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?
Gestalt therapy is a holistic approach to healing and personal development that emphasizes the importance of experiential learning and self-awareness. Unlike psychoanalysis, which is often thought of as a “talking cure,” gestalt therapy places a greater emphasis on the process of experimentation and the active exploration of emotions and behaviors.
The concept of “experimentation” is central to gestalt therapy, as it is through trying out new behaviors and facing difficult emotions that clients are able to gain insight into themselves and make meaningful changes in their lives. During a gestalt therapy session, clients are encouraged to engage in activities that challenge their current way of thinking and feeling, allowing them to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them.
One of the key differences between gestalt therapy and psychoanalysis is the use of “aboutism” in gestalt therapy. “Aboutism” refers to the act of talking about something without fully engaging with it or experiencing it. In gestalt therapy, clients are encouraged to move beyond talking about their problems and instead actively engage with them, whether through role-playing, movement, or other experiential exercises.
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?
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.
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.