Gestalt and TA concept have been widely recognized for their role in psychotherapy. In this context, they provide the therapist with a framework which can be used to help their patients overcome mental problem and issues. As result, personal growth and development is likely to be attained.
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Their significance is illuminated by the fact that both of them encourage the patient’s ‘here and now’ awareness, which is fundamental in personal development (Brenner 2000).
Fritz and Laura Perls are responsible for the founding of gestalt therapy in the 1940’s. From there on, Gestalt has contributed significantly to the field of psychotherapy, counseling, and personal development. When therapist uses this method, his or her ultimate aim is to ensure the client achieves personal growth and development.
To achieve this outcome, gestalt utilizes existential philosophy and phenomenology. In summary, this form of therapy aims to empower the patient to use his internal and external senses for the purposes of developing personal responsibility and a self-supportive system (Franzke 1999; Corcoran & Daly 2008).
Through his psychiatrist work with brain-damaged soldiers, Fritz Perls (Husband to Laura Pearls), established that an approach which would treat patient as functional ‘whole’ would be more effective. He therefore diverted from his traditional psychoanalytic practices, to develop gestalt which he believed would be less discrete.
Apart from Sigmund Freud, Reich works on self-understanding and the process of personality change heavily influenced his theories and concepts. Differential thinking as presented by philosopher Friedlander, also played notable and influential role.
Fritz nonetheless did not fail to point out that his theory was not conclusive. Therefore he frequently revised it, to ensure it covers all the necessary aspect required for personal development and growth (Franzke 1999; Corcoran & Daly 2008).
Approach to Growth
Fritz and Laura work is a humanistic approach, since it advocates for people to explore their feelings, thoughts, and actions as away of ensuring personal responsibility and growth. For it to be successful, both a phenomenological and existential perspective must be applied. Adopting a phenomenological approach entails ensuring the patient perceive the reality as it is at the precise moment.
Interacting with the environment and interpreting it free from the influence of, any concepts, theories, beliefs and ideas, derive from the past, is the central principle of a phenomenological approach. Its existential nature is portrayed by its fundamental belief in the personal development being progressive. It advocate for patients to continuously evolve themselves positively, through a process of self discovery and recreation.
For self-understanding purposes, establishing the reaction to a present situation is more, important than establishing why the one reacted in the first place. Simply put it, the how is more central than the why.
Therefore instead of patient spending time talking about his or her past experience, regardless of whether they happened 10 minutes or 40 years ago, they are guided towards experiencing and feeling the present moment (Franzke 1999; Corcoran & Daly 2008).
According to Gestalt theory, the life blood of any personal growth is contact. As such, the concept of contact and contact boundary is central to it and consider as the main catalyst in fostering self-awareness; an element which is vital for personal development. It is defined as the relationship between the individual organism and environment.
Both organism and the environment should acknowledge and cope with each other. Fritz implicitly indicated that it is impossible for an individual to exist in autonomy. At all times, he or she is part of an environment, and how he or she interact with it determines his or her behaviour. Therefore from Fritz deduction, its evident positive personal change and development can only occur if the relationship is appropriate.
Concept of contact is important to personal development since it involves the patient being in touch with their surrounding, and staying bounded in it through out the process of self-discovery (Sills & Joyce 2001; Franzke 1999; Corcoran & Daly 2008).
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Therapist who utilize gestalt theory to foster child development, have found the concept of contact useful. Particularly low self-esteem in children is usually due to un-harmonized relationship between the children and their surrounding environment.
When either, seeing, smelling, hearing, moving, touching and/or tasting, all which are function of contact, are impaired, the self esteem of the child and consequently personal growth and development is going to be affected.
In the case of adolescent, development needs will induce the urge of wanting to re-organize his or her contact with the environment. For instance, the child in question might feel the need to either be connected more to the surrounding environment or differentiate him or herself from it (Sills & Joyce 2001; Franzke 1999; Corcoran & Daly 2008).
Gestalt theory suggests awareness is curative and should be superior after a properly administered therapy. The awareness being described here is the full understanding of one self especially when coming in contact with the current surrounding. Effective therapeutic encounter should be aimed at developing patient’s cognitive, sensory, and affective sense of awareness.
By doing so, it is expected that the he or she will accept and appreciate him/herself, and also the environment, to precise the world and the people around. As result, the ability of the patient to be in charge of their behaviour, choices, and feeling becomes also improved (Sills & Joyce 2001; Corcoran & Daly 2008).
Another very useful tool for therapy and personal development is transactional analysis. Eric Berne was the one responsible for developing TA, an abbreviation for Transactional analysis, which is a social psychology. Even after being rigorously trained as a psychiatrist, he was denied membership as a psychoanalyst and as result he saw the need of documenting his thought on therapy, personality, and relationship.
