Petzold: Short Definitions of Relatedness in Relationship

Relationship

The relationship is an encounter sustained in the long term, a chain of encounters that includes a shared perspective of a shared history and shared present, because there is a free will to live life together in a reliable relationship.

Relationship presupposes the ability to demarcation and touch, conflict and compromise, mutual empathy and shared reality. Relationships are intentional, lasting and reliable. They include the ability to contact and meet.

Encounter

The encounter is a reciprocal empathic meeting of different persons in the here-and-now. The meeting in which there is contact, results in an inter-subjective an exchange, that is healing.

Contact

Contact is described as a meeting of separate and concretely different individuals. The perception and bodily experiences of the person and the environment are separate. The person is able to distinguish the difference between the inner and outer world, and is able to establish, through contact, identity.

Confluence

Confluence is a form of human co-existence that is unrestricted. It is characteristic of the coexistence of the embryo and its mother.
There is no differentiation in perception of the individual persons in a confluent relationship. In adults, the fusion experiences can be that of the positive pleasurable or negative non-pleasurable kind (Petzold 1993, Volume III, p. 1066).

Attachment / Bonding

Attachment is the result of the decision to restrict ones freedom in favor of a freely chosen bonding. To endow an existing relationship with the quality of inviolability through loyalty, devotion, and willingness to suffer .

Dependency

Dependence is a bondage at the expense of personal freedom, which is structurally predefined as a natural “attachment” in children, or it is attachment-based socially meaningful behavior, for example, in the case of adults in need of care in the immediate vicinity of social relationships and networks. But it can also have pathological qualities such as neurotic dependencies, addiction-specific co-dependencies, collusions.

Bondage

Bondage involves massive, pathological dependence still exceeding qualities, because fundamental rights and rights violating restrictions of freedom, mental and real deprivation of liberty, when the enslavement occurs (often on a sexual level in pimp prostitution, sadomasochistic dependencies or on an economic basis in debt slavery, blackmail, etc.).

Source

Renz, H., & Petzold, H. G. (2006). Therapeutische Beziehungen–Formen „differentieller Relationalität “in der integrativen und psychodynamisch-konflikttherapeutischen Behandlung von Suchtkranken. Bei www.​ FPI-Publikationen.​ de/​ materialien.​ htm–POLYLOGE: Materialien aus der Europäischen Akademie für Psychosoziale Gesundheit13, 2006.

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Notes on Field Theory in Gestalt Therapy

The field theory is a gestalt therapy term that warrants interest. Psychotherapy practitioners who consider the field and know how to use this insight in their clinical work can expect better outcome. Lately, there has been “ripples in the field” among gestalt therapy researchers on the topic of field theory and treatment of psychopathological symptoms like anxiety (Francesetti, 2007).

The challenge is in understanding the concept of field in gestalt therapy. The word “field” is associated with different levels of meanings as highlighted by Staemmler (2006). When we consider fields of corn, a football field, a professional field, we may understand the nuances of meaning the word brings. In the scientific arena, we think of magnetic field in physics. In psychology, the field implies mutually interdependent facts or phenomena. The notes below is a summary of the Staemmler article plus my reflections on it.

Field-Staemmler-notes

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In the article there is an attempt at formulating an understanding of “field” in gestalt therapy with the use of lexicon of English words. What ultimately happens is a kind of looping of ideas and argument on the subject.

Another approach to understanding Field

My preference at understanding abstract psychological concept like “field” in gestalt therapy is to use metaphor or what I am calling here “isomorphic universes”. Isomorphism are structurally similar processes that underlie our lived experiences. Observing isomorphic universes, we may be able to understand our human experiences better. This is a way of understanding by feeling as opposed to understanding by explanation with words.

I got this idea to use ants and ant nests as an isomorphic universe to illustrate the field in the world of human experiences after reading Hofstadter’s (1981) charming story, Prelude… Ant Fugue, recommended to me by my colleague and research partner, G. Spano.

