presentize'

Strategy #1 - Presentizing the Past
A first strategy for helping the client to presentize is presentizing the past. As I mentioned, presentizing the past invites the client to experience a past event in the present. My client Amy, age 16, frequently had difficulty with bullies at her highschool. In our last session, Amy matter-of-factly stated, "I guess you heard I got beat up on my way to school last week. I was just past the corner store when these three girls just tore my backpack away from me and started hitting me."  Amy displayed no emotion connected to the event. 

I stated, "Amy, I'd like you to try telling me the whole story of how those three girls attacked you, as if it were happening right now.  Start with, 'here I am, walking to school…'"  Amy stated, "I'm on my way to school, walking the same way I do every morning.  As I walk past the corner store, I see these three girls standing on the other side of the street looking at me. I recognize them from school.  They're tough girls."  I asked Amy, "How do you feel as you see these girls?" 

Amy replied, "I got a little nervous."  I stated to Amy, "'I am a little nervous.'"  Amy continued, "I am nervous because they're looking at me funny.  I start walking faster to get past them, and then one of them yells, 'hey, Amy!' in a nasty voice." At this point, Amy's voice began to get shaky.  Amy stated, "I'm getting scared, so I start to run as fast as I can, but one of them grabs my backpack.  They're hitting me and…."  As she told me about the attack, Amy began to cry. 

When Amy was talking about the event in the past, Amy's feelings were not connected with the attack.  By presentizing the attack, the feelings that Amy experienced were allowed into the present, where they could be expressed and shared in full. 

Think of your Amy.  Is there a past event that he or she would benefit from presentizing using this strategy?

Strategy #2 - Reclaiming
A second strategy for helping the client to presentize is reclaiming. As you know, splits within a client can take place at all stages of development. As a result, the client leaves behind some part of him or herself that was of value. As long as the client no longer experiences this lost part, the person will not be capable of reclaiming it. Identifying with this split part and experiencing it in the present is a first step in reclaiming. 

Remember Larry, from Track 4?  In a recent session, Larry stated, "You know, I really envy kids sometimes. I envy them being so free, able to play." I stated, "It sounds like you have put that childlike part of you under wraps."  Larry stated, "Oh, a long time ago. When I got to be 13 or so, I was told that I had to grow up, be a man.  Men don't just run around like kids." To assist Larry is beginning to reclaim this alienated child-like part of himself, I asked Larry to try the "When I was 12" technique.

4 Step Technique: When I was 12
-- 1.  First, I asked Larry to imagine himself as he was at age 12, and to describe himself.  Larry stated, "I'm shorter, and really skinny.  My knees are knobby.  I'm going into seventh grade."
-- 2.  Next, I asked Larry to describe what kinds of playful things he does at age 12.  Larry stated, "I go around making up ridiculous rhymes that make no sense.  I put them in little songs and kind of dance to them.  I especially like teasing my older sister Paula with them."
-- 3.  I asked Larry to try using one of his rhymes now.  Larry was hesitant at first.  Then he stated, "You know, there is one I remember that I used to use on Paula all the time.  'Hey, hey, you are a fruit cup.  Put you in the oven and bake you up."
-- 4.  Finally, I asked Larry how he felt as he sang his rhyme.  Larry stated, "I feel a little like I did then.  I thought I would be uncomfortable doing something so silly, but it felt good. I like it."

Strategy #3 - Presentizing When
In addition to presentizing the past and reclaiming, a third strategy for helping a client presentize is  presentizing 'when'.  In my experience, presentizing can also be successfully used to address a client's concerns about the future.  As you have experienced, when a client is concerned about a future event, he or she may become extremely involved in planning for 'what will I do when?'   This can, of course, lead to considerable stress

By presentizing this 'when', imagining the future events as if it were happening in the 'now', the client can enhance his or her awareness of him or herself in the 'when' situation.  This awareness allows more spontaneity, which in turn will make available a broader range of resources which the client can use in the 'when' situation.  Would you agree?  My client Tommy, age 13, was extremely concerned about starting at his regional high school and making new friends. 

I asked Tommy to imagine himself on his first day in his new school.  During the visualization, I asked Tommy to look around and see what he could do to meet some people.  Tommy stated, "I'm sitting in my homeroom.  There are people sitting all around me, and they look nervous like I feel.  I can ask them what their first class is." 

Would your Tommy benefit from presentizing a 'when' that he or she is concerned about?

On this track, we have discussed three strategies for helping a client "presentize", or facilitating the client's bringing him or herself into the "now".  The three strategies we discussed are presentizing the past, reclaiming, and presentizing 'when'.

On the next track, we will discuss three strategies for helping clients increase their awareness of their responsibility for their feelings.  These three strategies are the "I Give You the Power" technique, the "Now I Feel" technique, and creating feelings.

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.

Ferreira, F. (2020). In defense of the passive voice. American Psychologist. Advance online publication. 

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.

Gold, E., & Zahm, S. (2020). Buddhist psychology informed Gestalt therapy for challenging times. The Humanistic Psychologist, 48(4), 373–377.

Nelson, W. M., & Groman, W. D. (1978). Temporal perspective from the Gestalt therapy assumption of present-centeredness. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 15(3), 277–284. 

Wagner-Moore, L. E. (2004). Gestalt Therapy: Past, Present, Theory, and Research. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 41(2), 180–189. 

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 10
What are three strategies for helping a client "presentize"? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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