For quite sometime, the theory did not receive sufficient recognition, but things took a turn in 1964 after publishing the book games people play. The theory begun to evolve and its application expanded to counselling, psychotherapy, teaching, and personal development (Franzke 1999).
Growth and Development in the Context of TA
Berne through his definition of TA acknowledges the theory is designed for better understanding of growth and personal development. Consequently, it clearly outlines the nature and motivation behind the pursuit of growth. In summary, Berne explained the dimensions of personality in people are in three state or as describe in TA, ego states.
Specifically, the three states are Parent, Adult, and Child. Parent ego describes those consistent internal feeling and attitudes one derive from their parents and people of authority such as teachers. In turn, they will shape an equivalent mode of behaviour which might progress even when the individual has fully grown to be an adult.
This category of ego has two parts. One is nurturing which is mainly due to soft up brought by the parent. Prejudice is the other part, and it describes the demanding, harsh, and stricter nature of the parent (Durlcher 2004).
Feelings, attitudes, and mode of behaviour one held as child can consistently re-occur on an adult; precisely this is what the child ego refers to. Just like parental ego, child ego also has two parts namely the natural and adaptive child. Natural child is the sweat side which is always joyous and playful, while adaptive child is the side which has been spoiled by the nurturing side of the parent.
Parental and child ego despite being shape early in life can be strong to a point whereby they largely affect personal growth and development, especially in terms of relationship formation. Lastly, adult ego describes the present trail of feelings and attitudes that shape the mode of current behaviour which in turn dictate the method of coping with emerging situations (Franzke 1999; Durlcher 2004; Durlcher 2004).
The three states of ego are essential for an ideal life experience. Having an appropriate mixture will ensure one goes about their daily routine successfully. Hence in some cases, for one to experience personal growth and development, he or she needs to strive to achieve the right mixture within the three states of ego.
Child ego will ensure the adult enjoy life on lighter and freer mode, parental ego sharpens parental instincts which are essential in upbringing one’s children and, finally adult will ensure the best strategies of coping with challenging situation are adopted. Important to note is that the despite advocacy of the balance, at all times the adult ego should be in charge.
It should collect the signal being sent by the other two egos and decide on which to act on. Failure to do so, a person might act inappropriate. For example, expressing joyous and fun attitude when required to do otherwise, the vice versa also applies (Durlcher 2004; Stewart & Joiness 1987).
Like Gestalt therapy, awareness is crucial in the development and wellness of a patient, or any other individual for that matter. Intimacy and spontaneity are the other two essential factors needed towards achieving “self-sufficiency”, which is the ultimate aim in TA therapy. In TA awareness is defined similarly as in Gestalt therapy and hence allows one to experience situations as they are ‘here and now’.
Spontaneity refers to the patient and/or individual ability to make choices freely without being compel to assume a role. Lastly, intimacy refers to the openness that accompanies awareness and spontaneity (Brenner 2000; Durlcher 2004; Stewart & Joiness 1987).
A game free situation would ideal for the positive progress of personal development and growth. However, Berne acknowledged that assuming such a situation exists would be a superficial. He described games as being stereotype, recurring and manipulative form of interaction between two people. People will assume them in order to conceal feelings that they consider undesirable.
As result, they prevent relationships which are open, intimidate, authentic and generally leading to process of growth and development. Children will observe their parents game and therefore acquire certain aspects that will define their later lives. Depending on how they are being brought up, they will adopt unconsciously scripts or life-game plan of living (Durlcher 2004; Stewart & Joiness 1987).
In turn, certain mode of behaviour, and consequently feelings and attitude will dominate the growth process; especially due to the internal belief that they are going to aid in the process of achieving a desired outcome. To an important extent the individual will adopt the behaviour, attitudes and feeling in question without their full awareness. In addition, life plan (which is a game) is also adopted unconsciously.
If necessary corrective measures are not taken, the person will be at the mercy of parental and child ego even during the adult stage. Apart from insufficient awareness, spontaneity in this stage is nearly impossible and hence with these factors lacking personal growth and development which leads to autonomy, become largely hindered (Durlcher 2004; Stewart & Joiness 1987).
Nevertheless the positive and hope centeredness of TA theory prove that the situation can be changed. The heart of TA therapy is to enable people change their ego control from child and parental, to adult. An empowered adult ego will change the person from acting in a programmed way to a more applicable, appropriate, and spontaneous manner.
Therefore they will enjoy more options, and an increased control of changing those situations they considered unpleasing. The motivation to do so is heighten as one become more aware of the games their have been playing and the adverse effect they have on their life.