Gestalt Therapy Field Theory according to Ants

First is to observe and understand ant colonies:

In this video, the organized nature of an ant colony is compared to human societies except that “this organization does not arise from higher level decisions, but it is part of a biological cycle.” Consider that the field in gestalt therapy is also described as “biological knowledge” (K. Goldstein) and “intra-orgamismic” (Perls and Heferline). This could imply that as humans, we make decisions consciously and are also maneuvered by biological knowledge outside our consciousness.

Ants observed as individuals seem to be autonomous. However when we get a chance to focus on these creatures as a colony, we can appreciate the structure of their “field”. Individual ants as part of the colony react to stimuli from the environment. In contact with a food source or danger signals, the individuals in the colony react somatically. These individuals spontaneously produce pheromones and move their bodies in response to these stimuli. Pheromones and physical contact with each other affect individual ants in the field, which in turn respond and affect the other ants.

Another video about ant colonies.

The understanding of “field” according to the ant colony can be appreciated as mutually interdependent processes that connects the organism and the physical environment. Since it involves mutual interdependence of individuals, we can also see the social aspect of colonies.

When we look at human communities, can appreciate how a person is “of their own field”. Kurt Lewin used the term “life space (L)” ; the combination of the individual organism (P) with their psychological environment (E) as it exists for this individual.

L=P+E

Consider that for each individual ant (and human) there is a continuous flow of data dynamically being received and presented at the same time from the field and to the field.

Human communities form what Hofstadter (1981) terms “representational systems”, which are “active, selfupdating collection of structures organized to ‘mirror’ the world as it evolves”, like countries, organizations, cultures, families. These systems appear to define themselves through psychological decision making of individuals. Psychological decisions made are in response to environmental and social interactions. The environment and societies return feedback. The environment and societal influences affect the individual (P) physically. Individuals act in a way motivated by own needs in response to their psychological environment (E). The presence of this individual in the field is their life space (L).

5 Principles of Field in Gestalt therapy

Parlett’s (1991) 5 principles deepens our understanding of field in Gestalt therapy. These are the principle of 1. Organization, 2. Contemporaneity, 3. Singularity, 4. Changing process, 5. Possible Relevance. In our ‘representational systems’ as with ants in ant colonies, we can perceive how the field 1. organizes societies and individuals in their roles. We can see 2. how individuals in the system act in the here-and-now, as consequence to the field. This is not a matter of cause and effect, but rather a consequence of being of or belonging to the field. 3. Each individual’s life space is unique to each situation. 4. the field changes continuously (the time element). 5. Everything that the individual does and feels has possible relevance to the field. Everything in the here-and-now is inherently relevant.

“The five principles laid out above are overlapping and not discrete. Rather they are five windows through which we can regard field theory, exploring its relevance in practice.”

Parlett

The 5 principles are useful in for our work in gestalt therapy. The therapist stays in the here-and-now of the session, and is aware that everything observed is of the field.

Using the Field in Practice

A therapist’s ability to use the field is an asset that contributes positive client outcomes.

Consider again ants. If an ant would decided to abandon colony life, what would its fate look like? The field around this ant changes. It leaves the physical environment of the colony that supports its source of food and protection. This isolated ant is not expected to thrive.

Human beings, unlike ants, have more complex psychological structures. We are able to introspect and reflect on ourselves. We have a sense of self. Often this sense of self or identity leads us to deny the existence of the field. Remember that the field is not the same thing as a community or a system. An individual may be active in a community or a group but be simultaneously in conflict with the needs that emerge from the field. This happens out of awareness.

The field includes the mutually interdependent processes that form or create — the word in German is incidentally, gestalten — the representational system or community.

A person who is not adequately or appropriately supported by the field creatively adjusts to their environment.