The drive is further propelled by the discovery that unfavourable games can be modified to be more suitable. Acquiring this change is though not an easy task. Even Berne was doubtful of whether people can change without undergoing an effective TA therapy (Brenner 2000; Durlcher 2004; Stewart & Joiness 1987).
The ability to develop fully the undeveloped inner adult holds the key towards healing even the regressed patient label as “untreatable”, as result of failing to respond to other therapies. By figuring out how to revive the un-functioning adult ego, even a schizophrenic in the worst stages can be developed. While administering his therapy, Berne was very wary of Pygmalion effect.
Therefore he aimed at illuminating the strength points of the patients since excessive focus on weakness would only aggravate the situation further. Making a patient feel he or she has a strong ego will increase his or her rationality towards him/herself and the surrounding environment (Brenner 2000; Durlcher 2004; Stewart & Joiness 1987).
When a therapist uses TA to activate the patient process of personal growth and development, ideally, he or she might apply a four phase process. All of the four phases of can handle long term issues appropriate. In addition, that first three can be applied in counselling aimed at address short-term crisis; such as those surrounding marriages, groups’ relationships, among others.
Structural analysis is the first stage and it is very fundamental in personal growth and development. It helps the patient identify which internal state is in control. As result, the therapist will guide the patient through process of empowering the adult state, and ensuring parental or child state are in control only when the situation for doing so is right (Winncott & Laleh 1989).
Berne emphasized on the importance of taking action, what he referred to as actionism, during this initial stage. Just like any other muscle, regularly exercising the power of adult state will strengthen it and improves its chances of acquiring full control. Child ego is prone to putting an individual through sequence panic, helplessness, and paralysis; however, structural analysis can combat the cycle effectively.
Therapist should provide the patient with a parental nurturing environment. Consequently this will allow the frightened inner child to relax, providing room for the adult state to take charge and apply suitable coping strategies. Nevertheless, the patient awareness should be amplified during the process.
Necessary questions that direct the patient toward inquiry about the current situation and, his/her role and power in ensuring a desirable outcome is arrived at, should be asked. As result, moderate behaviour change will begin to be experience, and as Berne had suggested, attitude change will follow shortly. For example, an increase sense of self worth and confidence in their ability (Winncott & Laleh 1989; Stewart & Joiness 1987).
Phase 2 of TA growth is concerned with helping a client understand and manage the effects of parent-child states of ego, especially on their relationship. In counselling sessions, this phase becomes useful due to its link in issues concerning intra-psychic and interpersonal. It can help manage the conflict that occurs between two people as result of their parent-child transaction.
When none of two parties escalate to point whereby he or she uses their adult ego state, it is likely that their argument will remain unfruitful. In growth-directed counselling or any other form of therapy whereby personal development is the chief goal, combining the two phases will be productive.
The first phase will help the individual account for the influence of his/her 3 ego states, while the second will aid in managing this state while transacting with other persons. Also the phases can be used in personal development programs especially target the youth who want to be more responsible (through adult), while maintaining the playful child ego in check (Winncott & Laleh 1989; Stewart & Joiness 1987).
Game analysis is the third phase of TA therapy. As the name suggest, it is directed towards aiding the client understand and overcome the unproductive and self-defeating games that they continuously play. Though difficult to reprogram this tendency, with sufficient effort an ideal situation can be achieved.
An example of game played is when people react with their child state ego when confronted with a person with prejudicial parent state ego. The patient must be willing to accept what he or she is trying to avoid through playing the game; more often, it is feelings.
To further increase the motivation of reprogramming, a reward should be identified. For instance the patient should be aware that games hinder him/her from having loving and intimate relations and if dropped, this is would be the life waiting (Winncott & Laleh 1989; Stewart & Joiness 1987).
Each individual has unconscious plan for their life and therefore the fourth phase aims at uncovering exactly that. Here, the therapist/counsellor aims at freeing his/her patient from negative scripts. For instance, a lady brought up by either an abusive or alcoholic father will be incline to get married to such kind of men. The reason, for doing so would be to prove that she can do a better job in reforming them than her mother did.
However, her chances of succeeding would nearly impossible hence resulting in many failed marriages or relationship. This phase, which is referred to as script analysis, will therefore aim at increasing the patient awareness of their controlling scripts, and in turn empower the adult state to take charge of it (Winncott & Laleh 1989; Stewart & Joiness 1987).
The use of art work in psychotherapy is highly recommended. Art therapy is considered as the process whereby the patient at the presence of a therapist uses art material for the purpose of reflection and self-expression. It is not concerned on whether the patient produces high quality work or not. Therefore, whether the patient has experience in art field or not is not important.
It enables healing process, and personal growth and development without the use of words. A patient is able to express his or her emotions, and also with the guidance of counsellor better the awareness of him/herself; factor that is important to both the followers of Gestalt and TA.
Using art therapy is important since it gives the patient who can use word to express him/herself a chance to do so; an example such a patient/client is a child. Similarly, it reduces the chance of an adult to intellectualize the current an appealing situation through the use of words (McNiff 2004; Brenner 2000; Siegelman 1990).
Experience on therapeutic arts
As mentioned earlier, the use of art in psychotherapy is very effective while administered in children who facing various emotional disturbances. In this particular case, the child appeared to encounter difficulties in coping with a new situation. The mother had transferred to a different location; however, the child reaction’s to the whole situation was alarming.
When the mother returned she noticed some changes on the child’s behaviour and attitude. The mother tried to understand why the daughter had changed but her efforts were fruitless. Finally she opted to seek professional help. Before progressive any further, first understanding the internal emotions and attitude of child was deemed appropriate and crucial in establish the reason for behavioural change.
Talk therapy would do very little since the child was in no position talk about her feelings. Even if she had the capacity to do so, it was quite evident should prefer not to do so, due to what appeared to be embarrassment and fear.
Picture drawing, was the type of art therapy adopted. It would aid in evaluate and consequently heal the underlying problem. Equipped with a brush and bowls of paint, the child was directed to draw randomly what was on her mind on white board. Self reflection question, easily understood by a 10 year old were asked.
One particular requested the child to equate the different colours their have used with their emotions. Image fantasying was also applied, whereby the child was asked to imagine if their drawing was a story what it would tell.
The child in question drew an image that included “crying like sun”, the surrounding were shaded by dark colours. In two objects drawn to signify what could be believe as her parent, the image of the man was larger than that of the woman. She also drew herself away from the other objects including the parents.
From these images, it was quite obvious the child was facing either feelings of separation, sadness and even trauma. Dark images and crying sun signified sadness, larger image of the father indicated belief about the substantial power of her dad. In therapy sessions, the process art drawing was encourage in order provide light on internal state of the child.
As the child continuously drew such images even in following therapy sessions, the concern increased. In some images the mother was missing. It was clear in such drawings the father’s image continuously changed to appear ‘horror like’ and the use dark colours intensified. The child drew a demon like image, after what the mage represent, the she claimed to be her father.
Using this images and observing the child body language and facial expression during drawing process, it was diagnosed the problems had to with the relationship she had with the father. It was necessary for an investigation and a therapy report was available to aid the professional investigation.
Nevertheless the therapy session from thereon focused on increase the self awareness and hence the development of the child to overcome any past trauma
Another experienced involved a boy who had lost both of his parents in tragic accident involving a head on collusion between a truck and their personal car. In this incident, nobody in the truck was seriously hurt. At the time of therapy, the boy was staying with the grandmother.
Both the grandmother and close tutor were concerned because the boy had not exhibited any signs of grief and therefore recommended therapy. From the first interaction, the boy was very talkative, excited and posses quite outstanding intellectual ability.
Any efforts to get him to talk about his feelings towards losing the parents were fruitless. After sometime and enough convincing it become apparent art therapy, particularly collage making would be appropriate. In the first session, the boy was instructed to cut out picture from the magazine that represent his family and stick them on piece of board.
Drawings of superman, smiling people and parents holding a kid were included in his collection. He explained that is how his family used to be; however, as he continued his facial expression changed and his body language started to exhibit remorse and pain. After this session, the boy was resistance towards the practice and eventually completely refrained from it.
However, after adding the magazine collection, and allowing him to cut and paste pictures randomly, he resumed the practice. At this period, he cut picture of what he termed as villains, and other blood-spattered images.
When question about what they meant he stated that those were bad people who killed their parents and the hero will soon revenge. Further inquiry, established that he believed only after they die to will he be happy. This was very important discovery as it would aid the patient understand his internal feelings and nature of contact with environment.
Personal development is a state of self-awareness, whereby one identifies a personal weakness that needs to be improved and therefore seek change (Brenner 2000). From these definition, it is quite obvious either Gestalt or TA concepts can be very useful for that purpose.
They emphasize more on self-awareness, as way of ensuring the patient autonomy is going to be achieved. They effectiveness can further be maximized if art is used in the process. As result, the patient will understand both him/herself and the general surrounding environment.
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Franzke, J. (1999) Using Gestalt therapy to Activate Creativity and Self-Awareness, Newyork, Rutledge.
McNiff, S. (2004) Art Heals, London, Shambhala.
Siegelman, E. (1990) Metaphor and Meaning in Psychotherapy, New York, Guildford.
Sills, C., and Joyce P. (2001) Skills in Gestalt. London, Sage.
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