Psychopathology in relation to the Field

Like many of my gestalt therapist colleagues, I am no fan of diagnosis. The term psychopathology used here is necessary means of describing symptoms experienced by clients seeking therapy. However, let us consider the following symptoms and their inter-relation between organism and it’s field.

The experience of being separated from the system: The organism finds itself as part of an over-exposed and unprotected field. There is a pervasive feeling of anxiety and panic.

The experience of being abandoned and forgotten by the environment: The organism finds itself part of a lacking, unsupportive, unnourishing field. The experience may feel like depression.

The experience of being in an intrusive environment. The organism finds itself of a field of isolation as a means of protection from being sapped of resource. The experience is of being isolated and schizoid.

The experience of being in a hurtful or dangerous environment. The organism finds itself of a fearful field. There is a need to dissociate the self from the field.

The experience of being squeezed out or non-existent in the environment. The organism finds itself of a field in which the needs of the organism are unworthy of attention, because survival the system is more important. The experience may feel like co-dependency.

Observing the field in gestalt therapy as a way to understand psychopathological states requires the therapist to engage in aesthetics. This is counter-intuitive and often a odds the medical model of psychiatry. Using the field, we do not diagnose the client as a person in isolation. We take the holistic view of the field and the organism as part of it.

Bibliography

Francesetti, G. (Ed.). (2007). Panic Attacks and Postmodernity. Gestalt therapy between clinical and social perspectives. FrancoAngeli.

Hofstadter, D. R. (1981). Prelude… Ant Fugue. In The mind’s I: fantasies and reflections on self and soul. Dennett, D. C., & Hofstadter, D. R. (Eds.).Harvester Press. p. 149.

Parlett, M. (1991). Reflections on field theory. The British Gestalt Journal1(1), 69-80.

Staemmler, F. (2006). A Babylonian Confusion?: On the Uses and Meanings of the TermField’. British Gestalt Journal15(2), 64.

Young & Lester: Gestalt Therapy Approaches to Crisis Intervention with Suicidal Patients

This article explains the use of Gestalt Therapy for crisis intervention with patients who are suicidal. The article by Young & Lester (2001) , provides for good information on the topic. I shall list the following points presented by the authors.

Gestalt therapy is an ideal method for dealing with crisis situations. This is because of the methods focus on the here-and-now and being present for the patient. Working with suicidal patients in crisis, being empathic and listening is everything. Accounts from patients in dire situations are filled with expressions of loneliness and helplessness. Hence being with someone who is actively listening without judgement is precious.

Read also : suicide crisis intervention: working with …

Steps involved in working with patients who are dangerously suicidal involve:

  1. Acknowledge of the suicidal ideation. To offer a listening ear and accepting that the client is in distress and has in mind to take his/her own life.
  2. Exploration of the suicide plan. This means talking openly with the patient about details of his/her ideas of the suicide wish.
  3. Exploring feelings of anger and sadness underlying. When we work through these feelings more emotions are discovered, and these include helplessness, shame and hopelessness.
  4. Bringing to the patient’s awareness that a part of him/her still wants to live. Brining to light this ambivalence is an important step that could radically diminish the wish for suicide.
  5. Giving voice to the patients psychological struggle. Giving a listening ear to the patient’s psychological difficulties frees the person of the guilt of having these painful thoughts and feelings.
  6. Understanding of major issues. With his/her sharing of the issues, both therapist and client get insight and understanding of what is happening to the patient.
  7. Addressing their underlying loneliness. The therapist’s witnessing without judgement alleviates the loneliness felt by the patient of living with the struggles.
  8. Clarity in their responses to feeling questions. The therapist guides the client to get in touch with feelings.
  9. Awareness of how the patient is repressing emotions.
  10. Experiencing repressed emotions. These emotions are very difficult and oftentimes painful. When these are expressed, the distress is followed by relief.
  11. Grounding. As the emotions subside, grounding is the act of bringing the client into the here-and-now in the interaction with the therapist.
  12. Acknowledgement of relief. The relief felt from expressing these emotions and grounding is given some attention so that the patient is able to take in the phenomenon.
  13. Self acceptance and understanding. Therapist and client spend some time expressing gratitude for what they have experienced together.
  14. Exploring options for the future.

Read more: Suicide crisis intervention: working with people who are in danger of taking their own lives.

Bibliography

Young, Lin & Lester, David. (2001). Gestalt Therapy Approaches to Crisis Intervention With Suicidal Clients. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention. 1. 10.1093/brief-treatment/1.1.65.

Diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Personality from the Gestalt Therapy Perspective

Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder explained and treated with Gestalt Therapy method.

The DSM V describes obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) as a pervasive pattern of preoccupation with

  • orderliness,
  • perfectionism, and
  • mental and interpersonal control.
obsessive-compulsive treatment

Individuals who present phenomenon of OCPD give up their flexibility of behavior and thought. They become “closed up”, showing lack of openness to the environment around them.

The consequence is that of being in-efficient in doing daily tasks, since the preoccupation is on distracting details, rules and schedules, that leaves the main task undone. The quest for having tasks done perfect also leaves task unfinished. While everything takes longer to complete, there is obsession with work and productivity, leaving little energy left for leisure activities and relationships. Relationships suffer because there is a tendency to be overconscientious, and inflexible about matters of ethics. Many individuals with OCPD tend to have religious or ideological stance, that they hold on to. They may also have a fixed idea of how things should be done, and would not delegate their work to others, unless the others follow his/her way of executing the tasks.  Some persons show tendency to hold on to unnecessary objects.  Similarly there is a tendency to being miserly. A certain feature of this personality style is the display of rigidity and stubbornness. 

OCPD is differentiated from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) by the by the presence of true obsessions and compulsions in OCD.

Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder Explained with Gestalt Therapy 

Looking at this condition through gestalt therapy lens, we can appreciate the complexity of the treatment process. In seeing the process at each stage and the resistances of the individual towards change, we can follow the clients’s path with more understanding and patience.

At the sensory stimulation phase (the initial phase): one’s own needs are ignored. Habitual behavior and thoughts take the place of present needs.  Feelings that arise in the foreground become interrupted by background noise of routine activity. The patient may find difficulty articulating needs or accessing emotions. Difficult emotions are avoided.  In place of this is the need to continue habitual behavior.

At this phase of treatment, focus on arising emotions is the work. Often the patient is able to recount difficult life situations, but the narration lacks emotional content. The therapist’s job at this point is to support the patient in embodying the denied emotions, instead of blocking them out with compulsive thought. 

At the Orientation phase: There is seeking of external rules. The self has to be perfect, and be right. “I must do it right”. “I must check this…”

There is a sense that being not perfect may lead to loss of love, rejection and helplessness. Control against these feelings are directed towards the external environment.

Experiment with words, making statements and dealing with projections (e.g. other people will judge me if ….) plus dealing with emotions is the work at this stage.

At the Action phase: This is the phase that occurs when the individual is guided to act on behalf of his/her needs rather than acting on his/her impulses. This can bring about anxiety. OCPD actions are acts out of fear of helplessness, and behaves so as to avoid the possibility of situations that leads to helplessness. This means controlling and perfecting the environment, and external self. Ultimately nothing suffices.

Therapy at this phase brings to light the anxiety that arises. There is also projections (attributing thoughts of the self on other people) and retroflections (holding the self back, or blaming the self) that need to be worked through. 

At the Assimilation phase: At this phase, the individual would have tried to change his/her behavior.  This is possible through practicing will-power, or having behavioral-style therapy. However, attempts to change behavior get quickly sabotaged by introjected messages (like “this is wrong”, “it will not work”)  that lead to the individual rationalizing the attempt, denying the point of attempting change, feeling contempt for the effort or try playing down the problem.  This is the reason why in gestalt therapy, we are aware that behavior modification attempts alone does not resolve the issues of OCPD.

At this stage, it would be better to check with the patient about his/her introjects, and feelings of guilt or shame that may arise from taking appropriate action.

At the release phase: Let’s say that the patient has managed to overcome the first four phases, the next tendency would be to hold on to the identification of the self with OCPD. There need would be to not let go of the habitual thoughts and action, to see them as the “right thing to do”. This is a protection mechanism against the grief that can arise from feelings of loss and feelings of loneliness.

At this phase, the patient may seem very sad or look depressed, angry. He/she shows strong emotions. The therapist supports the patient by being present and acknowledging the client’s difficult emotions, and helping him/her work through the mourning process. 

Treatment Focus

The treatment process in Gestalt therapy for OCPD, when done in it thoroughness, with the above phases worked through requires a good amount of patience within the psychotherapeutic alliance. At each phase, difficult emotions need to be acknowledged and processed.

Treatment of symptoms arising from personality disorders take time. Patience is essential for both therapist and patient. Where dealing with loss is concerned, the mourning process is an important, positive step to healing.  

Phenomenology

Physical appearance is usually thin, haggard, not enjoying, gray, tensed.

The emotions include fear, anxiety, loneliness, helplessness, defiance, vulnerability. Initial emotionality may look flat, and restrained.

Psychosomatic reactions may include stomach and gastro pain and symptoms, constipation, circulatory system problems (e.g. myocardial infarction).

Polarities to work through are :

  • Powerfulness – Helplessness
  • Fear – Aggression, Anger, Bitterness
  • Control – Chaos
  • Obedience – Defiance, unruliness

Sources

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.

Anger, H. (2018) Gestalt Diagnostics. Private Lecture at the Sigmund Freud University, Vienna. 

Experiential psychotherapy sessions bring lasting effect

I mentioned in the first page of my website that clients can expect motivating, fun and experiential psychotherapy sessions. While it is for most clients the road to therapy is wrought with painful experiences and difficulties, being in therapy is about learning. The learning one gets from gestalt psychotherapy is not the kind of cognitive learning one expects to get at school. Rather, in experiential sessions, one learns procedurally. The experiments and role playing enables the clients to embody new ways of being. This kind of learning takes no effort. This kind of learning is integrated and permanent. The road to this kind of learning is also playful, touching and motivating.

Resnick: Gestalt Therapy Principles in Today’s Context

What is gestalt therapy? Resnick explains gestalt therapy principles in just 30 minutes with this video. Is Gestalt therapy for you? Watch this.

 

“The relationship is not as important as the research shows but what happens in the relationship. When there is an interaction between therapist and client.”

This is the best video resource to understand, ” what is gestalt therapy?”.

 

 

An Introduction To Gestalt Therapy Theory from GATLA Videos on Vimeo.

Gestalt Therapy is about Action and not Simply Talk

If the process of psychoanalysis, as defined by Freud’s Anna O., defined as a “talking cure” (Breuer & Freud, 1893/2009), what about Gestalt therapy?

The curative process of Gestalt therapy is action. Polster and Polster (1974, p.233-284) devote a an entire chapter on their book to the concept of “experimentation” as a therapeutic process. During a gestalt therapy session, the client is encouraged to try out new behaviors, and stay with feelings which he/she would otherwise not dare to (or is not allowed to confront) in daily life.

More than just a “talking cure”, gestalt therapy is like a “doing cure”.  The client talks, but his/her talk is not merely a narration or a “talking about” something. Polster and polster uses the term “aboutism” to describe narration without feeling or action.

“Gestalt therapy tries to restore the connection between aboutism and action. By integrating action into the person’s decision-making process, he is pried loose from the stultifying influence of his aboutist ruminations. (p.234)”

The client has a something to say. The therapist encourages the client to put this narrative into action. The above quote gives us also a sense of how gestalt therapy actually releases a person of a key symptom of depression and anxiety — rumination (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2000). Rumination is experienced as having obsessive circulating thoughts.

By encouraging the client to put talk into action, his/her ruminating thoughts gets translated into physical acts of doing.  These thoughts no longer get trapped in cognition. As the client acts out thoughts he/she experiences some control of these ruminations. The most likely thing to happen in the process is the out pouring of emotion.

Dialogue is Action

Dialogue is talk in action. Every psychotherapeutic dialogue has the potential of being curative, provided that it encourages the client to move away from the cognitive aspect of the talk — i.e. aboutism or talking about– towards acting and feeling the talk.

How can the gestalt therapist put talk further into action?

Through experimentation.

To be experimental is to constantly ask the questions, “what if…” or “what would happen if…” . What if you had the chance to say __ to your mother? What if your father were in this room now? What would happen if you tapped you hands quicker? … etc.

Each action is dealt with in the here-and-now. The follow-up questions would sound like, “what is happening now?”, “where are you at the moment?” “what comes to mind at this moment?”

The therapist is also part of the experiment. When the therapist is able to share his/her own experience at the moment, it can help the client better experience the phenomenon taking place.

Hycner (2009) aptly considers a gestalt therapy session a crucible, a small, self-contained space in which the client gets to experience new ways of being in the world.  A crucible is what is used in experimental chemistry.

 

Bibliography

Breuer, J., & Freud, S. (1893/2009). Studies on hysteria. Hachette UK.

Hycner, R. (2009). Relational Approaches in Gestalt Therapy. NY: Gestalt Press.

Polster, E., & Polster, M. (1974). Gestalt therapy integrated: Contours of theory and practice (Vol. 6). Vintage.

Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2000). The role of rumination in depressive disorders and mixed anxiety/depressive symptoms. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 109, 504–511.

 

Levels of Gestalt Therapy Treatment Methods

A client who has just started therapy will experience different kind of session as a client who has been with the therapist for a longer period of time. Similarly, clients who experience psychosis would benefit from different style of therapy than clients who have issues based on neurosis. Then there are clients who seek therapy because they are facing really difficult existential issues in their lives. Their therapy would be experienced differently.

Gestalt therapy is known for its multi-variant techniques. However, what is seen as techniques is not Gestalt therapy. Gestalt therapy is the principles that lie under these techniques, within the dialogue between patient and therapists.

Different people, different needs at different times.

Level 1: Being present for the Client

The basis of all good therapy work is work with empathy, listening and validating. Being present, attentive, authentic and connecting with the client and inviting the client to be in contact. Contact work as such is healing, as it works towards reducing anxiety and loneliness that comes with it. Being present is really about the therapist putting aside prejudices, need to help, self-evaluation, analyzing the client or giving advise.  This is very important fundamental attitude for therapists in the session. It is also the most challenging.

This is also the only way to help clients who are psychologically very fragile and fragmented heal.

Irvin Yalom, in his biography, talks about one of his first clients, Sarah B., the wife of a business tycoon who suffered catatonic schizophrenia, who existed in a frozen state, not able to react to stimuli. Being a new in the profession, he was at a loss for what to do. He decided, during his rounds at the hospital ward, to converse with his non-reacting patient. He spent these 15 or so minutes talking to her about his day, the headlines etc. It was not till new neuroleptics came to existence did Sarah B. was able to move again. When she came around, the author mentioned to her of his multitude of doubts that he was of help to her in all those hours. She answered, “but Dr. Yalom, you were my bread and butter.”

Level 2: Phenomenology and Body Awareness

As the therapy progresses, and depending on the client, more work is done on the awareness of the body. This is not bodywork, but the momentarily focus on tension in the muscles and breathing. This is done in a dialogical way.

The more stable client would get sessions that looks like a play of being present. Looking at the phenomenon of the moment. What is going on, how the interaction feels like in the moment. What comes to mind now, etc. is discussed.

Level 3: Use of Creative Media

The use of creative medium, like art and music is useful at this stage for self reflection and sharing one’s internal structure with the therapist.

Further into the course of therapy, the client gets to work on relationships intra-psychic and external. Gestalt therapy is known for it’s two-chair work.

Level 4: Confrontation and Frustration

Very stable, self-sustaining clients who need therapy for self-awareness, who already have months or years of sessions with the therapist, may appreciate the challenge  that involves frustration of resistances, etc. This is done with all the first three levels intact. Gestalt therapy is never without level 1 !

What is being “frustrated” is the clients tendency to deprive him/herself of his/her need. For example, a client feels loneliness and longs to ask a lady for a date. He  is, however, so fearful of being rejected that he keeps to himself rather than calling her. The therapeutic frustration here is the confrontation of his fear of rejection.

At the end of the day, empathy is the most important aspect of therapy. 

Most therapy with clients do not reach the confrontative stage, and most sessions of gestalt therapy do not involve empty chair work. All clients at all stages of therapy are served best at the first level. It is also the most challenging part of the work.

Integrating Kernberg’s Model of Personality Organization with Gestalt Therapy

Kernberg’s model of personality organization provides us with a helpful visual of how differently experienced psychological symptoms relate with each other. Symptoms of personality disorder are very individual and unique each client. The “severity” of the symptom is phenomena “felt” by other people in the community and the therapist. It is therefore more accurate to base our assessment of the client’s problems on the effect the client’s behavior has on others and therapist, and based on how fixated the client is on this behavioral pattern. It is assumed that the more fixated one is on a mode of behavior, the less one is able to function socially and economically.

Kernberg established 3 main group of personality organization. These are arranged in increasing order of “severity”: 1. the Neurotic Personality Organization (NPO), 2. The Borderline Personality Organization (BPO), and 3. the Psychotic Personality Organization (PPO).

Horizontally, Kernberg also categorizes the symptoms as a spectrum of introvertion and extrovertion. This describes how much the individual with such diagnosis interacts with the other. The more introverted would keep the self in isolation. This would range from shyness to complete fear of being with others (as in severe paranoid PD / schizoid PD). The extrovert range would range from being dependent on the presence of others ( as with the dependent PD) to victimizing others (as in malignant narcissism PD or antisocial PD).

Most severe condition is the psychotic condition.

Kernberg (2008) Model of Personality Organization

When we connect this with Melanie Klien’s (Kernberg is a Kleinian) model, we can see that the BPO represents the condition where an individual is stuck at the paranoid-schizoid phase. The NPO represents the individuals who have developed into the depressive phase. *Note* that the terminology here is very confusing, because “paranoid-schizoid” and “depressive” used in this context has not much to do with the absolute meaning, but rather serves to describe a phase.  Please refer to this article for clarification on this topic.

When we consider Kernberg’s diagram, we may be able to appreciate how if the individual is fixed to the BPO, he/she may be holding on to maintain an intact sense of self. The consequence of not having the symptoms may lead to breakdown and possibly psychosis. As therapists, we must be very aware of this “ability” of the client to support him/herself in this way, even though his/her behavior is hurtful/harmful/not helping. 

The Contact Cycle in Gestalt Therapy

In Gestalt therapy we talk about contact. Contact is a means of a organism (a person) getting in touch with his/her needs and being able to get his/her needs fulfilled. This is not unlike Marslow’s concept of the hierarchy of needs. Needs not met will end up in the individual being weakened or even harmed as a result of accumulated stress. A very simple example: if a person’s body is lacking in nutrients, the person needs food. If he does not get this food, he suffers. Needs are always present. We have to be able to first realize the needs. In Gestalt therapy, the work of the therapist, for example, is to help the client uncover his needs of the moment, how he denies his needs by numbing himself from the sensation of the need, how he attributes the needs to someone else by projecting the needs and how he is not able to feel satisfied once the need is met.

Below is my sketch of the contact cycle in gestalt therapy. It is complicated, but there are simpler diagrams on the net or in books.

When the need is recognized, acted upon and assimilated, the gestalt is closed. The client is relieved of a stressful condition (that may have pervaded his life).

Shame at the Pre-contact Phase: When we look at the contact cycle, we can see that the hinderance to pre-contact is desensitization. The client does not know about this need. Oftentimes this is attributed to shame: when it is too shameful to even tell oneself that one has this need. Many people do not feel shame also for this reason. They anesthetize themselves from the sensation.

Anxiety at the Action Phase: The next part of the cycle is when one feels a need but acts inappropriately so as not to be able to fulfill the need. This is a miss-action normally caused by projecting what one feels or needs to others. For example when one is completely angry at another, he/she instead thinks that the other is hostile. Oftentimes the projection is brought about by anxiety or a dreaded fear of acting accordingly, but instead act by splitting this action from the self onto the environment.

Guilt at the Assimilation Phase: At the end of the phase, problems arise when the person is not able to assimilate what he/she has felt and done. This is probably the problem with overeating (this a simple example): the person is hungry, eats, but cannot feel nourished. In the realm of personality disorder, it is often the problem of the individual not being able to recognized his deeds, and avoids the feeling by not being able to feel a sensation of satisfaction (lustfulness). There would be continued hunger for whatever the need may be.  In serious cases (perhaps antisocial PD) if one has committed a crime, one is not able to sense guilt or remorse.

Gestalt Therapy and Kernberg’s Personality Model

In the figure below, I try to fit the 2 models together. This is of course, like all models and classifications, a way of conceptualizing, and not fixed truism. One would be well served to look at all graphical representation of psychic phenomena as as spectrum rather than as in discreet boxes and lines.

Personalities “stuck” in the avoidance of guilt end of the contact cycle, for example is caricaturized by the cold-blooded malignant narcissist or sociopath. When we look closely at all other personality fixations we can also see avoidance of guilt. Ultimately, this is all related to context.

Connecting these concepts can be useful to the gestalt therapists who use the contact cycle as means of understanding the mental processes of the client. It also helps us to access what difficult emotions underlie the personality structure of the client. Work with personality disorder is extremely complex because it deals with contact, not only with the environment, but also with the therapist’s personality.

I hope this idea is useful.

Bibliography

Kernberg, O. (2008). Aggressivity, Narcissism, and Self-Destructiveness in the Psychotherapeutic Rela: New Developments in the Psychopathology and Psychotherapy of Severe Personality Disorders. Yale University Press.

Illustration: The Dialogical Self and Contact Cycle

Polster and Polster (1973, p. 176) in their book Gestalt therapy integrated explains the syntax of the contact episode as moving through eight stages:

  1. the emergence of a need;
  2. the attempt to play out the need;
  3. the mobilization of the internal struggle;
  4. statement of theme incorporating the need and the resistance;
  5. the arrival at the impasse;
  6. the climatic experience;
  7. the illumination;
  8. the acknowledgment.

This cycle may last for only a minute, or it may play out for months and years. When the circle is not complete, there exists an incomplete gestalt, or unfinished business. In therapy the client is supported to complete pressing needs that are open. The closure of the cycle can bring about catharsis.

This sketch describes the dialogical self in contact with the environment and the resistances that denies the self from experiencing the environment, thus denying the needs of the self. Included are also the introjects that arise from past traumatic experiences and creative adjustments that ensues when these resistances are in play.

Dissociation   is known to be another contact interruption strategy. The person who is dissociated avoids contact with the stimuli, by retreating in his/her mind. This is a strategy of children who feel trapped in a situation,  but it  can also be something we do, like daydreaming  while pretending to be attentive in school..

contact cycle, gestalt therapy
The dialogical self in Gestalt Therapy, Contact Cycle illustrated

Adapted from :
Clarkson, P., & Cavicchia, S. (2013). Gestalt counselling in action. Sage.